With a Key Food Source at Risk, Big Funders Back a Different Kind of Fishing Contest

Fish is one of the healthiest foods—high in protein and vitamin D. Cold, deep-water fish like Pacific salmon have omega 3 fatty acids, the same compounds that keep fish blood circulating, which keep our own blood flowing too, lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. Unfortunately, increasing world demand has led to overfishing in 40 percent of the world’s fisheries, resulting in more than $50 billion in global economic losses per year. Worse, the trend poses a profound threat to human food sources. 

Many funders are on this case, including some of the biggest U.S. foundations. And more keep joining the battle. Last year, for example, Bloomberg Philanthropies jumped into this field with a $53 million initiative. Saving fisheries is hot, and we've been covering funders who are tackling this challenge in creative new ways. 

One initiative that caught our eye is a unique investor/foundation-sponsored business competition called Fish 2.0 that seeks to grow the sustainable seafood business. Several heavyweight funders are lined up behind this effort, including the Packard Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.

Together with investors, they’ve put together a pot of money to be awarded to the top innovative businesses among 36 finalists after they make their pitch to investors at Stanford University in October. Finalists’ travel expenses will be included. At Stanford, participants will receive feedback from investors and technical experts and gain networking opportunities. Six winners will receive $150,000 each. Another six get $30,000 each. The event will also include several other awards. 

The competition is open to businesses worldwide ranging from startups to established entities that seek to grow. This is the second Fish 2.0 competition. Most of the 21 finalists from the 2013 Fish 2.0 competition showed significant business increases after their participation. How innovative did the winner have to be? The company that came out on top was Blue Sea Labs, a San Francisco-based company that is now providing an e-commerce portal to connect consumers directly to 22 small boat fishermen who offer sustainable, wild-harvested seafood. 

If you’re interested in applying, keep in mind that the investors are participants in definite areas of the seafood business and that most are looking to augment their existing portfolios. It’s best to look at the Fish 2.0 sponsors and their areas of focus, targeting your pitch to meet their specific needs. Here are two, a for-profit and a nonprofit with strikingly different agendas:

Aqua-Spark invests in small- to medium-sized sustainable aquaculture businesses that are profitable. It’s looking to become a minority investor in companies that have developed better sources of fish feed or improvements in fish farming technologies.

On the other hand, Humanity United, through its $100 million Freedom Fund, aims to eliminate modern-day slavery, which it defines as working without pay while being unable to quit. Its focus in Fish 2.0 is very specific: trying to end slave labor in the Thai farmed-shrimp industry.

The competition is open now, with a registration deadline of April 27, 2015. Details at www.fish20.org

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