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Still leading the wave

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This article was published on 5 July 2022

Callaghan Innovation is proud to once again sponsor the NZ Hi-Tech Kamupene Māori o te Tau – Māori Company of the Year award. Ahead of the awards on 5 August, we’re checking in with the four finalists – AgriSea, Envico Technologies, Plink and Height – to find out how they’re making their mark as Māori innovators.

Washing up on shores around Aotearoa is a source of pure potential.

“Seaweed,” enthuses AgriSea CEO Clare Bradley, “is just this incredible thing.” 

“There are almost a thousand different species here, representing a huge opportunity not only for NZ as an emerging powerhouse economy, but also for its ecological restoration.”

For more than 25 years, AgriSea has been pioneering seaweed’s potential. From raw material sustainably collected from remote coastal communities, the business creates organic biostimulant products for soil, pasture and animal health. 

Harnessing research and innovation has been the foundation for the business in establishing its markets here and offshore – and as it expands into new ones by exploring the use of seaweed for everything from wound care to creating cleaner waterways. 

Green-tech is hi-tech

Being named a finalist in the Hi-Tech Kamupene Māori o te Tau category of the NZ Hi-Tech Awards for the second time in a row has been welcome recognition for the business, says Clare, and the ‘blue economy’ in which it operates. 

“It’s really brought home to us that green technology, and using natural systems and ecological principles, can also be recognised as hi-tech. We hope this inspires others, and increases acknowledgement of biological solutions and technologies that are good for the planet and the future of Aotearoa.”

Partnering up

Clare and husband Tane (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato-Tainui) are the second generation to run the Paeroa-based business, established by Tane’s mother, Jill Bradley, and stepfather Keith Atwood. 

AgriSea has been championing organic products and sustainability principles long before they hit the ‘mainstream’, engaging with science and innovation communities to prove efficacy of its biostimulants, and to develop its new products and markets.

Recently the business won a Fieldays Innovation Award for Fortress + – a prototype formulation that when fed to cows reduces their oxidative stress (increasing disease resistance), as well as urinary nitrogen levels by around 18%. 

“The science behind the formulation was developed over three years by a Lincoln University PhD student, enabled by a Callaghan Innovation R&D Fellowship Grant,” says Clare. “From that three-year journey we’ve produced seven peer-reviewed papers, and we've also had huge interest in the formulation from large markets, such as the US.”

AgriSea has secured a further Fellowship Grant to help it commercialise IP that it developed in partnership with Crown Research Institute (CRI) Scion: turning a previously low-value product stream for AgriSea into high-value hydrogels – with potential applications in everything from wound care to replacing petrochemicals in seedling gels.

“Sometimes it’s hard to encapsulate our approach to business,” says Tane, “but really it’s that we live our values – to respect each other, and our environment. We see ourselves as a family doing good things and we want to partner with others who are doing the same.”

A new perspective

Manaakitanga is an important value at AgriSea, which has grown a reputation for welcoming visitors from around the world. 

Being unable to engage international customers face-to-face was a challenge during COVID-19, says Clare. The team is looking forward to welcoming people back as international travel restarts.

“The pandemic has increased people’s focus on health and wellbeing, leading consumers to increasingly explore biologically based products,”

In the quarter to June 2021, for example, AgriSea doubled export orders compared with the same quarter the previous year.

“We’ve always felt like we were on the cusp of something – it’s just that sometimes it takes a little longer than you envisage,” Clare says. “What we haven’t done is waited for the wave to come to us. We’ve invested in people, technology and partnerships to ensure we’re solving problems, and having a positive impact.”