Aquanzo has been one of the 15 startups selected for the 2022 Nutreco Feed & Food Challenge. The startup is developing technologies enabling scalable and sustainable farming of marine zooplankton, on land, using agricultural byproducts, to produce marine ingredients for aquafeeds. We spoke with Remi Gratacap, co-founder and CEO of Aquanzo, to get more insights into the company.
“I joined the FAST program, a joint venture between the University of Edinburgh, the Roslin Innovation Centre and Deep Science Ventures, in January 2021 after a couple of postdocs in the USA and at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh. The goal was to develop a company concept addressing the most pressing problem for the sustainable development of aquaculture. We spent four months deconstructing the whole sector to its founding elements and asked where the biggest roadblocks were, as well as where disruptive innovations could facilitate that,” Gratacap explained.
“The dependence of aquaculture (scalable) on marine ingredients (non-scalable) was my aha moment. Instead of looking for a solution in the alternative ingredients sector, we used first principle analysis to understand that to solve the problem at its core, we needed to produce more marine ingredients, by farming them. Moving from harvesting to farming has been one of the fundamental shifts for humanity to scale food and feed production for 10,000 years, we realized it was time to start farming marine ingredients,” Gratacap stated.
To evolve the concept into a company, Stefanie Lobnig was recruited as co-founder, an engineer from the insect farming industry as this was the most complementary other half of Gratacap’s biology-aquaculture background.
The production system
Looking into the ocean for the most nutritious harvested organism used as a raw ingredient for aquafeed, krill came up as the first candidate, but the team quickly realized that sustainably farming krill on land was not possible, but Artemia had all the characteristics required to support intensive, large-scale, sustainable production.
Aquanzo was born as a startup developing a novel farming system to produce Artemia biomass sustainably and at a large scale and process it into raw ingredients (meal, oil and hydrolysates). “Aquanzo’s portfolio of products will even outperform the best marine palatants and attractants, as well as nutritional ingredients since we can control and continuously improve the farming system, the genetics and the feedstock used to grow biomass and process it,” he said.
The startup aims to use agricultural byproducts to feed Artemia as one of the main value propositions of this organism. “It is well documented that Artemia will grow biomass on rice bran, barley bran, soybean meal, yeasts and a lot of other highly available, low-use agricultural byproducts. The possibilities to formulate feedstocks, combining multiple input and tailor the output nutritional profile transforms Artemia into a ‘nutritional platform’ and allow for the first time to tailor, to a certain extent, raw ingredients' nutritional profile to the requirements of aquafeed companies,” he explained.
The sustainability aspects are central to Aquanzo’s vision and the production system itself, as well as the co-location of the farms with the feedstock and feed mills. The use of agricultural byproducts and animal improvements through genetic breeding programs will allow minimizing the environmental footprint and offer products that can be scaled and adapted to available inputs (feedstocks) as well as outputs (target species or geographical regions), he added.
“The first market we want to target is starter diets for both marine fish and shrimps. The possible gains in survival, weaning period and deformities make this life stage the perfect market entry point. Improving the transition from live Artemia to dry diet containing Artemia meal is the trial I can’t wait to start,” he explained. “Next, we will target broodstock diets and well as specialized diets, such as stress and medicated diets. The aquafeed market is our focus but other animal feed markets such as poultry, swine, pets and eventually, human food markets are all addressable.”
Aquanzo Artemia meal and other Artemia products do not aim to compete with the 5 million tonnes of fishmeal produced and used annually, nor with soybean or single-cell protein meals as all these sources of proteins are necessary to deliver the volumes required to feed fish and shrimps globally. “What Aquanzo is producing is the very highest performance products that have the best inclusion-level-to-performance-gain metrics. We want to improve the available diets where marine ingredients are less and less available by offering a scalable and high-quality product that will become even better than the most performing harvested marine ingredients,” Gratacap explained.
Nutritional profile and trials
“Aquanzo is a very early-stage startup and we are just beginning to explore the breadth of our nutritional platform. From literature, we know that Artemia meal's nutritional profile is very similar to harvested marine ingredients and a few studies have shown that inclusion will improve growth performances in shrimps and fish,” he said.
The startup is currently building collaborations to test its first product with aquafeed companies and aims to run its first trial early next year.
“Being one of the 15 finalists from the 150 startups which applied to the Nutreco Feed & Food challenge 2022 was one of our greatest experiences to date. The mentoring for the six weeks leading to the closed-door pitch enabled us to refine our company strategy, business model and product-market fit. Not being selected for the last five was disappointing, but not surprising due to the quality of the other four companies in the aquaculture section as well as the very early stage Aquanzo is at. Nonetheless, this experience was memorable and a great boost to accelerate our growth and development,” Gratacap said.
Aquanzo is growing and currently recruiting an R&D manager.