Why I’m breaking up with Duckweed

After spending about 4 months evaluating how to commercialise the worlds most sustainable protein plant, Duckweed, I’ve eventually decided not to pursue it. Given I wrote an extensive post about it then, I’m here writing the follow up sharing my main learnings and personal reflections.

What is needed to successfully commercialise Duckweed

“What happened?!” Well, as I was getting ready to start playing around with Duckweed I needed to secure some supply. I quickly learned there is no potential provider for me. None of the companies mentioned in my last post are ready at commercial scale except maybe one. And this means the only valid play is to become a grower and figure out how to cultivate Duckweed in a consistent, predictable and economical way building a B2B ingredient company.

After some in depth conversations I realised this will take about 7–10 years, the same time it has taken Hinoman and Parabel to get to where they are. Then there’s getting the ingredient approved as a Novel Food in the EU and of course the growing of this plant is ideal in a warm and sunny location, not Sweden where I live.

Someone should do this, but it’s just not for me

So my conclusion is if you want to help commercialise Duckweed, which is a great idea, you need to not be in Sweden and you need to be really interested in cultivation systems, engineering, optimising nutrition, fighting contaminations etc. Unfortunately I’m not.

Duckweed needs a different animal during these initial years, someone who is truly passionate about cultivation.

I get excited by launching products and changing peoples behaviour. I need to work on something much closer to market however excited I get about breakthrough technologies where reality is I will most likely be worthless in the first 5-10 years.

Why breakthrough technologies have a hard time breaking through

This process has also given me increased understanding and respect for breakthrough technologies. They need lots of time and capital and most importantly, they need different people in their various phases which is a huge challenge. By the time a new technology might be ready for commercialisation, there is often inventors and scientists who have been working with it for many years. It’s their baby, they want to control or at least see a majority of the benefits of it as it takes over the world.

This makes a transition to a more commercially minded team or entrepreneurs like myself quite tricky. From our perspective it’s still early days and most of the work is still to be done with lots of risk. Figuring out a succession plan that is truly effective becomes very challenging often holding the company and its innovtion back.

I’m not necessarily saying the scientists don’t get it or are greedy, I’m saying it’s hard to make the numbers add up.

I remain excited about helping accelerate the protein shift

Letting go of the idea I worked on for months has not been easy. Working alone, without any structure and in a new field is challenging as is. Despite the challenges I feel the transition has been ok as I remain focused on solving the same essential problem.

People increasingly want to consume a plant based diet and the alternatives available to them are still a long way from satisfactory.

Most recently I’ve been looking into the dairy alternative space and I’m actively exploring a couple of ideas. Feel free to reach out if you want to connect!

Founder & CEO Noquo Foods | Founder of Videoplaza (sold in 2014) | Based in Stockholm after 6 yrs in London & New York

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