Leveraging the network to innovate in the Indian Ocean

The Blue Economy Aquaculture Challenge was a call for ideas to rethink advances in aquaculture to provide solutions that ensure both sustainable development and environmental sustainability. The top ten innovators became the first-ever class of Aquacelerator Fellows.

The Fellows participated in a seven month program of in-person and online business growth opportunities and customised support, which exposed them to a global network of partners to scale their technical capabilities, increase the impact of their designs and facilitate investment opportunities. The innovationXchange managed this process in partnership with SecondMuse, a network-centred innovation agency. Here, SecondMuse’s Matt Scott elaborates further on the process.

Matt Scott, SecondMuse

In early 2016, the Blue Economy Challenge (BEC) brought together unlikely partners from across the Indian Ocean for ideas that would change the relationship between seafood and ocean health. At SecondMuse, we have been working with the iXc on a Network-Centred Innovation approach to development, that effectively closes resource gaps by connecting emerging social entrepreneurs with a diverse group of committed stakeholders. How do we know that it works? Well, we’ve seen it in practice.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced the top BEC Fellows in September 2016 at the World Wildlife Fund headquarters in Washington, DC. The 10 innovators were selected from a pool of 220 applicants with the help of 48 judges representing academia, government, associations, finance, NGOs, and industry. This comprehensive involvement of so many stakeholders led to the selection of innovations that represent a range of approaches — touching on 11 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals — with the ultimate aim of tackling the world’s most complex problems in aquaculture.

“Aquaculture currently supplies 58 per cent of the global fish market and contributes a major portion of protein intake in many developing countries,” Bishop stated at the announcement. “This challenge will invigorate the aquaculture sector to boost food security, and promote social and economic inclusion for some of the world’s poorest people.”

In order to even attempt to impact the aquaculture industry, we knew that we would need the collaborative efforts of a diverse, and committed network from around the globe. Together, the iXc and SecondMuse created the Aquacelerator, an aquaculture-focused accelerator program to build local economies across the Indian Ocean region by connecting our winning innovators with impactful networks capable of scaling the reach of their innovations or bringing them to market.

At the Aquacelerator kickoff, EnerGaia shared Spirulina chocolates and linguine produced through their innovative process.

The accelerator began in Perth where the 10 selected Fellows connected with the iXc and SecondMuse, as well as 15 Council Members, who together hold 294 years of collective experience in the sector. As a result of facilitated strategy rotations held at the event, Fellows and Council Members generated more than 380 commitments in support of the 10 innovations.

Winning Fellow EnerGaia received 31 commitments towards their innovation around the nutritious algae “super-food” Spirulina. They attended the Perth Forum hoping to secure a foundation of partnerships and leads that would allow them to expand beyond Thailand to South Asia. Through the Aquacelerator, they found just the right network to support them.

During the Aquacelerator, Stephanie Kimber of the innovationXchange visited Bangkok to meet with Saumil Shah, Founder of EnerGaia, and to visit one of their urban Spirulina farms.

Leveraging this newfound network, EnerGaia began expanding into new markets with innovative business models to support rural small-scale Spirulina production. The Bangkok-based company expanded into Bangladesh, with the assistance of Daniel Knoop of Solidaridad, to use Spirulina production as a means to close the income disparity gap for women.

They also developed a project opportunity in southern Thailand in partnership with Donna Kwan of the UNEP that will support UNEP’s dugong conservation in the region. Their connection with Emma Bourgois of FairAgora Asia led them to an agreement to work on the certification of EnerGaia Spirulina. In addition, fellow council member, Nitish Narain from Microsave, has guided EnerGaia in developing different inclusive financing models, particularly for women, in their new markets.

As if these four major outcomes of the network were not enough, EnerGaia has also begun conversations with fellow cohort member Wayne Turner of Odyssey Sensors about experimenting with their sensor technology to remotely monitor and support the thousands of small-scale Spirulina producers that EnerGaia hopes to be working with by the end of next year.

During the Aquacelerator, Bonnie Hobbs and Saumil Shah of EnerGaia traveled throughout the Indian Ocean region to solidify partnerships seeded at the Aquacelerator kickoff.

“The Aquacelerator network has provided us with great connections to implementation partners in Bangladesh and southern Thailand, subject matter experts on financing solutions for our rural farmers, and avenues to sales channels as well as potential investors,” Saumil Shah, Founder of EnerGaia reflected.

Going forward, EnerGaia is determined to continue its collaborations with the network and other Fellows. Shah explained, “I envision EnerGaia having a total Spirulina production of more than 300 tonnes per year by 2020, and contributing significantly to a global production of 20 million tonnes per year by 2050. The BEC network can continue to help play a key role by connecting us to large buyers of food ingredients, market channels and investors.”

EnerGaia is just one of many success stories that came out of the Blue Economy Challenge and Aquacelerator as a result of the people we were able to bring together through Network-Centred Innovation. We can’t wait to see what they do next.

This is the second in a five part series on the role of the network in innovation. See part one here. Watch this space for more case studies of how NCI works in action.

About the Author:

Matt Scott is a Digital Storyteller at Network-Centred Innovation company, SecondMuse. In this role, Scott produces creative promotional content — blogs, video interviews, live streams, or social media content — for social and environmental impact projects alongside partners including Nike, NASA, the World Bank, USAID, and the Australian Government. Scott combines his digital marketing experience from the agriculture, arts and entertainment, automotive, education, and health fields with the latest storytelling tools, taking a people-first approach.

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