Highlight: This Impact Investor is Changing Aquaculture

Highlight: This Impact Investor is Changing Aquaculture

Aquaculture investment leader Amy Novogratz is changing the seafood business for the better. Together with her husband Mike Velings, she runs Aqua-Spark, a Netherlands-based sustainable aquaculture | Learn more on Commonshare | fund.
To date, Aqua-Spark has raised $148 million from 190 different investors in 29 different countries. Among these investors are ImpactAssets, a Bethesda, Maryland-based donor-advised fund, and the Louis Dreyfus Company, a commodities giant controlled by billionaire Margarita Louis-Dreyfus. 
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Overcoming Cancer, Finding Love, and Transforming Aquaculture
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All of this is even more remarkable given Novogratz’s personal story: a decade ago, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor that doctors warned could kill her. After a risky 20-hour surgery, doctors were able to remove the tumor, but the price was high: she was left with balance and mobility issues, and she was already blind in one eye due to a childhood accident. 
Novogratz and her husband, Velings, met in 2010 on a research ship in the Galapagos. Velings is a Dutch serial entrepreneur who started his first business at age 18. They quickly started a relationship – but then Novogratz started having seizures, and was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
After the surgery, Velings proposed. She accepted, but said she needed to take time to learn to walk again. 
A New Life and A New Business 
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Together, the two started a new life together, and created Aqua-Spark. They picked aquaculture because very few investors cared about it: it was a big market, but they saw it as troubled, not least because there was so little sustainable leadership | Learn more on Commonshare |. 
Having survived cancer, Novogratz went on to transform the aquaculture industry | Learn more on Commonshare |. In 2015, Aqua-Spark made its first investment: $3.4 million into Calysta, a Silicon Valley startup that makes a new kind of fishmeal. Calysta’s innovation is to use fermented microbes, derived from a byproduct of manufacturing natural gas, creating fish feed that is more sustainable and better for the environment.
Supported by Aqua-Spark, Calysta attracted a total of $150 million in additional investment. It is now building a factory in China to produce 20,000 tons of feed every year. 
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Promoting Sustainable Aquaculture Success 
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Another Aqua-Spark success story is Matorka, a fish farm in Grindavík, Iceland. Matorka raises arctic char and steelhead without antibiotics, on land in tanks using geothermal energy. In 2016, Aqua-Spark invested $2.5 million in Matorka. At the time, the company was only producing 50 tons of fish a year. 
In 2019, Novogratz hosted a dinner party with distinguished sustainable aquaculture entrepreneurs in which she served Matorka’s sustainable arctic char. By that point, the company was producing 3,000 tons of fish a year, and clients included celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa and U.S. grocery delivery service FreshDirect. 
But then Covid-19 hit, and Matorka’s restaurant sales dried up. Aqua-Spark stepped in again, this time with a $750,000 loan. “The brand is back to a good place now,” Novogratz said. She believes the company will grow to 6,000 tons by 2022. 
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Aqua-Spark’s Long-Term Mentality 
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Aqua-Spark has a long-term mentality, and to date it has yet to sell one holding. It expects all companies in its portfolio to pay a living wage and to prioritize transparency for scientific results. Some of its investments are in farms, and these are required to minimize antibiotics and chemical use and limit pollution discharge. 
Novogratz and Velings aim to eventually have 60 to 80 companies in the Aqua-Spark portfolio, over three times what they have at present. 

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