Origin by Ocean gains blue-green algae know-how and a sustainable business model from PoDoCo

Origin by Ocean's PoDoCo doctors

Origin by Ocean’s laboratory is located in Otaniemi, Espoo. Doctors Gayathri Murukesan and Toni Luomaranta, who joined the company through PoDoCo, eliminate the problem of eutrophication in the world’s oceans by refining algae bio-raw material. Image Mari Granström

Origin by Ocean removes blue-green algae from the Baltic Sea by processing it for industrial needs. Biorefinery is also capable of using other invasive and farmed marcoalgae species such as Fucus vesiculosus and sargassum. Finland’s first algae biorefinery is planned to start operating in 2025 and produce algae raw material for the needs of, among other things, the cosmetics, food, pharmaceutical and packaging industries. Among others, Kiilto, Marimekko and Valio are already interested in the widespread refined sugar products, thickeners and emulsifiers.

The startup, founded in 2019, has gained expertise in developing a completely new kind of business through PoDoCo. Leading algae researcher, Dr. Gayathri Murukesan started at the company through the PoDoCo program in 2021.

“We have two different starting raw materials, macroalgae and microalgae, of which blue-green algae belongs to the latter. Immediately after founding the company, we needed a person who would bring us blue-green algae expertise and the necessary research muscle. Gayathri specialized in the soul life of blue-green algae, and she has also been responsible for the blue-green algae cooperation we started with the University of Helsinki,” says Mari Granström, CEO of Origin by Ocean.

After the PoDoCo period, Murukesan, who completed his PhD at the University of Turku, the company hired her to join the crew of around twenty chemists, biologists, engineers and other experts.

“We noticed quite quickly how good the PoDoCo program is for companies, especially for startups like us, because it is quite risk-free. During PoDoCo, both the company and the PhD get to know each other very closely. For those coming from the academy, it is an opportunity to see how working in industry differs from the university world. During the year one learns the commercial side and industrial activities, and can figure out if that is the kind of work one wants to do.”

A sustainable business model from the Baltic Sea to the Caribbean

Origin by Ocean is currently in the industrialization phase and is searching location for the algal biorefinery that will use 80,000 tons of raw material every year.

The more the company produces bio-raw material, the more nutrients are removed from the seas. However, the company also aims for a new way of thinking in its entire business model. The development is started in the company’s second PoDoCo cooperation in September by Toni Luomaranta, who has done his doctoral research at the University of Tampere’s production economics unit.

“We want to develop our business model in such a way that sustainable operations are present in the entire value chain. We are pioneers in the sense that we maintain certain conditions of capitalism, but we want our business model to be truly transparent and sustainable not only in terms of the environment but also in terms of sociological effects,” Granström describes.

Origin by Ocean’s aim is not only to save the Baltic Sea, because the algae problem is global. In the Caribbean, the company collects sargassum. The company’s business model should have positive effect on the environment and the community everywhere.

“In the Caribbean, people struggle every day with their environmental problem, and it affects their daily lives. In Finland, we have an absolutely freezing problem with the Baltic Sea, but people do not see it as threatening to their own lives, even though it is a threat to nature.”

Luomaranta and Granström had the first discussions a year and a half ago.

“Then the time was not yet right for our cooperation. Now Toni’s studies were at the point where this could be possible and the company started to be ready enough for us to know what kind of expertise is needed”.

Customer meetings are waiting for Luomaranta already in September.

“In a startup, you throw yourself into the deep end and start doing things immediately.

The foundation of Luomaranta’s PoDoCo is Maa- ja vesitekniikan tuki MVTT, Gayathri Murukesan’s PoDoCo foundation was the Nessling Foundation.

“The Nessling Foundation supported Gayathri in many ways during PoDoCo program. They have treated us like royalty,” Granström praises.