A MICROALGAE feed start-up launched by an Edinburgh University student has just won £500,000 funding to build a pilot plant.
MiAlgae aims to revolutionise the animal and fish feed industries with microalgae made from the co-products of whisky.
The company, founded by Douglas Martin (pictured) while a masters student in Edinburgh in 2015-16, grows algae rich in omega-3 and other nutrients using co-products from the whisky distillation process.
The microalgae produced can be used as a raw material for agricultural food products, with the company initially targeting the aquaculture industry.
The investment – in equal shares from Equity Gap, the Scottish Investment Bank (the investment arm of Scotland’s enterprise agencies), and the university’s venture fund Old College Capital – will enable the company to expand its team and build a pilot facility for its technology at a whisky distillery.
‘This is a huge deal for us,’ said Martin. ‘This investment will fund the initial scale-up steps and de-risk our commercial facility. It certainly sets us on track to achieve our ambitions.’
The £500,000 seed investment in MiAlgae follows a series of competition and funding successes.
Martin obtained a Smart: Scotland grant in 2017, has progressed through the EU’s three-stage Climate-KIC Accelerator programme hosted at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, has had competition success including Scottish EDGE Young EDGE and Innovate UK, and was recently named Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
He has the chance of being awarded an additional £100,000 of funding after pitching at the final of the 2018 Scottish EDGE competition, the results of which will be announced at an awards ceremony on June 14.
Kerry Sharp, head of the Scottish Investment Bank, said: ‘This is an exciting new equity investment for Scottish Enterprise into a company that has utilised the circular economy to make an innovative and valuable product.
‘The funding round will also allow high value R&D employment opportunities to be created in rural Scotland with the roll out of the new pilot plant.’
Martin has been supported by LAUNCH.ed, the university’s service for student entrepreneurs, since January 2016 when he was studying MSC Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology. LAUNCH.ed has helped him to develop and launch his business, apply and pitch for grants and competitions, and connect with mentors and investors.
Dr George Baxter, CEO of Edinburgh Innovations, the university’s industry engagement service, which manages LAUNCH.ed, said: ‘It’s wonderful to see investors show confidence in Douglas and MiAlgae. The innovation of his process and the way it will help the environment have great potential.
‘His journey shows what is possible for our entrepreneurial students, and we’re delighted to see MiAlgae reach this important milestone.’
Fraser Lusty of Equity Gap said: ‘Douglas is an exceptional talent and has made remarkable progress in a novel solution for sustainable food production. We look forward to supporting him and the company through this exciting next phase.’
Martin will be looking to expand the company’s production capacity 30-fold and will be expanding his team of two to five.
Aquaculture is worth £1.8 billion a year to the Scottish economy, according to latest Scottish government figures, but Martin’s ambition does not stop with aquaculture or Scotland.
‘We’re looking at multiple industries in the supply side, multiple industries at the product side, then diversification into multiple products beyond feeds,’ said Martin. ‘There are lots of things we can do with our products.’