Initiatives to support women in the aquaculture industry

Wayne Murphy, co-founder of HATCH, spoke to Innovation News Network’s Georgina Ryan about the company’s plans to launch the first global innovation studio targeted to women in the aquaculture industry.

HATCH, a global catalyst for aquaculture innovation, intends to offer business support to mentor the next generation of women in aquaculture, and to attract talented entrepreneurs to the industry.

Global population growth and the challenges it poses are making it increasingly important that the aquaculture industry is performing optimally.

Ensuring the industry is inclusive and diverse is key to a sustainable future for the sector. However, the FAO reports that there is a significant gender gap in food and agriculture industries worldwide.

The virtual programme will run for four weeks starting in August. The programme will target female project teams looking for assistance and mentorship, women-founded start-ups who looking to grow, as well as later stage companies hoping to increase market and industry access. There will be a competitive application process and Hatch’s goal is to onboard 15 female teams for this first programme.

Wayne Murphy, co-founder and partner of HATCH, spoke to Innovation News Network’s Georgina Ryan about the global innovation studio targeted to women in the aquaculture industry and about its objectives and how it will run.

Tell us a little bit more about HATCH and its vision?

HATCH kicked off in 2017 as we sought to find a different way to invest in global aquaculture innovation whilst also having a hands-on role in nurturing, scaling and supporting entrepreneurs and start-ups in the sector via an Accelerator. In early 2018 we launched the world’s first Aquaculture Accelerator in Bergen Norway. We delivered a four-month programme, where we brought in many of the world’s leading global experts and mentors to work with the 8 successful applicant companies to evaluate every aspect of their business, give guidance and provide valuable market intelligence and business expertise. The programme also sought to connect them with potential customers and global industry players many of whom wanted to learn more about potential solutions for their markets and customer challenges. This approach and methodology fits with our mission “to catalyse farmed and alternative seafood innovation through investment, expertise and insights and by building a strong committed innovation community”.

Having completed our first global programme in Norway, we have since expanded into Singapore, and also Hawaii and have completed 4 global accelerators to date. In 2019, we took 13 companies from Hawaii to Bergen and Singapore to give them a truly global perspective of aquaculture. To date we have invested in each of the 35 companies that joined our accelerator programme. This strategy is ultimately a really good way to not just invest in a company, but to help its development and connect it with industry and investors thus increasing their chances of success.

In 2019, we raised our first fund, collecting $8.5m, and since, we have made around 35 investments now. In aquaculture, last year, we invested into more companies than any other investor out there. Not in terms of size, but in terms of number. So, we have a good network now across the world in terms of connecting with us to innovation in the world of aquaculture.

Why has HATCH decided to launch this Women in Aquaculture programme and why is it important?

Since our first accelerator, we have had the opportunity to work with many amazing female founders and we have seen first-hand their contribution to their respective businesses and the clear perspective, dynamic and diversity they bring to a group and we need and want to see increased female participation in our sector. Looking at the UK, recent reports suggest only 3% of all venture capital invested in start-ups went to women founders and in the US only $3.4B of the $140B+ invested in 2020 was allocated to female led technology firms.

There are not enough female founders coming into our industry and this initiative is there to support them, to connect them and surround them with other successful female entrepreneurs, and to provide a space where they can grow, where they can connect and network, and in some cases, build the confidence and the network, to enable them to fully achieve their potential.

We want to see an increase in female participation in aquaculture and just as importantly we want to inspire the next generation of female led innovative companies as they learn from many of the current crop of inspirational leaders. This Innovation Studio will bring them all together and we hope will enable them to take their businesses to the next level, find investment or find customers.

What kind of barriers are there currently to women entrepreneurs in the aquaculture industry?

From a HATCH perspective, there is no bias in relation to whether you are a female or a male founder or entrepreneur. Generally, however there are fewer female applicants and participants in our programmes, and this is not just an issue for aquaculture but across many industries.  There are many female entrepreneurs who do not see any barriers which is as it should be. However, there are others too who do need support and want to surround themselves with likeminded people who share the same experiences and challenges so that they can connect with, follow, learn from and grow with. And this initiative is our opportunity and contribution to do just that.

How will the programme run?

It is going to be virtual, because travelling these days is a bit of a challenge as we all know. We have run an online accelerator programme and innovation studios, previously, so we are quite adept at delivering those in an interesting interactive way.

It will run with specific mentor sessions with leaders in the space, such as Amy Novogratz, the co-founder of Aqua Spark, which is one of the leading aquaculture investment companies in the world and others like Jennifer Bushman and our very own Tanja Hoel to name but a few.

These female leaders will lead specific mentor sessions, on their story, on how they got to where they are, the challenges they have faced, and ways to improve and connect, and grow. The programme will really leverage the experience and the knowledge of the network, be a chance for them to connect and learn from other people’s successful journeys and failures.

Getting really experienced aquaculture entrepreneurs, scientists and industry players together with these some amazing female founders will have a multiplier effect. The future of aquaculture is in the hands of entrepreneurs and it is really important that they get the right support and build the right networks to enable them to achieve their potential.

What are the aims of the programme and how do you hope to see the industry evolve off the back of initiatives such as this?

53% of all seafood consumed today is produced through aquaculture. It is incredibly important that aquaculture succeeds because the many of the protein and nutrient requirements of our growing population quite heavily lies in the ability for aquaculture to produce seafood more sustainably and efficiently, with less impact on the environment.

Therefore, one of the aims in this programme is to stimulate and promote more interest in the space and to attract more technology talent to the industry. Often, people just relate aquaculture to fish farming, but there are a host of relevant technologies within this niche segment – genetics, Artificial Intelligence, blockchain, plant-based seafood, sensor technology, feed alternatives.  All are needed to deliver, support and drive a sustainable seafood supply chain in order to provide the food for future generations.

Is there anything else you would like to add for our readers?

Ultimately, this initiative is to raise the profile of aquaculture, highlight the role that women can and do play in aquaculture and to drive more increased female participation in our industry. I know from the personal experience of working with the female founders in our portfolio how incredible the talent and determination is to succeed. I know the value of diversity and equality in an innovative environment and I just want to see more of it. We at HATCH are just playing a very small part in highlighting this and together with our network and supporters aim to inspire the next generation of female leaders in our industry.

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