Biofoodtech startup NewFish is to accelerate the commercialisation and development of microalgae-based nutrition products with new developing technology.

It is using research conducted in collaboration with the Cawthron Institute, New Zealand’s largest independent science organisation, to identify better forms of nutrition from microalgae, and to commercialise its nutritious properties. The startup has also teamed up with Nelson engineering firm Kernohan Engineering, who aim to be experts in building the systems for NewFish to create highly nutritious, protein-packed specialised food ingredients.

“We are providing them with guidance on exactly what we need,” NewFish CEO Toby Lane says. “Down the line we’d like to be customers of Kernohan and have them build and install the equipment that we need to produce our food from microalgae.”

Microalgae, invisible to the naked eye, contain the same nutritious properties as any other algae. They have hard indigestible shells, and developed technology has now enabled them to be broken open to access the nutrition.

Toby Lane, NewFish CEO.

“Microalgae has real high-quality, complete protein,” Lane says. “Until now we have not been able to grow them well enough or process them well enough to extract that great nutrition – so that’s what we are doing.”

The New Zealand Government has invested $750,000 in the $1.5 million project through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFF Futures) fund, with NewFish contributing some of the balance so it can produce the best food from microalgae.

Investors in the pre-seed round included Outset Ventures and basketball star Steven Adams.

But NewFish sees its growth pathway in the USA. It is in the process of completing another funding round driven by the Katapult Ocean Fund, a venture capital fund based in Norway that supports startups which have a positive impact on our ocean. That investment also comes with an invitation to its accelerator programme, further refining any global impact.

The startup was founded in 2020 to develop these underutilised food products. Under taglines ‘reimagining New Zealand seafood’, and ‘nutrition without compromise’, NewFish has so far also designed two ‘reimagined’ charcuterie products, made from plant and animal-derived ingredients. One, a Pāua Saucisson combining pāua, kelp and pork, is served in a salami form on Air New Zealand Business class routes. Another is a plant-based ocean mortadella which incorporates a variety of native seaweeds and microalgae, designed by leading New Zealand chef Vaughan Mabee.

“It’s a great endorsement of New Zealand validating itself, rather than bleaching pāua and putting it into cans,” Lane says. “We’re building a better way to feed people using science and microalgae. There’s this nascent new industry that to be successful, needs to take its New Zealand heritage to the world. That’s where the market is, it’s where a lot of the technology and capital enablers are.”

NewFish chocolate protein bar prototype made with microalgae.

Protecting biodiversity is at the heart of what NewFish does. Lane knows we are not going to feed the world with high end salamis alone and is doing something about it through NewFish’s development of microalgae nutrition products. Microalgae products use less water, produce a lot less carbon dioxide, do not require monoculture pastoral systems, and have a much smaller land footprint than dairy products.

“By producing food this way we can get out of the way of nature and just let it do its thing. Also, we are a commercial group who know that to make a business successful it has to be sustainable,” he says.

“But if we are really going to have an impact and build a really big business, we are going to have to do something that is much more available to a wider audience.”

Lane, with his hybrid team of twenty across multiple countries is now preparing to scale the startup, from pilot to 10,000 tons scale. “That’s a big jump and we can’t do that overnight. We are also working out who our customers are and partnering with them – and fundraising.”

Pāua Saucisson.

But Lane says fundraising in the current environment has been the toughest part.

“New Zealand finds it really hard to invest in biotechnology and new things. A lot of people are saying how hard it is to fundraise right now. The cost of living is smashing food investment, the cost of capital is really high. This is making it harder for investors to open their wallets and liquidity as a result is generally really hard.”

So, to build for the USA, Lane is seeking endorsement and to accelerate Newfish’s nutritional products internationally, as well as in New Zealand, with assistance from the Katapault Ocean Fund.

“Kiwis don’t always support bold ideas until someone comes along and proves it. That’s part of what’s driving us to focus overseas using our New Zealand heritage as a launching pad to engage with Americans and Europeans to build global technology,” Lane says.

NewFish has a vision to feed people in a better way that doesn’t compromise the planet and our oceans, and also provides great nutrition for everybody.

“What I love about this business is that we are a small group of people who can make decisions really fast, move quickly, and just get on with it. We want to get things done and make an impact.”

Story by Dave Crampton in partnership with Nelson Regional Development Agency (NRDA).

Innovation Nation is a series celebrating stories of innovation and diversity in entrepreneurship from around New Zealand.

Innovation Nation proudly supported by:

Supporter Spotlight: Offers and services from NZ Entrepreneur supporters!


"It is open for business" - Development West Coast CEO Heath Milne


Founder Q&A: Nanobubble Agritech

You might also like...