The global aquaculture industry is projected to grow 6% per year and is a sustainable option for growth within the seafood industry. With global food demand set to double by 2050, aquaculture has all the pieces of the puzzle to experience significant growth in the coming years if the industry can boost levels of innovation to support that growth.
Enter the Hatchery Hub, one of the start-ups taking part in our three-month Sprout 2022 Accelerator in the Cohort VIII intake.
Meet founder Dr Nikki Hawes and team member Reno Holmes, part of the team behind Hatchery Hub by Nelson Artificial Intelligence Institute (NAI), a business using automation and artificial intelligence to improve productivity and efficiency in aquaculture hatcheries.
NAI have been working with the aquaculture industry for the last few years, applying AI solutions to various industry problems.
“Over time, we realised that there was an opportunity to create AI technology specifically for hatcheries. With my background in the aquaculture hatchery industry, I realised quite a lot of processes weren’t optimal. So I thought if we could improve these processes and increase sustainable production, that would be a huge win for the industry, especially with the growth in demand that’s ahead of us,” said Nikki.
Sustainable farming practices both on the land and in the sea will play a key role in meeting future global food demand, and doing so without significant disruptions to wildlife ecosystems is imperative.
“Technology development in seafood has consistently lagged behind farming on land. Our product will help the aquaculture industry meet the coming demands by supporting the development of optimised hatchery processes using our hatchery hub technology.”
An important part of any start-up is the team behind the idea. The team at Hatchery Hub are unique in that the team consists of both AI experts and aquaculture experts.
“It’s common to have one or the other, not both. But to have this combination of people in the team is quite novel. The overlap gives us insights into how to apply cutting edge technology to provide fit for purpose outcomes for the industry.”
The core team is made up of Nikki, who holds a PhD in Marine Ecology and has 10 years of experience in the aquaculture industry. Cris Lovell-Smith is the head of AI with 20 years of experience developing AI software and leading a team to develop Hatchery Hub tools. And youngest member Reno Holmes recently completed a degree in marketing and strategic management and first got involved with NAI through an internship. The core team is well supported and encouraged by the wider NAI team, who bring a wealth of experience in technology development. Sprout mentor Eitan Sessler is supporting them in these next steps of their business journey.
Speaking on their biggest aspiration, Reno said the biggest aspiration for the business is to help increase hatchery output by 12.5% per generation. As is true for many start-ups, sometimes the potential opportunities for the application of an idea can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to find a point of focus.
“We initially spent a lot of time talking to people in the industry and investigating how AI technology could solve various problems. We built a few proofs of concepts to demonstrate their feasibility, but our focus now is on fine-tuning the best product to work with and bring it to market first so we can deliver immediate benefits to the industry,” said Nikki.
Their ‘aha’ moment came when they realised that while some technology has been applied to some areas of aquaculture, much of it has not yet made it to common use within the industry. This is particularly true in hatcheries.
“We have the right mix of practical and technical knowledge within the team to take on this challenge and transform the industry through the use of AI and help propel the industry forward sustainably and innovatively.”
Find out more about our Sprout Accelerator.