Q&A with Alex Pressman, Founder of Waikaitu
Q: What makes you stand out?
A: The entire idea behind our business has been to remove an invasive seaweed species from New Zealand waters and create a new value added industry in our local area that promotes better nutrition for people, for animals and for plants. Undaria Pinnatifida seaweed is considered to be one of the 100 most invasive species on the planet, but it also happens to be very nutritious. So we restore balance to the marine environment by removing an invasive species of seaweed and also help farmers to grow better food for all of us and in a sustainable manner. Our food and nutritional supplements also help to maintain human, animal and even honeybee health.
Q: Why do you care?
A: The more I learned about the challenges facing our world, the more despondent I became. Seeing the size and complexity of global problems, it is easy to become discouraged about what one person can achieve. That is until you realise that almost anything new we see around us started with just one single person going against the grain. I am passionate about restoring our marine environment but rather than funding it myself I decided to create a commercial business around removing an invasive seaweed. Another benefit of a socially-focused business is that it creates new jobs and economic benefits for the wider community.
Q: Is being responsible good for business?
A: Certainly some of our customers buy our products because they like what we stand for. However, we didn’t go into this business thinking of the marketing benefits of the sustainability story. In some markets we actually have to really tone down our environmental responsibility message. I know it sounds strange but some people are wrongly concerned that environmentally responsible businesses will charge more for a product or service and that their offerings may not be as good as those of standard businesses. The focus should still be on a great product that solves a customer’s problem in a cost effective way. If a company can’t do that then it will be out of business whether it is responsible or not.
In terms of the bottom line, being socially and environmentally responsible improves profitability because having an environmentally responsible business forces you to look at all of the functions in the company, everything from transportation and harvesting to water and electricity usage and packaging; it all gets a thorough review.
Q: Has the business changed you?
A: It has been a wonderful learning experience for me. Also I have met some really great people whom I would have never met otherwise. It has given me a better understanding of entire disciplines of soil biology, marine biology and the relationship between ourselves and our gut bacteria which is fascinating. And I feel better about the future because now I am doing something about making it better and not just worrying. Action has a therapeutic effect by returning control over our future to ourselves.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: Creating a tangible product is a lot of fun. There is a feeling of achievement at the end of the day when you can look at what you’ve done and count how much seaweed you have harvested and how many tons of biostimulants you have made. And it’s great to know that your product will be used to grow good, nutritious food for people. In my previous career in the software industry, it was sometimes very difficult to point to anything tangible at the end of a day of work.
Q: Plans for the future?
A: Our plans are to continue building an international agricultural biostimulants company. To look for partners in New Zealand and other countries to spread the word about our healthy and clean seaweed food and nutritional supplements. To build a healthy and responsible business that adds value to the community, customers, employees and to our great natural environment.