Toxins from harmful algal blooms can cost billions of dollars in losses to the aquaculture industry. They present a significant health risk to consumers, with the health sector forking out further billions of dollars in treating people who have become ill after eating contaminated seafood. It’s pretty clear it’s a problem - but what can be done about it?
That's where Balam Jimenez comes in - Meet the Founder of Tonalli Moana, one of the companies taking part in the 2023 Sprout Accelerator as part of Cohort XI.
The team has developed an in-depth understanding of the problem and is working on an easy-to-use biosensor that can detect and quantify the toxins accurately in just minutes. Essentially a tool that can give certainty that the seafood being harvested is safe to eat before it's too late.
Balam brings scientific and technical skills to the business, with a depth of knowledge in pre-life molecules and evolutionary responses to environmental challenges. The support he has received through the Sprout Accelerator, as well as the Emerging Innovators Programme at Kiwinet, has allowed him to explore the business and commercialisation side of the venture, particularly when it comes to developing a business plan.
Satisfaction for Balam comes from working with his potential customers, and learning how a product such as theirs could make a huge difference in their lives.
“People from the industry have told me that what I’m doing is exactly what they need and they want to be part of it, either part of the research, of the commercialisation or just host me or be a beta tester. They just want to be in it.”
The potential for the business is exponential and extends beyond the aquaculture industry.
“The technology we are developing could be applied to pretty much any contaminant, toxin or disease in water systems.”
Passion. Family. Committed. Those are the three words Balam used to describe his team. And it makes sense when you learn about his ‘why’ behind starting the company.
“Everything started because of my daughter. Not having access to some seafood that I did when I was a kid, and that is because those areas are closed because of toxins. Developing a tool that can help identify those contaminants and those toxins, and be sure that whatever she’s eating is safe is what started this project.”
What started as a mission to make the world a better place for his daughter, has also led to Balam becoming more in touch with indigenous people, like himself, from all over the world.
He has found an innate knack for communicating with these groups and found that they all experience a common problem with rapidly declining access to safe seafood.
“They all want technologies like this so they can protect their environment and know that what they have at their hands is still safe.”
Balam looks to other entrepreneurs for inspiration and learning to help him with his own business, although is also aware that the challenges each innovator faces can be unique.
“Not everything they faced is going to work for you. But definitely, you can use a little bit here and a little bit of there and start putting everything together to help yourself move forward.”
Success to Balam comes in stages - with each little win that takes the business forward is seen as a stepping stone towards ultimate success. From the science to the prototype to that first customer, to his science being in the hands of millions of people around the world.
Their ambitions are certainly weighty, but with the technology Tonalli Moana is developing behind them, you can’t help but back them to get there.