Seaweed bar wins innovation competition
Despite its abundance, Alaska seaweed isn’t harvested for commercial use to the extent it can be found on local grocery shelves.
That’s potentially a loss for the Alaska economy as projections for the commercial seaweed market are expected to reach $22.13 billion by 2024, according to Global Market Insights.
What is stocked in dried spirulina and sushi ingredients tends to hail from Maine — a place where the waters aren’t as pristine as Alaska’s, said Udbhav Naidoo, a GCI solutions engineer who took part in the winning entry at the Ocean Technology Innovation Sprint, or OTIS, competition Oct. 27 at the Loussac Library in Anchorage.
OTIS is a program based on the Google Ventures Sprint process tapped by the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative to get ideas generated for sustainable ocean-based economic development projects. It engages innovators as they tackle business or market solutions.
In 40 days, five teams finalized five business ideas. Each concept met standards of feasibility, sustainability, desirability and viability in a marketing concept known as “human-centered design.”
Naidoo and Team Chukchi members came up with the Green Sea Bar made 20 percent of seaweed — a product no one else in Alaska has developed yet for the market. The recipe consisted of sesame seeds, cashews and maple syrup, ground together with wakame or edible seaweed, and baked.
The winning members are Caiming Li, a computer engineering student and software developer, Lowen Guzman a mechanical engineering student focusing on ocean energy, and Alyse Daunis program manager at Launch Alaska, as well as Naidoo.
Once Team Chukchi settled on the seaweed nutrition bar, they needed to come up with a prototype. Daunis spent a weekend on a Talkeetna getaway trip where she used a 50-year-old stove and a match to light the oven and bake the bars.
“We conducted taste tests, and the first ones didn’t work out so well,” she told the audience.
The team had placed the bars next to each judge’s spot. Gunnar Knapp said he didn’t know it was part of a team’s presentation, but ate it and found it quite good.
Forty days before the event, none of Team Chukchi members had met.
Together with 25 others, they signed on to brainstorm in smaller teams through the ideation process, eliminating 25 to 30 proposals before settling on the seaweed bars.
Each team was close to having a marketable project, but may have a ways more to go working out the kinks, said organizer Joel Cladouhos, executive director of the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative.
“Everyone was great. I’m sure it was difficult to pick a winner,” he said.
Team Pacific analyzed ways to better count fish. For all Alaska’s seafood wealth and recognition for sustainable yield fisheries, the weir counting system still boils down to counting “one fish, two fish,” said team leader Jared Fuller, a chief technical officer of electronic monitoring at Saltwater Inc.
Though Alaska has thousands of productive salmon streams, only a portion are monitored by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game due to the expense, Fuller said. They came up with an idea for species recognition counts via a camera that can be placed at more rivers and bring down the expense.
Team Arctic came up with a product that identifies bycatch and releases them through a hatch in another fish recognition system.
Team Beaufort came up with a small consumer tidal energy product that can be built to scale for small boats or small communities.
A virtual team called Team Bering Sea, led by Jay Carpenter, the director of technology at APICDA Joint Ventures, came up with an app that will allow marine industry occupational licensing and other online education courses. Members of this team met on Skype from Fairbanks, Homer, Louisiana, Juneau and Anchorage.
A panel of judges posed questions to each team on the feasibility of their products before announcing the winner. They were Christi Bell, director of the UAA Business Enterprise Institute; Gunnar Knapp, retired from the Institute for Economic Research, Jim Jager, Port of Alaska external affairs director, and Wanetta Ayers, executive director of the Prince William Sound Economic Development District.
Likewise, each team also had access to solid mentors in the topics they took on.
Mentors included Nigel Sharp, the Global Enterprise Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Alaska Anchorage Business Enterprise Institute, Cladouhos and Rachel Miller, an associate business professor at Alaska Pacific University named the Walter Hickel Professor of Strategic Leadership and Entrepreneurship.
For their efforts, the Chukchi group wins a trip to network and learn more about the blue ocean economy at Blue Tech Week in San Diego, a meeting that includes professional mentorship and coaching. They also win a Kenai Fjords National Park cruise.
All together, it was an amazing group of people to work with, Naidoo said.
“One of most impressive things is that none of them were familiar with this. Alyse said she cooks ‘sometimes.’ Li and Lowen didn’t know about ocean resources. But they put in a ton of work to get up to speed and learn.”
They aren’t sure what the next step will be in terms of moving forward to market their product.
“As a group we’ve all decided we want to be involved in the development of a seaweed product,” Naidoo said. “We will continue the conversation.”
Naomi Klouda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.