Origin by Ocean is a start-up that turns an environmental problem into an opportunity. The company is an example of a new kind of entrepreneurship that aims to do good business – and also change the world.
One thing comes clear when meeting Mari Granström and Mikael Westerlund, two entrepreneurs behind Origin by Ocean. They are not running just any start-up, where excitement for new ideas goes hand in hand with the enthusiasm for making money.
The question of money only pops up after talking well over an hour. Very typical for the way these two see entrepreneurship, they admit. After all, Mari Granström calls herself “chief science activist.”
The story started, like many good business ideas, when the right people met at the right time. For Granström and Westerlund, the place was a pre-founder event where Mari was presenting her business idea. The plan, in a nutshell, is to turn the eutrophication problem of the Baltic Sea into a business opportunity, by harvesting and growing biomass such as algae and kelp and processing it into material for other industries.
“I thought this is the greatest idea I have ever heard. I am originally from Nauvo in the archipelago, the Baltic Sea is something I feel very strongly about,” Mikael Westerlund says.
The company was founded in March 2019. The dynamics were clear from the beginning. Mari Granström is the academic, activist, and fire starter. She has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. Mikael Westerlund is the one with an analytical business mind, he talks to investors and has an MBA and a string of executive jobs in his CV.
Sea of business
Climate change is a problem of a global scale and has sparked political movements, inspired action and strikes. Climate change also means business. Even cautious estimations give global environmental business market two-to-three-fold growth in the coming years.
Many companies which make climate change their business, ride on the idea of how to make our lives bearable despite the soaring temperatures. But what if you turned your thinking around? How to profit from climate change, the actual impacts it has on nature, and make a difference at the same time? Origin by Ocean aims to do just that.
The collaboration with Origin by Ocean means expanding into new interesting raw materials – from the point of view of our own product development and also the possible management of business around new algae-based products.
“Most efforts around the eutrophication problem in the Baltic Sea have been focused on minimizing the influx of excess nutrients, without addressing the aggregate amount of already present. What if we harvested the algae instead, this way addressing the root problem and tried to profit from it?” Mikael Westerlund asks.
He lays down impressive numbers. At the core of their business is a biorefinery, which uses raw materials, algae, bladder wrack, and kelp to produce eight different molecule-based end products. Refinery should be up and running in 2025, processing 80 000 tons of algae per year, thus, cleaning the Baltic sea from harmful algae.
The idea is not as radical as it maybe sounds. Already in the EU countries the algae biomass sector is valued at 1.70 billion euros, and it employs 14 000 people in research and supply, according to a report by European Commission from 2018.
Climate change as an opportunity
The timing is apt. Globally more and more companies are offering sustainable solutions to help fight climate change. Investment funds that include green businesses are thriving.
Personally, for Mari Granström and Mikael Westerlund, the decision to jump into the unknown and start imagining a new future was not so hard. Mari Granström says she enjoyed working in big corporations but was always in conflict between company policies and her personal values.
“I don’t want to be 80 and think, “damn, why didn’t I do anything?”. The potential to do something meaningful is invaluable to me,” Mari Granström says.
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