The seaweed industry is young and immature outside of Asia, and for now, investments are minimal compared to those in finfish or shrimp aquaculture (where in turn, investment barely registers compared to land-based agriculture). However, investments are growing.
Looking at our records of seaweed investments for 2020 and 2021, we notice an uptick in investor interest.
The number of deals doubled from 17 to 34 this year. The median deal size stayed roughly the same at a modest $2.3 million, reflecting the fact that most money is raised in pre-seed and seed rounds. The total invested amount grew by 36% to $168 million. Keep in mind that some deals are not disclosed, so this number remains an underestimate.
We noticed an increase in seed rounds in 2021, and a jump in the number of early venture capital rounds compared to 2020, which shows the seaweed industry is beginning to break out of its hatchling stage.
While about half of investors don’t have a specific investment focus, or limit themselves to local companies (like many government funds), it’s interesting to have a look at the investors that do have a specific thesis. Funds and accelerators focusing on food systems, the ocean and the climate are pulling the cart.
Leaving aside business angels and incubators, what type of investors are finding their way to the seaweed industry?
While corporate and VC investments naturally dominate the space, the number of family offices, nonprofits, government funds and impact investors is notable. On the one hand, this reflects the impact community’s belief that sustainable seaweed production can contribute towards the SDGs.
On the other hand, it indicates that traditional VCs have not yet discovered the seaweed industry, or find the risk-reward balance unappetizing compared to other options in the market.
What part of the value chain?
A majority of the companies that have raised money are already vertically integrated to some extent: most seaweed producers are also processing their own crops into finished products. While there are only a few companies building biorefineries to level up the processing step, they have been able to attract considerable investment.
When it comes to the type of applications, food, feed and bioplastics have seen the most deals in 2020 and 2021.
Who attracts capital?
Europe leads in the number of startups, and also in the number of deals and the amount of money invested.
Having said this, our data shows that North American startups have an easier time attracting capital. North American companies raised more than half the rounds of their European counterparts and 40% of the money, with only a quarter of the startups. Not that this is surprising: the greater risk appetite and looser purse strings of American investors are well documented across all industries.
When it comes to the leadership teams that capital favours, the number of deals is too low to draw any conclusions. However, what is noticeable is the amount of female-founded startups entering the seaweed space. It will be interesting to see in the coming years if investors can overcome their bias and back female CEOs.