Douglas Martin, founder of MiAlgae. Photo: Paul Bock

Colin Donald writes for thatBottom of Form algae produced from the co-products of Scotland’s whisky industry could be used in health products for human consumption, if the winner of a major young entrepreneurial competition is successful.

Douglas Martin, whose company MiAlgae was crowned Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year last month, said that the algae cultivation process his company has pioneered is preparing to produce omega-3 from algae for use in the aquaculture and pet food industries. Following further regulatory processes and testing, it could be adapted for supplements for human consumption.

MiAlgae beat five other national finalists to take home the top national prize in the LiveWIRE competiton, winning a total of £30,000 and a program of business development support from Shell.

The equity-free funding will help MiAlgae to develop its product, which uses by-products of the whisky industry known as pot ale and spent lees to grow micro-algae which can be used to feed sustainably farmed fish. This reduces the environmental impact of the distilleries while simultaneously produces valuable nutrients at affordable prices, he says.

Based at Edinburgh’s BioCity, and nurtured with the support of Edinburgh University, MiAlgae has constructed a large algae reactor tank which encourages the growth of algae which feeds on nutrient-rich liquids, currently restricted to those not classed as “waste products.” The plant is about to be moved to co-locate with a whisky distillery, one of several with whom the company has been working, but whose identities are not being revealed because of industry sensitivities on environmental issues.

Mr. Martin said that the idea for MiAlgae emerged from his academic biotech background, coupled with a strong interest in business. As well as the LiveWIRE prize money, the pre-revenue company has already received a total of £500,000 in seed funding, including £250,000 in private investment. The company currently employs four people, but is expecting to increase this to six.

“The Shell prize came at a good time and will have a great impact,” he said. “I was really glad we won it — didn’t think we would be in the running, as the competition was quite impressive. It means a lot to me, not just to be awarded the money but all the PR and support that goes with that.”

Shell LiveWIRE supports young entrepreneurs with innovative, smart and sustainable business ideas that meet the ever-increasing energy and resource needs of a fast-growing population. Shell LiveWIRE has been running in the UK since 1982 and in that time has awarded 5,145 monetary awards and provided £5m of funding. Sinead Lynch, chair of Shell UK, said after the awards, held at the Royal Academy of Engineering, “MiAlgae is one of Britain’s brightest, most promising innovations to support a more sustainable, low-carbon world.”

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