Funding injection sees company grow
A Nelson biotechnology company has used a significant capital investment to fund technological advances, upgrading its production process and bringing it closer to profitability.
Supreme Biotechnologies, founded four years ago, uses algae grown in a Wakatu Estate factory to produce the antioxidant astaxanthin, used in dietary supplements.
Chief executive Tony Dowd said the company received $1.4 million of private equity investment in May, and this had been used to upgrade the factory to increase profitability.
The company modified the lighting systems - using LEDs - to precisely control the amount of light the algae receive. It also automated some aspects of the growing process, allowing it to process two to three times as much algae for the same cost, with a smaller physical footprint.
"Two people on a shift can manage up to four times as much algae as they did before," Mr Dowd said.
He did not go into specific detail about the nature of the changes, saying he did not want the company's competitors to gain an advantage.
While the processes were not patentable, he wanted them to remain trade secrets. "No-one does what we do."
Those allowed into the factory were always impressed, with comparisons to science-fiction films common, he said.
"A lot of people say it looks like Aliens - you expect things to be jumping out of the bags."
The company is now hoping to run a new round of fundraising so it can increase capacity threefold.
Mr Dowd said it had enough demand for 20 to 30 times what was currently produced.
The company was looking at options such as attracting venture capitalists and finding industry partners, and over the next few months he hoped to have a plan for further growth.
Mr Dowd said the company was not yet at the break-even point, but he expected the expansion to bring it to that point later this year.
The growing process was developed with help from the Cawthron Institute. Senior researcher Mike Packer said the institute advised Supreme Biotechnologies on the type of algae to use and growing techniques.
The algae is a unique strain, and starts life at the factory as a single cell in a clean culture room.
It then grows in a series of tubes, moving on to bigger containers, until it ends up in 20-litre containers where the algae inoculates in a "green phase room". Those cultures can continue to grow for about six months.
Every day the cultures produce products that are transferred to a "red phase room", where the workers modify the environment to produce astaxanthin.
The algae is processed by Nutrizeal, resulting in an oily mix containing astaxanthin, which is either sold or packaged in capsules to be used elsewhere.
The resulting products are dietary supplements targeting general wellness, energy, joints, mobility, arthritis, blood lipids and vision.
They are sold around the world, from Japan and Scandinavia to the United States, China and Brazil.