Low-cost loan boosts thriving business

Siblings recently relocated bioreactor manufacturing company Industrial Plankton to Saanich

Ashley and Robert Roulston

Ashley and Robert Roulston

The brother and sister team behind emerging bioreactor manufacturing company Industrial Plankton has brought their company to Saanich, and it’s ready to grow.

Industrial Plankton builds high-tech algae incubators, helping large-scale fish farms produce their food in mass quantities. After about four years of research and development at a North Saanich site, the company now offers its ingenuitive 1,000-litre tank for $32,000 U.S. and with a one-year warranty.

“We’ve sold eight this year, and hope to hit 30 by the end of 2015,” says Ashley Roulston.

The 28-year-old is the business half of the equation. Originally from New Brunswick, both studied at the University of Victoria. Ashley studied business with a focus on entrepreneurship, while also competing for the Vikes golf team. Robert, 34, completed a degree in engineering following his original bachelor in biology at McGill.

The promising bioreactor concept has been widely recognized, earning prizes such as the $20,000 it won from the B.C. Bioenergy Network in 2013. Last week it was announced among a select list of companies to win a low-cost loan from the federal Western Innovation Initiative that provides repayable sums to small- and medium-sized enterprises in Western Canada.

Industrial Plankton is using the $156,225 loan to develop and offer a 2,500-litre algae reactor and a 1,500-litre zooplankton reactor, in addition to the 1,000-litre tank currently available.

“It’s a great program with great terms that will help us reach that goal,” Ashley said.

Industrial Plankton moved to Burns Avenue in Saanich’s Douglas Street industrial area in August 2014 and has increased from a team of three to seven. They’ll continue to grow in numbers with the WINN loan.

“We live in the Mt. Tolmie area so it’s great to be closer to town,” said Robert.

Until recently, Robert was putting in 90-hour work weeks to bring the bioreactors into full-time production. Thankfully, the workload has lessened to a more manageable level, he said.

Industrial Plankton recently struck a deal with worldwide aquaculture distributor Pentair, another step towards increased international sales.

“The WINN loan comes at a perfect time as we’re not only expanding but we’re entering the European market and are  adding patents and certification to do so,” Ashley said.

It was Robert who originally came across the niche idea to expedite and streamline the production of algae.

“I had begun to produce my own algae to feed the saltwater fish I was breeding,” he explained. “The algae feeds the smaller fish that larger fish eat. You can’t breed those tiny little fish without this food chain.”

Robert said he found out how tough it is to grow algae that’s uncontaminated by other organisms — some that can have detrimental impacts up that same food chain. Since around 40 per cent of aquaculture facility costs go into raising algae, there was a market for a technology that could produce clean algae at large volumes.

Coun. Fred Haynes was aware of Industrial Plankton’s WINN announcement and said it’s encouraging to see young entrepreneurs that see Saanich as a place to grow their bushiness.

“Saanich council is keen to grow our economic base, we want to make sure businesses have the ingredients they need, we want young entrepreneurs like this,” he said.

 

As the chair of Saanich’s planning, transportation, and economic development advisory committee, Haynes is considering a welcome program for new businesses, such as that of a newcomer’s basket people receive when they move into a new house or neighbourhood.

 

 

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