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MiAlgae on track to shake up food industry after £500,000 investment

MiAlgae, a student-launched startup that aims to revolutionise the animal and fish feed industries with microalgae made from the co-products of whisky, has received £500,000 from investors.

The company, founded by Douglas Martin while a masters student at the University of 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, whose future growth is predicted to require new sources of feed.

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 plant 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.

Douglas Martin
Douglas Martin

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. Martin recently pitched at the final of the 2018 Scottish EDGE competition with the chance of being awarded an additional £100k of funding for the company – the awards ceremony for the competition will be held on 14 June.

Kerry Sharp, head of the Scottish Investment Bank, commented: “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.

“A forward thinking, ambitious company, Scottish Enterprise has worked with MiAlgae since its very early stages of development helping it with innovation and financial readiness support, including a By Design grant which helped with the cost analysis of the pilot plant.  I’d like to congratulate the team in securing this latest round of funding and look forward to continue working with Douglas and his team as they continue along their exciting growth journey.”

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, Chief Executive Officer 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, Director at Business Angel Group Equity Gap, added: “We’re delighted to lead the first scale round for MiAlgae alongside OCC and SIB. 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 reach 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.”