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  • Ocean Innovators: Sabrena MacKenzie, SeaChange Biochemistry

Ocean Innovators: Sabrena MacKenzie, SeaChange Biochemistry

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Innovacorp helps build ocean technology start-ups in Nova Scotia. We offer them access to venture capital, acceleration programs, non-dilutive funding, and incubation space at Start-Up Yard at COVE. These start-ups are helping transform our economy and protect our ocean. Get to know their amazing stories.

A self-described "beach bum," Sabrena MacKenzie, co-founder of SeaChange Biochemistry, was always interested in seaweed.

"In the past five or six years, I became really interested in it. I saw its value from a scientific standpoint and I also saw the waste."

But it wasn't seaweed that was on Sabrena's mind when she and her business partner set out to build a company.

"I guess you could say we were trying to turn biomass waste into value. We thought we could do that with a craft distillery, but we wanted it to be different."

At first, Sabrena and her partner focused on using dairy waste to make ethanol, but they soon ran into hurdles because of regulatory challenges associated with using dairy waste. By then, Sabrena says she was in a state of scientific curiosity. If not dairy, then what?

"I think the core of science is curiosity, but I think it was actually business advice that steered us into launching SeaChange. Having guidance from mentors early on was so important for our company."

Sabrena feels that some of the best advice she received was from an Innovacorp team member, Paul Richards. "He told me to think about what I know. Once I got that advice, it all clicked into place — and quite quickly. Because for me, that was seaweed."

SeaChange provides seaweed-derived ingredients for natural health products and supplements. These high value products are in demand around the world and will soon find themselves in beauty products and capsules by global brands.

In just one year, Sabrena and her partner have developed their technology, built a plant and secured their first customer. In addition to support from Innovacorp's acceleration programs, they received $100,000 through the federal SDTC program. "Every bit of funding we received helped us reach a new milestone. That's important, but I go back to how valuable the business advice was to us. That type of support really made all the difference."

Sabrena believes deeply she is starting more than a business with SeaChange. "It's been a nice surprise about how many people are willing to help. You develop a bit of a team around you, in addition to your own team."

SeaChange counts Acadia University, an experienced team of investors, and a local fisherman as part of her extended team. "This partnership is such a natural fit. People don't realize there are a lot of unused shellfish leases that could be used to grow seaweed. This is the first fisherman who is working with us, but it doesn't have to be the last."

Sabrena points to the potential of seaweed farming as a growth industry as one of the most exciting opportunities ahead of her. "That component of our business alone could create a lot of jobs and sustainability with little effort since the leases are already in place."

In addition to the economic benefits of a new industry, and the low-impact production of SeaChange's products, seaweed is important in reducing ocean acidification.

"It's exciting to think we could contribute to the health of the ocean in our own backyard, while building a globally competitive business in Nova Scotia."

July 28, 2021, Halifax, Nova Scotia