Each summer, as the weather gets warmer, blue-green algae start blooming at our beaches. The algae are a sign of eutrophication, a problem caused by excess amounts of nutrients, namely nitrogen and phosphorus, in the ocean. Not only is it a nuisance to us humans wanting to go for a swim, but it has severe consequences to, for example, the biodiversity of the seas.
Origin by Ocean fights eutrophication by collecting sea-grown biomass, such as blue-green algae and bladderwrack, and refining them into a variety of ingredients. Partner companies then use these ingredients to produce cosmetics, detergents, food products, and beverages.
“We exist for the natural balance of ocean life. We want to alleviate the global eutrophication problem — and we want to do it in a highly sustainable manner,” says Mikael Westerlund, the CEO of the company.
Sustainability is at the core of the business for Origin by Ocean. In 2025, the company plans to open its first biorefinery unit. Its estimated impact is impressive: annually, the new unit will remove hundreds of tons of nutrients from the Baltic Sea.
From food to cosmetics: algae offer a variety of opportunities to Origin by Ocean
Because of algae's versatility as raw materials, Origin by Ocean had to make some difficult choices regarding its product portfolio. The company decided to start with eight different products that it divides into four categories: sugars, emulsifiers, pigments, and antioxidants.
“A good example of an emulsifier product that we can produce is a new, very trendy out-based yoghurt. Our customer wants the product to be experienced by the consumer as yoghurt, so it needs to have a certain texture and mouthfeel. Our emulsifier product creates this experience for the oat-based product,” Westerlund explains.
"We exist for the natural balance of ocean life. We want to alleviate the global eutrophication problem and we want to do it in a highly sustainable manner."
Despite still developing its products, Origin by Ocean has already partnered up with some of the most prominent companies in Finland. For instance, dairy giant Valio, beverage company Hartwall, and chemical manufacturer Kiilto are all willing to absorb the sustainability of algae-based ingredients into their production chains.
In addition, Enter Espoo has helped Origin by Ocean to meet potential partners.
“We are looking forward to some interesting meetings that have been arranged for us by Enter Espoo,” Westerlund says.
The story of Origin by Ocean: a shared concern united the two co-founders
Westerlund grew up in Nauvo, in the archipelago of Turku. As a child, he remembers being able to swim every day throughout the summer. Seeing his daughter deprived of this opportunity gives Westerlund motivation to work towards a cleaner ocean.
“Today, my three-year-old daughter is crying as it's extremely hot and she cannot go swimming because the sea is full of blue-green algae. It gives me motivation,” he says.
Mari Granström, Origin by Ocean’s co-founder and a PhD in organic chemistry, was also worried about the situation. Having studied ways to help the oceans for a decade, it was Granström who came up with the idea for Origin by Ocean. Granström met Westerlund in 2018, and they joined forces to set up a company the year after.
"Today, my three-year-old daughter cannot go swimming because the sea is full of blue-green algae."
“I met Mari by coincidence at a startup event in Porvoo. We considered the fact that we get along very well, and we match each other’s skillsets nicely. She is the scientist, and I am the businessperson in our team,” Westerlund explains.
Origin by Ocean navigates ahead with a clear goal in mind
2020 was a challenging year for Origin by Ocean. In March, the company was just about to close its seed investment round as the pandemic hit Europe. As a result, the whole funding round had to be renegotiated.
Fortunately, Origin by Ocean was able to secure the investments later that Spring, and now the future looks promising for the young company. For example, a recent issue of the leading Finnish business magazine Talouselämä introduced Origin by Ocean as one of Finland’s ten most promising startups at the moment.
At the moment, Origin by Ocean ships product samples to its partner companies. The next step is to open a pilot plant. Finally, in 2025, the company plans to open its first biorefinery unit.
“We are looking forward to some interesting meetings that have been arranged for us by Enter Espoo.”
According to Westerlund, the new unit will remove around 900 tons of nitrogen and 90 tons of phosphorus from the oceans per annum. The amount is substantial — it accounts for one-third of Finland’s commitment on the HELCOM agreement, an initiative to diminish eutrophication in the Baltic Sea.
Quite impressive from a two-year-old company.
Image: Origin by Ocean
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