Canadian Pacifico Seaweeds receives $93K from Canadian Food Innovation Network
How Majid Hajibeigy, founder and CEO of the Surrey-based biotech firm, got lost in the (sea)weeds en route to this investment.
Sometimes it pays to get a little lost. The Canadian Food Innovation Network (CFIN) today announced an investment into a host of nationwide innovators, with Canadian Pacifico Seaweeds (CPS) being the lone local recipient. CPS will receive $93,304 for its “functional seaweed compounds” project. A CFIN spokesperson believes this to be the organization's first investment into a B.C.-based endeavour.
The project will receive the influx of cash to scale up the extraction, activation, and utilization of vitamins and nutrients, particularly vitamin B12, found in Pacific seaweeds. The biotech company was founded by Majid Hajibeigy who admits to Vancouver Tech Journal that he got a little “lost in the weeds” — both literally and figuratively, we guess — when first entering the industry. Hajibeigy was in Bamfield, B.C., a town on the West Coast of Vancouver Island so intrinsically linked with the ocean that water taxi services are listed as the leading transportation option around town.
It was there that he started working with Louis Druehl, co-founder of Canadian Kelp Resources, who Hajibeigy quips is the “godfather of seaweed — not just locally but globally.” Working with Druehl was supposed to just be an odd job after university for Hajibeigy; one that would allow him to save some money and go travelling. But the momentum that started in Bamfield was too strong to ignore. So too were some disconcerting aspects of the seaweed industry.
Hajibeigy saw the inability of a lot of his industry colleagues to find success in the farming side of things. With water as your “soil,” you don't need any fertilizer or pesticides. “But, you do have to select the right site to farm,” Hajibeigy explains. “And you have to really understand the ecology of the ocean as well as the biology of the [seaweed] plant in order to find that right spot. That's what a lot of our competitors are struggling with: finding sites that actually get proper yields.” So, the first few years of the company were spent fine-tuning the farming development program which would become the team’s specialty at CPS.
In addition to a passion for improving farming in the industry, Hajibeigy sought to dispel a claim concerning vitamin B12. He was hearing time and again that seaweed was a rich source of the vitamin. Hajibeigy points out that if you test for it, you’ll see lots of vitamin B12, but it’s not actually in a bioavailable form. Our bodies can't access it, digest it, or break it down. Not only will the project focus on extracting that vitamin, but CPS is seeking to activate it within the seaweed for human consumption, too. This aim put him and his company on the radar of CFIN and Dr. Anubhav Pratap-Singh, a UBC professor who worked with CPS on the functional seaweed compounds project. Dr. Singh also helped secure PhD students to conduct supporting research.
“I'm only 27 years old. There's no way I can do this all by myself,” Hajibeigy says of his supporting cast. “I’ve got a lot of partners. A lot of universities, and a lot of conservation companies. A lot of very powerful people.”
He is thankful for the support received not just in these collaborations, but in funding, too. CFIN — a not-for-profit organization established in 2021 that acts as a catalyst for innovation in the food sector — is only the most recent. CPS’ CFIN funding comes by way of “the innovation booster” program: flexible and rapid support to small or medium enterprises as they address food innovation challenges or technical hurdles that have created barriers to achieving their commercialization goals. “This first round of investment programming will help Canadian players in the food sector compete and lead on the global stage,” Joseph Lake, CEO of CFIN, said in a press release.
“I'd love to give them flowers for being the first big grant,” Hajibeigy says of CFIN. “They're giving us 90 grand to do this. We've had Mitacs support. We've had NRC IRAP support. Those are all great grant organizations that we’ve needed the support of. But, [CFIN] really dove in headfirst.”
Diving in headfirst? Sounds like what Hajibeigy did in Bamfield.
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