The membership of the Finnish Startup Community consists of various companies striving for a better future. One of these companies is Origin by Ocean, which turns harmful algae found in the oceans into useful goods. We interviewed the company’s founder and CEO Mari Granström, who talked to us about how Origin by Ocean came to be, what she has learned along the way, and what we can expect from her company in the future.
Hello, Mari! How did Origin by Ocean come to be?
I founded Origin by Ocean out of my love for the sea. Originally, the company was my hobby. I am a passionate scuba diver, I surf and sail, and I have also done a great deal of charity to promote biodiversity by exploring the underwater world through scuba diving expeditions. When I have traveled to the same places many times over the years, I have seen how the ecosystem of the oceans has changed. Problems in the oceans just keep escalating. Here, people only talk about the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea. However, this problem exists all over the oceans, and it keeps growing under the surface. So that’s how it all started: I’m a chemist with a passion for oceans. I felt that it would have been a shame if I hadn’t taken any action to tackle the issue. When founding Origin by Ocean, I wanted to create a sustainable value chain around this environmental issue. I have always felt that the future belongs to those who carry out business that improves and restores the environment.
What does Origin by Ocean do?
We at Origin by Ocean have developed a biorefinery technology that uses algae as raw material. Our value chain is built in such a way that we can use harmful algae, such as sargassum and blue-green algae, to make useful products. The algae-based functional ingredients that we refine can be used on any market, basically: they can be used in food, cosmetics, packaging, or in the textile industry. As part of our value chain, we also farm so-called “good algae,” namely bladder wrack, in the Baltic Sea. No one has ever farmed algae in Finland before, and the state has given us the first permit for test farming.
Who has inspired you during your career?
I’m also a yogi, and many people within the philosophy of yoga have provided me with insight and values which guide my actions. Ever since I was a child, I have also admired the Nobel-winning scientist Marie Curie. I have read a great deal about her, and she showed that science can create the basis for many incredible ideas. She has been a great inspiration to me,
showing that if you know science, you can do anything. My teacher in organic chemistry, Keijo Pennanen, also played a huge role at the beginning of my career, back when I was studying to become a laboratory technician.
Can you give an example of a mistake that you made during your startup career and how you overcame it?
I’m sure I’ve made various mistakes along the way. We’ve had to consider many things related to different operating models and we’ve also had to change them. A certain operating model might have seemed good to us at first, but, later on, we’ve found out that it doesn’t really work. This is probably very common with startups. Our greatest blunder as a company probably relates to financing. When a startup is seeking financing, it is important to understand the current status of the company. The financial plan must be based on a realistic outlook.
You have to keep your feet firmly on the ground and keep in mind the present situation, even when you’re discussing the future.
What expectations do you have for the future?
In the future, we want to be the world-leading operator in the field of chemistry, using algae as raw material in a sustainable way to create functional products which help reduce the carbon footprint of consumer goods while providing consumers with functional and sustainable solutions. Of course, we also hope that our operations would help remove enough nutrients from the oceans to normalize their ecosystem. This would allow us to move on to other problems. Algae are the treasure troves of the seas, as they contain so much potential for interesting products, so we are happy to continue developing the Origin by Ocean 2nd generation product family!
What are the top 3 things that you have learned about startups?
- Realism. I think it’s important to be a realist with big dreams. You must know your own market, where you’re heading, and what you are involved in.
- Openness. We could do this with more openness in the world of business. Finland is a small country, which makes it all the more important to help others, do things together, and also succeed together.
- Courage. It’s good to make a noise about yourself and your company. I recommend developing courage – everyone should be bold enough to tell their own story.
Check out Origin by Ocean here