This series provides insights into the global array of companies participating in this challenge as innovators or sponsors.
The 1st of this Spotlight Series focuses on Wittaya Aqua, one of the eight innovation finalists of this program. In the coming weeks leading to the grand Finale on the 7th of October, we will profile the other innovations and sponsors of this challenge.
Dietitian to the fish farming industry
(Toronto, Canada) Wittaya Aqua is the Canadian platform that sustainably creates value for the whole aquafeed supply chain, from ingredients to feed mills and producers.
Feed is the single biggest expenses for most aquaculture operations. These farms generally purchase feeds from one or several feed manufacturers. These manufacturers produce feeds that try to match nutritional requirements of the animals at the lowest cost possible. They are constantly shaping feed formulations based on commodity prices, availability, seasons as well as based on evolutions of knowledge base in nutrition and the needs of the market.
Aquaculture feed manufacturers need to be able to assess the effectiveness of their feeds in the field under commercial conditions. This is complicated since aquaculture farms are often very different and there is a lot of variability in the results achieved on farms. Properly assessing the effective of feeds involves gathering data from a very large number of farms. These data then need to be analyzed using sophisticated approaches to account the effects of numerous factors, such as genetics, rearing environment/system, water quality, diseases, rearing practices, etc.
Aquaculture farms need to be able to assess the suitability of different feeds available to them and determine the feeds that fit best their own specific situations and enable the best production and profit margin. Farms must also be able to report a variety of sustainability metrics to certification bodies that need to be calculated from a combination of information about the farm and feed composition. Farms must rely on information reported to them piecemeal by feed manufacturers. This information is often confidential or sensitive, creating some friction points.
What more, feeds are made from a variety of ingredients and additives and the manufacturers and suppliers of these ingredients and additives also seek to understand how their products are performing in the field when incorporated in a variety of feeds produced by a multitude of feed manufacturers. Similarly, breeders may want to have objective insights on how well different strains are performing in the field.
To address these needs of these different stakeholders, Wittaya Aqua is developing innovative platforms based on advanced modeling and computation approaches that enables seamless and confidential collaboration across the entire aquaculture production chain. The platforms include several tools providing insights to aquaculture farms, feed manufacturers, feed ingredient suppliers, breeders, and other aquaculture industry stakeholders. These tools are aimed at predicting farm and feed productivity and efficiency, economics, as well as. waste outputs and other sustainability metrics, such as carbon footprint and “Fish In : Fish Out” ratio (FIFO) across multiple aquaculture species and geographies.
Toronto’s Wittaya Aqua was co-founded in 2017 by Evan Hall and Dr. Dominique Bureau.
The system is the brainchild of Bureau, a leading aquaculture nutrition scientist who has taught at the University of Guelph in Canada for more than 25 years. Bureau’s deep subject matter expertise in this area gives the company a competitive edge.
“We’re focusing on the integration from the entire supply chain from the feed ingredient supplier to the aquaculture producer and connecting the whole chain together.” Bureau said. “No software company is doing that, especially from a feed and ingredient perspective.”
The science is well developed but the challenge is gathering and integrating data and information ingredients, feeds and farm operations.
From left to right: Dr. Neda Nemati, Evan Hall, Dr. Dominique Bureau, Jeremy Fu, Tom McDonell, Supul Amarakoon and Dr. Flavia Damasceno. Team members not on this picture: James Palathunkal, Jamie Hooft, Natalia Gills, Chuyen Ngo, Matthew Wong, Stephen Gunther
Wittaya Aqua’s business model is centered around two platforms, AquaOp Feed and the AquaOp Farm. AquaOp Feed integrates a series of tools or applications for ingredient and feed manufacturers. AquaOp Farm is a platform targeted to aquaculture operations. It allows them to track their production and the platform uses predictive models to suggest actions to take for optimal outcomes. The company have made great strides and are working with an array of industry actors in the ingredient, feed and aquaculture sectors that is starting to look like an industry “Who’s Who” list.
Wittaya applied to the challenge to improve its marketing strategy, Bureau said. The Yield Lab federation of funds, including the Global Aquaculture Challenge’s organizer, The Yield Lab Asia Pacific, is one of the most prominent investors in agtech companies globally.
Revenue rose from $100,000 in 2018 to $450,000 in 2020 plus $250,000 in grants, allowing Wittaya Aqua to expand its team to 12. Several of the key early hires for the company were once students of Bureau and have had a taste of industry experience before joining the Canadian start-up. The company is hoping to hire a few new personnel with domain expertise and industry experience this year.
The company also offers services to an array of services. The emergence of alternative feed ingredient suppliers offers good growth opportunities for the company. These suppliers are interested in objective assessment of the nutritive and economical value of their ingredients for a variety of segments of the global aquaculture industry. The blend of tools and domain expertise offered by Wittaya Aqua enables these.
Some of Wittaya Aqua’s consultancy work and early revenues (plus grants) has allowed this start-up to bootstrap growth rather than giving away equity, Hall said. A member of aquaculture-focused incubator Hatch’s accelerator program in 2018, Wittaya Aqua is currently fundraising for a seed round and are gearing up for a Series A venture capital raise in 2023.
Bureau, who worked in the Canadian dairy industry before specializing in aquaculture, is still amazed that the aquaculture industry is slow at embracing digital approaches to compile and analyze data and support their decision process. Farm management track feed inputs still use hodgepodge spreadsheets with very limited capability. It’s a problem that Wittaya Aqua is ready to solve.
“There are literally hundred of thousands of small and medium aquaculture operations around the world that could benefit from the tools we are developing”. Not a lot of folks are paying a lot of attention to this part of the industry,” CEO Evan Hall said. ““Even using very little farm data, we are able to dramatically improve the operations of a farm.”
About The Yield Lab Asia Pacific
28 July 2021.
Matt Craze and Oriana Aguillon, Spheric Research.