This startup enables sustainable fish farming

In the “Start-up-Check!” series, we regularly look at the business models of start-ups. Who is behind the company? What makes the start-up so special and what is there to criticize? Today: Aquacubes.

start-ups. This sounds like ingenuity, future technologies, new markets. In reality, however, many of the startups, unfortunately, often turn out to be a mixture of e-commerce idea, random founders and fragile future prospects.

But there are: the pioneers working on the big problems and revolutionizing business models. Finding and presenting them is the mission of the Start-up-Check format. Today: Aquacubes from Büsum and Kiel.

Who is behind Aquacubes?

This launch check for Aquacubes is too early. Because Aquacubes isn’t even established yet and is still in the seed stage. Whether the start-up will be called that at all is not yet clear.

Two websites with different names are currently under construction. Aquacubes is currently just the name of the project.

Anyone involved with Aquacubes is not that easy to sum up because of the state of the project. Also because the project is very well networked in the field of research and there are many collaborating companies.

Roughly speaking, however, one can say: Aquacubes originates from the research environment of the Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel.

One of the (pre-)founders is Biniam Samuel-Fitwi. Most recently, he did research as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Animal Husbandry and Livestock. Inspired by the urban gardening trend and influenced by his research work, he came up with the idea of ​​a fish tank for consumers – which they can put in the garden.

Samuel-Fitwi developed this idea further and submitted it as a project to the EXIST funding program of the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy. The funding runs from April 2018 and is designed for one year.

When the IS financing expires at the end of March 2019, the spin-off should take place. Aquacubes is currently looking for a strategic partner or investor. Market entry is planned for 2020.

In addition to Samuel-Fitwi, the founding team also consists of Leonie Hock, urban planner, and developer Tobias Möckel. Samuel-Fitwi is responsible for biologics development, strategy and finance. Hock manages the marketing, communications and commercial side. Möckel builds the prototypes.

The University of Kiel is one of the numerous partners addressed to the project. Aquacubes was not a university research project, as is the case with many university start-ups.

Nevertheless, we work relatively closely together. Aquacubes was recorded in the new incubator at the University of Kiel. The incubator is part of the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship (Zef). Aquacubes can use the rooms there rent-free and get tips.

Aquacubes is also registered with the Smart Green Accelerator, which specializes in green economy startups.

In addition to its location in the university incubator in Kiel, the project is also located in Büsum in the business and science park Maricube, on the other side of Schleswig-Holstein.

Here you are very close to the research company “Gesellschaft für Marine Aquakultur”, which is also declared as a partner. Samuel-Fitwi was one of the research associates here.

And to complete the confusion: Sustainable Food, also a research and service company, is also based in Büsum. Samuel-Fitwi was scientific director here and Leonie Hock was in charge of marketing and design. Both are still listed on the company’s website.

According to the founders, the Aquacubes project no longer has anything to do with Sustainable Food, but it used to: In April 2017, Sustainable Food received the “Project Sustainability” seal for Aquacubes from the German Government Council for Sustainable Development .

What does Aquacubes do?

Aquacubes develops a sustainable solution for breeding fish. It is essentially a compact fish farm for self-sufficiency in households and small businesses.

The Aquacube looks like a fish tank that is about the same size or slightly larger than a composter you can buy at a garden center. The Aquacube’s housing is double insulated, which keeps the water temperature constant so the device can be left outside.

The smaller Aquacube model should cost around 5,000 euros. Users are said to be able to raise around 60kg of fish per year. Currently available species are rainbow trout and tilapia.

In order to avoid the problem of high water consumption, which is so pressing in commercial fish farming, a closed water circuit is created in the Aquacube. The water is purified in several stages using biofilters and does not need to be replaced.

Playback is digitally controlled. The user can check the status of their fish through any web-enabled device. The first fish are pre-spawned and used by partner companies.

What makes Aquacubes so special?

