Seaweed Startups: Fresh Off the Boat


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As you witness the sunrise on the beach with your feet buried in the sand and the waves kissing the sea, you’ll find that the whole vibe and atmosphere is picture-perfect. But the waters have more to offer than just aesthetic holiday pictures. A few kilometers deep in the sea lies a zone with a depth of 50 meters or less, which is the perfect environment for cultivating macroalgae, popularly known as seaweed.


While seaweed is a broad term for various marine species and algae found in lakes, ponds, seas and oceans, the greatest potential lies in their extracts, which may offer us a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to one of the greatest threats facing humanity – plastic. The latter is a vital material in almost every industry, including textiles, construction, consumer goods, transportation, electrical and electronics, and industrial machinery.

“The versatility of seaweed makes it a promising alternative to traditional plastic in a variety of applications. The food boxes that you get your burger in, for example, have a very thin coating that makes the paper box oil-resistant. That’s what’s hidden.” “Plastic that nobody talks about – current coatings are typically loaded with lots of synthetics and PFAs, which are extremely harmful to us and the environment,” says Neha Jain, CEO and Founder of Zerocircle.

Algae are also known for their ability to mitigate climate change by isolating carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In addition, it plays an important role in agriculture as a soil improver, soil fertilizer and pesticide. It is a good source of vitamins, minerals and fiber, making it a category of seaweed edible in nature. Macroalgae are highly valued in the cosmetics and beauty industry and also represent a potential alternative to crude oil.


While algae have many uses, their cultivation in the country is pitifully low. China, Indonesia and the Philippines are currently among the largest algae producers. In July 2022, the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute reported that India has the potential to produce about 9.7 million tonnes of seaweed annually, up from a trivial figure of 34,000 tonnes in 2021. The biggest factor behind this potential is India’s 7,516.6 kilometers of coastline. The good news is that seaweed is found in abundance in the states of Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and around Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.


Despite the huge opportunity, just over a dozen Indian startups are working in this space. Abhiram Seth founded AquAgri Processing Pvt Ltd in 2008 with the intention of competing with other Asian countries for seaweed cultivation while providing employment for coastal communities, particularly local women. “Aquagri started its business with a vision to create livelihoods for coastal communities and supported the business by exporting the raw, dry seaweed to international processors for carrageenan production. Once the critical biomass size was reached, this prompted Aquagri to set up a local carrageenan production facility,” shared the founder and CEO of AquAgri.

Over time, AquAgri’s innovative process to optimize water consumption led to the development of biostimulating applications for agriculture. The startup founded by Sethi offers its products in the areas of food solutions, plant nutrition, animal nutrition and algae cultivation. The manufacturing facility is located in Manamaduari, Tamil Nadu.

In 2020, Jain wanted to go plastic-free in her home, but failed. After thorough research and understanding, she realized that the everyday products you use in everyday life contribute to the pollution of the planet: “Pollution, climate crises and any problem that comes with plastic is a ‘now’ problem, there isn’t one Future if we don’t do it.” I’m not going to try to fix the problem today. And so Zerocircle was born.

The startup recently received the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize for its initiative. It is a B2B brand that supports companies and manufacturers in the introduction of carbon-efficient materials and works with players in the fashion, e-commerce and F&B industries. “Not only are our algae-based coatings a viable alternative to the existing ones, they are extremely high-performing and cost-effective,” says Jain. The startup sources algae from farming communities in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

Founded in 2010, the biofuel company Sea6 Energy is one of the major players in the Indian region. It was established to combat India’s dependence on crude oil. “We were looking for solutions to reduce India’s dependence on crude oil and become self-sufficient when we realized small solutions wouldn’t work. We would have to convert all of India’s agricultural production into crude oil to stop doing that.” Import crude oil. Add to that a growing population and shrinking agricultural land – we knew the only way out was to be able to use the ocean around us,” said Nelson Vadassery, co-founder and chief technology officer of Sea6 Energy , formerly of Entrepreneur India.

While the company is also active in biostimulants, animal feeds, organic food ingredients, bioplastics and biofuels, it works and invests heavily in mechanized marine fishing. “We are developing a whole range of product lines based on algae-derived plastics, which will be an important growth engine,” added Vadassery.

Is a growing startup ecosystem affecting aquatic livelihoods and communities?

“We work closely with local communities to ensure farming practices are sustainable to avoid overfishing and damage to the marine environment. These farms ensure that their farming practices do not harm the natural ecosystem. We only use environmentally friendly and clean chemistry and energy-efficient processing methods to optimize resources like water and electricity,” shares Jain.

The lack of funding

Despite the opportunities the segment offers, only a handful of startups are funded. Although the cost of manually creating seaweed is relatively low and the profits are high, it is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. In addition, traditional rope farming methods under water limit large-scale production, and conflicts with fish landing centers and commercial fishing activities pose an obstacle. but most of these teams are in the research phase and may not be looking for funding or commercialization of the product at this time. Cultivation of seaweed is not comparable to agriculture or aquaculture and represents a new and unexplored landscape in India. More investment is required for cultivation of seaweed as farming and processing require special infrastructure. Because algae-based innovations are relatively new, many investors may also be unaware of the potential opportunities,” shared Dinesh Pai, Investments, Rainmatter Foundation. RMF invested in Zerocircle back in 2021.

Seaweed farmers are moving away from the traditional methods of growing algae using nets and towards a method using ropes and long lines, as the latter tend to harm marine life, while long lines result in higher algae yields per square meter. Automated processes can increase the production process while reducing crop damage. THE


The global algae market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7 percent from 2017 to 2025. The Indian government is planning and investing accordingly in the segment to target 1 million tons of algae production per year by 2025. The government has also implemented the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana in all states and territories from fiscal year 2020-21 to fiscal year 2024-25. In addition, the Blue Revolution program is expected to give a boost to the algae space. The Department of Fisheries’ 100 Super Success Stories from Indian Fisheries is a collection of individuals and initiatives that emerged from the PMMSY, where five success stories were related to algae.

So where can we expect the algae industry to be in the next 5-10 years? “If industry is to be successful in low-cost, mass-production of seaweed, it may also open up opportunities for biofuels, which can usher in a new era of sustainable energy sources. The future is bright but an enabling environment to foster growth.” and channeling the investment is critical to success,” concluded Seth.

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