VerifiK8 - Promoting quality and traceability in aquaculture
This April, HATCH kicked off its first cohort and welcomed eight aquaculture startups to Bergen for a three-month accelerator program. One of these startups is VerifiK8, providing sustainability compliance, advisory and monitoring services to the food and agribusiness industry in Southeast Asia. In her interview with HATCH, Emma Bourgois, Co-Founder and CEO of VerifiK8, talks about the growing market for high quality and traceability in food commodities, as well as how the use of smartphones can increase sustainability.
Emma is a lawyer with extensive experience in the field of international trade. In her career Emma focused on food and agri products, mainly working with companies and markets in emerging countries. She has helped countless companies to take advantage of the trade potential and grow their business, working closely with governments, agencies and ministries. During the last fifteen years Emma has focused on smaller companies, doing affordable certification from her base in Thailand - one of the biggest food-hubs in South-East Asia. Emma has lived in more than eight countries during her career and has worked in nearly thirty countries spread over all five continents, making her a true global entrepreneur!
After a couple of years in Thailand, Emma realized that she wanted to try something new, having seen the potential in the growing use of smartphones by small countryside farmers. The idea that grew in to VerifiK8 essentially sought to use smartphones as an industry-centered tool in which buyers can seek to validate their business to their customers. This way they don’t solely have to depend on an auditor to verify their business, using time and money on complex certifications. By providing the industry with the right tools, VerifiK8 can help buyers show to the world that they are doing business in an environmentally and socially sustainable way, while also fostering improvements in production practices at a low cost. In addition to Emma and Yann, her Co-Founder, VerifiK8 has built a team of industry, market and socio-environmental specialists spread between Europe and Thailand.
How are your funding?
VerifiK8 is a spinoff of FairAgora Asia, a Thai company supplying affordable and easy certification in Southeast Asia. FairAgora initially helped to fund VerifiK8, we now want to take VerifiK8 to the next level and continue building the company with customer-based development with the HATCH accelerator program.
How does your technology work?
We have both a green VerifiK8 for agriculture and a blue VerifiK8 for aquaculture. For each of these industries we identify various commodities and use experts to develop a matrix with relevant data points that need to be measured in order to evaluate environmental and social sustainability. We believe that the environmental and the social aspects mutually help each other.
In terms of how our technology works, we have a web-based application where each of the farmers have a profile. On this profile, the farmers upload commodity-dependent data daily during the crop season. This way, we basically monitor the production in the most user-friendly way possible. To make it even easier, we are currently developing a mobile application where farmers will input data and download information even where they don’t have mobile coverage. From the information provided to us, we develop a dashboard which is readily accessible to various supply chain stakeholders like buyers, sellers, input companies etc. In the short term, our technology cross checks and validates information, adds intelligence, and provides valuable information for both farmers and stakeholders. The cost is shared by the various stakeholders that have an interest in knowing more about the farmers and the standards they adopt.
How market-ready would you say your products are?
The application is already available, both the blue and the green version, and is currently in five languages. This is, however, the version 1.0 and we are working on bringing in other data streams into our system: the ‘’workers voice” for example, where workers are contacted and asked questions to verify the information given by the farmer. We also consider the use of satellite imagery to calculate the size of the farms.
“We are working on integrating more external data streams and partners into the solution. This way we can cross-check even more information and increase our reach and credibility.”
What differentiates you from your competitors?
In terms of competition there are some other companies supplying a similar solution to ours, but their scale differs to ours. These companies are generally either quite small and centered around one specific market, or they are global and mainly concerned about vertically integrated industries. We have placed Verifik8 in between these two and aim to provide solutions for independent farmers and their buyers.
What is VerifiK8’s market?
We are currently focusing on the shrimp industry, and we have entered the Thai and Vietnamese shrimp markets. In terms of expansion, our strategy is based on entering the markets with traction for high quality and transparency, rather than focusing on specific countries. Social or environmental issues often lead to more demand for responsibility and transparency, and this is where we come in.
“Many of the larger seafood companies are highly interested in having a tool that not only allows them to do traceability, but also help them identify potential social and environmental risks.”
Do you see the Norwegian Salmon market as a potential market?
Yes, the salmon market is indeed one of the sweet spots in which we are trying to identify our potential! Norway is competing with several other countries for high quality, and we definitely see our solution benefiting this industry.
Do you see yourself collaborating with other startups in the cohort?
Indeed! This is one of the fantastic opportunities that exist in terms of getting to know and learn about other aquaculture startups on the Hatch program. The other startups can offer the partnerships and synergies that we are seeking - for example in terms of farm monitoring systems with JALA, a marketplace with Aqua Connect and Tradeit, and sensors with Sensaway.
What is it like to be a part of HATCHs accelerator startup program?
The beauty of the HATCH program and AquaSpark being a funder, is having an amazing access to the aquaculture ecosystem. In our quest to build transparency throughout the supply chain, we need partners. HATCH enables us to make these very important potential connections. Consequently, we can ask experts in aquaculture to help explore and share what they know about the opportunities in the different markets.
However, being a part of the program is very intense: a lot of exploring and digging, and at the same time being a safe environment to trial new ideas. It is rare to have people really help you throughout the process and be on your side.
“I found the support to grow with HATCH. As the saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child” but it definitely takes a community of like-minded people and support to grow a business.”
What do you consider as the main benefits of the accelerator being placed at Marineholmen in Bergen?
Bergen is THE place to be for an aquaculture startup! Everybody here understands the industry and what we aim to achieve. Furthermore, having the large aquaculture companies like Cargill, Lerøy, Grieg etc. within our reach is of great benefit. within addition to the connections at HATCH, we also got the recommendation to start interesting conversations with good assets within the industry.
Being a female entrepreneur, do you have any advice to young female entrepreneurs out there?
The startup business is a very male-dominated scene and sometimes as a woman you are going to feel that you don’t fit in that space. Whenever this happens, I advise you to raise your voice, make your point and make it fair. People won’t learn unless you tell them.
“It’s really about bringing that additional angle and make your point. Be aware about who you are and make other people aware of the additional value that you bring to the table being a female with a different perspective.”