The already mentioned trend towards self-sufficiency, including urban gardening, was already addressed in the first startup check for Infarm. Aquacubes also follows this trend.

As with Infarm, Aquacubes has two dimensions to its utility. With its fish farm, Aquacubes fulfills the desire of many consumers to eat sustainably and without industrial food production.

One reason for this desire is concern for his own health. In fact, fish from aquaculture, like basically all farmed animals, are kept alive with copious amounts of antibiotics, the remains of which are ingested by humans.

And fish from the sea is not completely healthy and is contaminated with heavy metals.

With Aquacubes, consumers can watch their own fish grow. The closed water cycle prevents microplastics from entering the water.

The second dimension is related to the problem of nutrition, and this was also addressed in the startup audit for Infarm: The question of how we want to feed the growing world population in the future has not yet been answered.

Researchers estimate that by 2050, conventional arable land will no longer be sufficient. And there is nothing else to be found in the oceans. Already today, about 90 percent of edible fish are overfished, with half of the demand coming from aquaculture.

With water consumption and wastewater contaminated with drug residues, these aquacultures are often already a burden on people and nature.

If the demand for fish continues to rise, so will this burden. And at some point there will be no more room for these aquacultures.

Aquacubes make human habitation usable for fish farming. As in a small vegetable garden, everyone can meet their own fish needs.

Even small businesses like restaurants can raise fish for their customers. Technology can improve food supply in poor countries in an environmentally friendly way.

We should also mention here that there are other concepts of fish self-sufficiency. This includes, for example, aquaponics. Plants are built in which fish are raised and vegetables are grown at the same time. Plants filter the water, fish feed the plants with their excrement.

A few years ago there were already initial startup approaches like Risebox, which was working on such a system for the living room. However, the site is no longer accessible. The startup appears to be no longer active. Other providers such as ECF Farmssystems from Berlin build aquaponic systems on a large scale.

What sets Aquacubes apart is its plug and play approach. A space-saving tank that can stand outside and requires no previous fish farming experience. There is no such thing at the consumer level.

This then makes the concept unique again and the way Aquacubes wants to make fish as a food source accessible to consumers for self-sufficiency is compelling. And this with a manageable investment cost.

Admittedly, €5,000 for the smaller version of the Aquacube is no small feat. But with 60 kg of fish a year, a family of four can provide themselves with fish. At least in Germany: Per capita consumption in the year was 14.4 kg.

Are there points of criticism?

At this point in the startup check, it often says: Startup is still small. Criticism is still premature. Of course, this is especially true for Aquacubes, because it hasn’t even been established yet.

However, one may encounter some problems at this point that should be addressed before or with the foundation.

First of all, the EXIST funding is running out and the team is still looking for an investor or strategic partner. There may well be negotiations going on behind the scenes. However, the schedule is quite tight.

The somewhat confusing history of Aquacubes also fits this. After Samuel-Fitwi came up with the idea, the project was developed and awarded as part of the Sustainable Food Company.

And then it was outsourced again as a separate project and listed in EXIST. However, Aquacubes is apparently still at least in the immediate vicinity of Sustainable Food.

In principle, this is not a problem. Of course, with start-ups there is a period of uncertainty in the seed phase. But this seems to take a long time with Aquacubes. So it’s time to put things right.

In addition, Aquacubes are not natural for consumers, who generally have something against animal husbandry for food production.

But if you think more realistically, you won’t have a problem with it. The founders stress that they remain even below the stocking density for fish set by the EU.

conclusion

Aquacubes is a very interesting start-up to be founded. The technology is very consumer-oriented, which is one of the most important success factors.

However, the status so close to the end of the funding EXISTS is a little worrying. Aquacubes is also located in the Kiel University Incubator and the Smart Green Accelerator. However, this apparently has not yet led to success in finding an investor.

This is why fingers crossed are especially popular here. The idea is good. It would be a shame if it remained a project.

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