The founders of Tunatech have managed to achieve successful spawning of bluefin tuna. No-one has succeeded in doing this until now. With this new method, the start-up can satisfy the high demand as well as protect threatened fish stocks. Now the scientists and young entrepreneurs are entering fish farming themselves.
Both of the founders, Stephan Schulz and Florian Borutta, are biologists. They developed the method during their doctoral studies at the Institute for Metabolic Physiology at the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. They worked there under the guidance of their university supervisor Prof. Christopher Bridges on several EU projects to develop a method of domestication of Thunnus thynnus.
From scientist to entrepreneur
Schulz never wanted to stagnate in a laboratory. It was nevertheless a big step for him to move from scientist to entrepreneur. When do you ever learn to write a business plan as a biologist? The Düsseldorf Innovation and Science Agency (Düsseldorfer Innovations- und Wissenschafts-Agentur - DIWA) then gave them coaching on this subject.
Practical and financial support for the founders
An EXIST start-up grant helped both entrepreneurs to focus completely on Tunatech for the year following their doctorates. The Center for Entrepreneurship Düsseldorf provided them with a free office in the Life Science Center and the university supported them for a further year through the Pre-Seed programme. The product was so convincing that Tunatech was one of the very few start-ups to suffer significant setbacks. The founders recently took the concept as far as the final round of the Next Economy Award 2015 where the company was one of 13 finalists from 175 companies.
Investors allow start-up expansion
Co-founder and managing director Shukry Na'amnieh had the idea of entering the tuna breeding programme himself. When looking for the necessary investors, the young entrepreneur's Arabic skills opened doors. During a stopover on the way to an investor in Oman, the start-up team started a conversation with an Arabian delegation. The investor that got hooked was an Arabian family business.
Goal is a sustainability label
The start-up intends to start breeding the first tuna on the Egyptian coast, west of Alexandria this year. The adult fish are to be sold partially from their own shop in a start-up location in Düsseldorf with its large Japanese community and the many sushi restaurants in the state capital. Another goal according to founder Schulz is to have Tunatech certified as a sustainable business.
"It is naturally our goal to be certified as a sustainable business."
Dr Stephan Schulz
First idea for the company: August 2011
Established: August 2013
Founders: Dr Florian Borutta, Prof. Dr Christopher Bridges, Dr Stephan Schulz, Dr Shukry Na'amnieh
Number of employees: 8