seedstars

At the recent Seedstars Thailand competition, startup Verifik8 won the top prize and a trip to Switzerland to compete against other global startups. Techsauce caught up with Verifik8's Associate Partner Marc-Olivier Roux to find out more about their platform, their plans, and their thoughts on Seedstars.

What is the story behind Verifik8?

The company behind Verifk8 is called FairAgora Asia; we're a Thai compliance and sustainability advisory firm working with agribusinesses in Southeast Asia.

As part of our work, we were always confronted by the limits of current compliance models, particularly in the seafood supply chain. Worldwide less than 20% of fish farms are certified by international groups like Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) or FairTrade.

Those certifications systems are very good, but they are costly and time-consuming. Most farmers in Asia are smallholders and don’t have the financial and logistical capacities to get certified.

So the question we had is how can we develop a solution to tap into this gap, and make sure all farmers can be verified and monitored?

What’s the size of this market?

The global seafood market is worth over US$130 billion – it’s one of the most traded commodities in the world – and 60% of production occurs in Asia.

South-east Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia are amongst the top 10 producers worldwide. It’s a big market because many people depend on seafood as their primary source of food and protein.

What are the biggest risks in the industry?

First, there are enormous environmental risks, with disastrous impacts on our oceans' resources. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimates that 69% of the major fish species are in decline. It's mainly due to illegal, unregulated and unreported practices, which are unfortunately particularly present in the South East Asia seafood industry.

The other big risks are related to labour rights issues. The Guardian recently reported on news about forced labour and slavery in the seafood supply chain in Thailand. It is far from being solved.

There are also serious food safety issues in the seafood supply chain, as many seafood products are mislabeled or contain too many chemicals or antibiotics.

All those risks have put a lot of pressure on the Thai seafood industry, particularly from overseas consumers and retailers, as well as from regulators, like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, the European Union and the Thai government itself. So the demand for more responsibly sourced products and compliance has increased.

What is Verifik8’s solution?

Verifk8 is a software platform collecting and analysing data to improve visibility on the social and environmental performances of fisheries and farms while identifying potential risks for buyers.

Our disruptive approach is based on the use of technology, which makes data more accessible, available and accurate. From there we can provide better analytics on seafood supply chain actors, particularly fisheries and farms.

It’s a complex supply chain, so where will you focus first?

We think we can get the most leverage if we work first with seafood buyers and exporters. They are the ones who can lead their suppliers to act more responsibly.

Our platform allows those buyers to better evaluate their suppliers, knowing from whom they source and how well they source. And from there, we can start an improvement process with a ripple effect to the full supply chain.

What data will you collect? How will you analyse it?

We collect environmental, social, health management and traceability data. Initially, farmers will enter key data on their computers or phones, over time we’ll be using more automated machine-to-machine data acquisition. For example, with a GPS on a fishing boat, we can tell you where the boat has been and how long it’s been out to sea. We can also use satellite imagery to find the amount of ponds used or the quality of the water.

Then Verifik8’s algorithms cross-check and analyse those data, which are visible on the dashboard. We also created an alerting system to identify any discrepancies. If the farmer does not address the problem, the farm will get a lower ranking. As our customers might want to benchmark against different standards, we offer various types of indicators.

Our role as verifiers is to provide high-quality analytics to the buyers, for them to take the most appropriate mitigation measures. It provides a level of transparency that improves awareness and makes procurements safer.

How do you get to critical mass with a platform like this?

That is the key reason why we chose to start with buyers. Since they are working with hundreds of suppliers, we aim to match their specific needs with tailor-made solutions.

We’re also working with standards bodies, like FairTrade or ASIC, who would benefit from Verifik8's solution to review fisheries and farms in a cost- and time-effective way.

We are also engaging with non-profit initiatives like Oxfam, who are interested in our solution to assess smallholders' farms and fisheries.

Who’s in your current team? Who do you need to hire?

We’re currently a team of 4 people.

Emmanuelle Bourgois is the Founder and Director. She has 15 years experience of compliance in agribusinesses, working in Southeast Asia for the last ten years. Yann Laurent is an agronomist and the scientific intelligence. He helped us develop the algorithms behind the platform. May is our Thai colleague in charge of all admin and finance. And I’m in charge of business development, trying to form partnerships with buyers, farmers and fisheries, investors and international funders.

Now our objective is to hire more marketing and customer support staff to build up our customer base in Thailand and Indonesia.

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You’re a very international team. Why Thailand?

We’ve been living and working in Thailand for several years, so it’s here that we identified the problem we’re trying to solve.

Thailand is an amazing place because it is a major country for agribusiness (seafood, rice, sugar cane) and there’s a very creative tech startup ecosystem. Combining those two to develop a new agritech solution is a unique opportunity. It’s a very dynamic environment, and people are very open to new technology.

It’s also important for us to partner with Thai people and companies. Because they know the industry and we want to embrace our Thai-ness!

What do you need the most at the moment?

We are a seed start-up, so we need a bit of everything! We are exploring partnerships, especially tech partners to develop machine-to-machine data collection solutions. We need investors to scale our solutions to both Thai and Indonesian markets. And we keep working hard to sign up customers.

We’re currently looking for US$250,000 to cover one year’s expenses in IT development and talent acquisition.

What was your reaction to winning Seedstars Thailand?

It’s been an amazing experience. We appreciated the smooth process, from applying, through mentoring with Digital Ventures, to pitching in a fantastic venue at Siam Discovery.

It was also very exciting to meet other startup colleagues and experience the energy from such a diverse range of founders.

Winning the contest made us feel: “Wow! People believe in what we’re doing”. When you start a business like this one, you need this kind of recognition to give you the push and motivation for success.

And now we’re going to the Seedstars Summit in Switzerland to win! We are excited to present our unique social impact start-up model and move from seed to Series A and more.

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