With its new factory, the Tromsø company Zooca is in the process of a tenfold increase in production and exporting to new markets. Innovation Norway has provided funding and advisory services.
The factory at Sortland in Nordland County was opened in August and will produce large quantities of dietary supplements and fish feed from the tiny zooplankton called Calanus finmarchicus. Calanus finmarchicus is a type of copepod that makes up most of the zooplankton found in the Norwegian Sea ecosystem. The species has commercial potential due to its large biomass and high protein and fat content.
Zooca uses the raw material to make oil that is sold as a dietary supplement to consumers in the EU and USA. They also make protein products for the aquaculture industry all over the world. A number of studies have been carried out showing that the oil has health benefits, and the company is investing in even more research going forward.
Funding for growth
Innovation Norway has supported the company through grants, loans and advisory services. In 2020, they received an extraordinary innovation grant of NOK 7.5 million from Innovation Norway to develop a sustainable supply chain for Calanus finmarchicus-based products.
“Our innovation grants are aimed at companies with growth ambitions. The funding will help companies to carry out good and socially beneficial innovation projects. Zooca’s project meets our criteria and is in accordance with the Government’s bioeconomy strategy”, says Thomas Stien, finance adviser at Innovation Norway Arctic.
“The support from Innovation Norway strengthens the basis for the industrial upscaling of a new Norwegian biomarine value chain. Funding will help reduce risk as we phase in our new factory, and contribute to the successful introduction of our products in new countries and sales channels”, says Gunnar Rørstad, former CEO.
Rørstad has been one of the key figures in the development of the company, which Kurt Tande, professor of marine biology, started in 2002. Nearly two decades of dedicated professionals, research and product development have made the world’s first Calanus finmarchicus factory a reality.
Aiming for the stock exchange
The goal is to increase production tenfold and expand internationally. Through a capital funding round with Broodstock Capital, the company received NOK 100 million in new equity in June 2021.
“The potential for growth is great, and the plan is to become listed on the stock exchange within 1 to 2 years. This investment will provide new industry for the fishing fleet, and we work closely with those developing the technology so that others will be able to harvest this unique resource”, says Siv-Katrin Ramskjell, CEO of Zooca.
The company will target Australia, China, India and South Korea over the next few years. These markets have shown significant interest in Zooca’s oil.
“But first we must overcome regulatory export barriers so that the Calanus finmarchicus-based products are approved by the markets. Innovation Norway plays an important role in our initiative and has helped us with international market access. Without the support and confidence we have received from Innovation Norway, this would have been a very challenging endeavour”, says Ramskjell.
When it comes to products for the aquaculture industry, the company will continue to pursue opportunities in markets involved in the farming of marine fish and prawns, such as India and Indonesia.
Commercial fishing of Calanus finmarchicus has sparked debate, and fishermen in particular fear that the zooplankton population and important food for fish fry will be greatly reduced. They are also concerned about the amount of bycatch that will result from Calanus finmarchicus fishing.
“These resources we are harvesting belong to everyone, and this requires responsibility at all levels. All factors related to harvesting Calanus finmarchicus have been thoroughly investigated, and the annual total quota is a reflection and consequence of what is stated in the Marine Resources Act and our management plan”, Ramskjell emphasises.
She adds that the work carried out by Zooca will create a future and long-term area of opportunity for this value chain, and that it will benefit everyone who wants to invest in these marine resources.