Born in Sweden and migrating to Australia at four, Pia Winberg has always loved the coastline.
“David Attenborough’s Life on Earth series came out when I was 10 and I loved watching them. He was my big hero. Using a snorkel and mask for the first time really opened my eyes to what was under the ocean.”
As an 18-year-old, Pia got her diving certificate (under the ice) during a trip back to Sweden. Staying and completing her Masters in marine science in Stockholm, Pia focused on the ocean systems ecology and how they linked to global cycles.
It was during a research trip to Sri Lanka that Pia learned of a permaculture style approach to farming prawns using seaweed to support healthy livestock. This influenced and drove Pia's commitment to using seaweed to help clean up the ocean systems continued and drove Pia to create Australia’s first commercial seaweed farms.
“At school, I just knew that I loved the oceans – I didn’t think about becoming a scientist. I didn't have plans exactly but followed my passion and opportunities then a plan evolved.”
Venus Shell Systems launched in 2014 and today, continues to produce high-grade quality marine biomass and in 2016 produced three tonnes of one seaweed species within a year.
Pia also understood the benefits of seaweed for human health.
“A dose of seaweed back seaweed provides a new crop platform for human nutrition. There are a lot of things that we are missing and some of the key components of seaweed to use to put back in our diet are things like trace elements from the ocean. But where do they end up, in the ocean. Seaweeds mop up the iron, iodine, magnesium, boron, all sorts of weird and wonderful trace elements that we need and are not getting in our modern diets.”
Watch an interview of Pia Winberg on Al Jazeera talking about seaweed as a superfood.
With a thriving seaweed yield, Pia began PhycoHealth, a business producing foods using seaweed as a core ingredient. From seaweed-enhanced corn chips, pasta, salts, dukkah right through to muesli.
"We made a little concentrated seaweed pellet for the muesli, blended it with cinnamon, and added oats, cranberries, almonds and hemp seeds. We had to play around with the flavours for 12 months, but your taste buds aren't overwhelmed by a seaweed flavour. People are now buying 10 boxes at a time. We've been surprised by how popular it has become."
Pia's contribution to the planet and people through business is a lesson for tomorrow's economy.
"We've consulted with industry and identified a $100 million plus opportunity for seaweed over the next five years, with potential to scale to $1.5 billion over the next 20 years. This will create thousands of jobs in regional towns and reduce Australia's national greenhouse gas emissions significantly."
As for future founders,
“Know what interests you and try it. That is the most important thing you can do, because if it interests you, you will really give it a go! Learn more about it, then it will really start to excite you.”