Blue Smarties were always my favourite.
I remember when they first came out – I was eight. Mum bought me a tube with a plastic pop-off lid with a letter on the back and I fished around eagerly for the new blue one.
You see blue is a big deal – so big, it’s just landed Polly Marston Van Alstyne’s company half a million pounds.
Scottish Bioenergy has figured out a way to produce a natural blue food dye from algae on an industrial scale. Now they’re growing like a, well, I would say fungus…
“It was nearly 10 years of research and development plus a little bit of luck that the market conditions were right,” she told me. The company raised investment last month thanks in large part to Investing Women and Kelvin Capital, who recognized the international possibilities.
A Nielsen survey last year found 61% of the 30,000 respondents want to avoid artificial colours in their food shop. Meanwhile the US has recently approved spirulina extract (the fancy name for the blue dye) as a foodstuff.
“I think it’s important to put the work into the foundations, even though it was a long time to wonder if you’d ever get anywhere with it,” she admitted. “But we’re now in a position where we’re very confident in the technology and that makes both us and the investors more comfortable.”
The American and her Northern Irish husband are now building a ‘showcase’ at BioCity near Glasgow where four 2000 litre bioreactors will be in production by the end of November.
“The climate in California is very different – there it’s like a hobby, you’re either a start-up or an investor,” she said. “I think there’s less flexibility here, you need to follow the path of the Scottish Co-investment Fund in order to qualify for tax relief for investors. Having said that, the support here is wonderful. We met Jackie Waring at Investing Women in December and the networking aspect has been invaluable. Especially as a woman, to feel like someone has your back and is so supportive and enthusiastic is really important.”
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Kim McAllister is a Journalist & Communications Consultant and director of Impact Online