Biomarine Convention Spotlights Wilmington

By Jenny Callison, posted Oct 15, 2015
The economic potential of aquaculture and harvesting of algae and seaweed were among the hot topics at the international Biomarine Business Convention, which took place in Wilmington Monday through Wednesday of this week.

The major theme for the convention, titled the “New Blue Economy,” is the responsible, sustainable use of the oceans to feed a growing world population.

About 300 scientists, biomarine entrepreneurs and government representatives from 17 countries converged on the Port City for the sixth annual Biomarine Business Convention, which was based at Cape Fear Community College’s Union Station but included tours of UNCW’s CREST Research Park and a reception on the fantail of the Battleship North Carolina.

Wilmington was the first U.S. city to host the gathering, which last year was held in Cascais, Portugal, and next year will travel to Oslo, Norway.

Discussions this week centered on the escalating global need for protein and “how to meet global demand without harming the environment,” according to local event organizer Deb Mosca, CEO of Wilmington-based Marine Bio-technologies Center of Innovation (MBCOI). Solutions range from fish farming to the cultivation of microalgae to use as feed for fish and other seafood stocks.

“We don’t have enough agriculture to sustain the level of food production that will be needed, but 75 percent of the world is covered by ocean, and we only harvest 3 to 4 percent of it now,” she said. “The oceans are something we can all tap into, if we do it in the right way.”

Alongside the primary sessions and CEO interviews were workshops, subgroup meetings and one-on-one venture pitches. Those pitches came from a range of companies, from startups in the concept phase to established companies looking for financing to support growth.

A panel representing North Carolina promoted the capabilities and resources available from MBCOI, the N.C. Biotechnology Center, the new Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina and University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Marine Biotechnology in North Carolina (MARBIONC) center.

At the end of Wednesday’s proceedings, local event organizer Mosca announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding between MBCOI and the Centre de recherche sur les biotechnologies marines (CRBM) in the province of Québec.

With a mission of contributing to the growth of marine research activities and industrial biotechnology development and technology transfer to the life sciences sector, the CRBM’s goals are very similar to those of the MBCOI, Mosca said Thursday. The agreement will allow both centers to share information, collaborate to promote further development of commercial biotech applications and widen their geographic reach.

“It’s networking to the nth degree,” she said.

Other agreements, large and small, took place as well.

“I got two deals, which was totally unexpected,” said attendee Charles Bavington, managing director of United Kingdom-based GlycoMar Ltd., a biotechnology company that uses marine natural resources to create products for the health care and personal care markets. Bavington said one new deal is with a pharmaceutical entity; the second is with a company interested in GlycoMar’s technology.

Cherry Wainwright, a professor at Scotland’s Robert Gordon University, said she came away from the conference with two prospective collaborations.

The need for capital was a consistent theme throughout the conference. As an example, speakers emphasized the need for significantly more funding if aquaculture is to become a viable source of fish and shellfish for a protein-hungry world.  

“The world will need 30 million tons of fish over the next 15 years, and unless we work to address this issue, it will be a real problem,” said Haydar Al Sahtout, director of the Arabian Shrimp Co. in Saudi Arabia, speaking as part of an aquaculture panel.

“Aquaculture is an inherently expensive business,” said fellow panelist Omar Alfi, CEO of Pacifico Aquaculture in Mexico. “It needs a lot of money to start up, and support is needed to help companies get up that mountain.” Adequate support is rarely available, he added.

A live stream of the main sessions sent the proceedings out to another 65,000 interested individuals around the world, Mosca said. The pitches by 15 biomarine-related companies were recorded and will be accessible and searchable online, she added.

Robin Spinks, a principal with Wilmington-based Greenfield economic development firm, said she attended the conference as a representative of economic development organization North Carolina’s Southeast, and was glad she did.

“We are trying to help recruit companies to our area,” she said, adding that she had talked with a number of companies represented at the convention who are looking for expanded or new locations in the U.S. “Some are already in North Carolina, and at least three others are looking actively in North Carolina."
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