A haka by multiple Government agencies was a humbling accolade for Paeroa company AgriSea at the announcement they had won Hi-Tech Maori Company of the Year at the NZ Hi-Tech Awards.
“It was so special,” says Chief Innovation Officer Tane Bradley. Audience members led by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise agency performed the haka as Tane and wife Clare Bradley collected the award.
“The calibre of the businesses in the room was amazing, there are so many good people doing good things – and it was great to be in a room full of positive industry leaders,” says Tane.
A gala event was held in Wellington in early August. AgriSea took the top Hi-Tech Māori Kamupene o te Tau award against finalists Envico Technologies, Plink and Height after being nominated as a finalist for the second year.
For more than 25 years, AgriSea has been using sustainably collected seaweed from remote coastal communities to develop organic biostimulant products for soil, pasture, and animal health. The business has the potential to contribute to New Zealand farming for decades to come, with its products benefiting the dairy, drystock, horticulture, apiculture, and viticulture enterprises that are using them.
Tane, (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato-Tainui), stepped in to lead AgriSea from his mother, Jill Bradley, and stepfather Keith Atwood who were championing organic products and sustainability principles long before being deemed ‘mainstream’.
Research and innovation have been the foundation for the business in establishing markets in Aotearoa and offshore – and as it expands by exploring different uses of seaweed for everything from wound care to creating cleaner waterways.
“We’re extremely humbled by the award,” says Clare, who is AgriSea’s Chief Executive Officer.
“It was an honour to be a finalist in this category for the second time in the row, so to win was really icing on the cake,” says Bradley.
“This win not only shows that green technology, using natural systems and ecological principles can be recognised as hi-tech but also how integrating manaakitanga and your values into work practices can have a positive impact.”
The company tapped into the support of innovation agency Callaghan Innovation and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, which has helped in establishing its markets in New Zealand and offshore.
“It’s been an incredible journey since we met the Scion crew at a Matariki X event hosted by Callaghan Innovation five years ago, which was where it all started to kick off for us,” says Tane. This led to a partnership spanning the past five years developing products from the waste product of their biostimulants.
“Clare and Tane have been a pleasure to partner with from day one, buying into our vision for what could be achieved by mechanically processing their seaweed to extract nanocellulose, which is then used to make hydrogels,” says Dr Stephan Hill, Portfolio Leader for High-Value Biorefineries at Scion.
The company has kept its operations in Paeroa and sell through Fonterra Farm Source stores in New Zealand.
Recently the business won a Fielday’s Innovation award for Fortress +, a newly released product formulation that when fed to cows reduces their oxidative stress (increasing disease resistance), as well as urinary nitrogen levels by around 18 per cent.
“The science behind the formulation was developed over three years by a Lincoln University PhD student Matthew Beck, enabled by a Callaghan Innovation R&D Fellowship Grant,” says Clare. “From that three-year journey we’ve produced seven peer-reviewed papers, and we’ve also had huge interest in the formulation from large markets, such as the US.”
AgriSea secured a further Fellowship Grant to help it commercialise IP that it developed in partnership with Scion to develop high value hydrogels.
“Driving us forward has been our aligned values and vision,” says Clare. “Scion was clear that they wanted to do the best science, and we were clear that we wanted to bring innovative and green technology to the market. The couple say Manaakitanga is an important value at AgriSea, which has grown a reputation for welcoming visitors from around the world.
“Sometimes it’s hard to encapsulate our approach to business,” says Tane, “but really, it’s that we live our values – to respect each other, and our environment. We see ourselves as a family doing good things and we want to partner with others who are doing the same.”
“We’ve always felt like we were on the cusp of something – it’s just that sometimes it takes a little longer than you envisage,” Clare says. “What we haven’t done is waited for the wave to come to us. We’ve invested in people, technology and partnerships to ensure we’re solving problems, and having a positive impact.”
The award was sponsored by Callaghan Innovation.