“ALGAEBA” – THE THAI AGTECH STARTUP DISRUPTING THE LOCAL AQUACULTURE INDUSTRY
Agriculture has been an integral part of the Thai community since the distant past. The interconnection of our society and fertile farming runs deep, best described by our common saying “ในน้ำมีปลา ในนามีข้าว” which translates to “fish in the water, rice in the fields”. As the world changes with technology making our everyday lives easier, it makes sense that agriculture should be uplifted by such advances as well.
From their experience in the aquaculture industry, Algaeba, a Thai AgTech (Agriculture Technology) startup, has built a machine to help the farming of aquatic livestock with the introduction of SeaThru COUNTER. It is a platform that uses Computer Vision together with artificial intelligence to count and assess the quality of hatchlings as well as other small sea creatures. This appliance will aid hatcheries in counting the number of their “produce” during production or at the time of transaction with accuracy, speed, and a document to reassure their customers that they have received the quantity they paid for.
Left full-time employment of 11 years to test himself
Kunn Kangvansaichol, CEO and founder of Algaeba Company Limited, tells the story of how he started the company over 4 years ago. He was originally working at PTT for over 11 years, during which time he found the work to be less and less fun and challenging with each passing day, so he left to test himself by starting a company that is his own.
“Back then I found that working in a large corporate to be challenging, entertaining, and boring all at the same time. During the latter half of my time there, I found the challenges to have lessened and, being someone who likes to face these obstacles head-on, I thought that to test myself, I would need to come out and start a company that solves real existing problems for users. I decided with my family to create a firm with a mission to push the standards of our agricultural industry to the next era.”
Algaeba started as a business with a small ready-made concentrated seaweed product (microalgae) for nursing aquatic larvae for farmers. At that time, it was difficult to access the market, but it allowed Kunn to see a different problem and a real need of aquaculture farmers. The problem was the counting of hatchlings, as it is quite labor intensive, and the process is riddled with errors ranging from 5-20%. This can cause disputes between the buyers and sellers in cases where they may feel that number of hatchlings received do not match with the amount they paid for. There were no solutions to this problem and so the company decided to pivot from agricultural products to AgTech.
“From 2016 to 2019, I found that we need to adjust the direction of the business in order to progress towards the next era of the world” …and that was the beginning of the everything for Algaeba.
Algaeba’s Transformational Era
Kunn tells the story of early 2019, where Algaeba had created a simple prototype of their SeaThru COUNTER product to illustrate its use and the machine’s working process. Even though it received positive feedbacks, there were also recommendations and constructive criticisms from the users, so he took them into consideration to improve and develop the prototype further.
“I started with proving the working principles first by creating a simple machine for testing. As the users feel satisfied and see that they can use the machine, I started to develop it into an early prototype and went out to run more tests. Initial feedback was that it was inaccurate and slow, so I decided to fix these issues from the customer feedback and upgrade my system.”
“At the beginning of 2020, we had our first prototype that works in accordance with the requirements. In June 2020, we began testing the performance of SeaThru COUNTER which uses artificial intelligence and a camera to count the number of hatchlings and can capture and send images along with a result page confirming their positions. This saves a lot of time, counting 2,000 larvae in only 6-8 seconds compared to the half hour it used to take. The experiments were carried out by a small group of Algaeba customers using the machine to count the larvae of tilapia and shrimp, fish roe, crabs, and other small non-geometric objects, which performed quite well. Trials have also shown customers to repetitively use the SeaThru platform.”
At this point, Kunn is confident that SeaThru COUNTER can really solve the problem for his customers
It took Algaeba a year and a half before they made their first SeaThru COUNTER sale and started earning money. The information gathered from the system which tracks the usage of their customers found that they were continuously using the machine every day, making Kunn confident that it can really solve the problem for his customers. Now, Kunn is looking into marketing to distribute into foreign countries and is currently negotiating for a partner to manage the sales of SeaThru COUNTER in Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
“Currently, we have sold 30 units across the country, but this year we intend to be the market leader, aiming for around 120 units. The market is quite small as it is not a mobile application with many potential users. Recently, we have received an order from CP (Charoen Pokphand Group), so we are quite confident that our product has been recognized on a global level as CP is considered a global company. We have already started exporting to 4 countries, such as Singapore, Philippines, Brazil, and soon Russia. By highlighting the strength of SeaThru COUNTER guaranteeing the highest counting accuracy in the world at 95%, relatively easy to use compared to competitors, and can be customized to suit the user with about 15 models of aquatic creatures.”
Algaeba’s past, present, and future goals
Algaeba, a startup, funded themselves with the money of themselves, their family, and independent investors, had continued to operate its business until recently where they got funded by a foreign Venture Capital. In addition to this funding, they also received the Open Innovation grant from the National Innovation Agency (NIA), making it possible to build on their prototype to a commercial product. They also receive outside advisory, certification report on their machine’s counting capabilities, and further product development with the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) from this fund as well. Thanks to this, SeaThru COUNTER was able to quickly launch in the market and became well received.
“From the many lessons I have learnt operating this for 4-5 years, I found that what a new founder has to do well is to work fast and quickly learn from your mistakes. Learn why customers are not using your product, and quickly make the fix needed and put it back to use as fast as you can. If you can learn quickly, your business will do well. However, if we just sit in our ivory tower without taking action to test with real customers then you cannot be successful as a startup. It is recommended to quickly make a prototype or test some hypothesis quickly and use what you learn to develop further, before going back to your customers to test again quickly. Do it quickly.”
With his aspirations, Kunn does not expect Algaeba to become a unicorn but hopes that his company’s products can really help solve the problems of farmers.
“The word unicorn is not something I hope for. Since our company makes products that is hardware with IOT mixed with software, that is, its mobile application cannot compete in growth rate with platforms that are purely software based. I do not think we can become unicorns any time soon, but we hope to grow into a product that sells, one that solves real problems for farmers and raise the standards according to the mission of our company. If we can make Thailand have enough farmers to push their standards of life, then I will consider myself successful even if I’m not a unicorn.”
The original article, published by Matichon Online, is part of the Startup Thailand Marketplace project for the National Innovation Agency (a public organization) or NIA, which has supported Algaeba through training and instilling knowledge, as well as granting funds to promote and develop them to become a business that creates value and benefits the Thai society.
To access the original article in Thai published by www.matichon.co.to, please click here.
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