Fishers learn to catch innovation with Fish-X

Combining the stories behind our seafood with technological innovation can help businesses make it in the marketplace, Fish-X participants are learning

By Rebecca Thyer

Photo of X-Lab director Tim Parsons hosting participants at a hackathonX-Lab director Tim Parsons teaches Fish-X participants at the Brisbane hackathon.
Photo: X-Lab Ventures

The extraordinary skills and passion of those involved in Australia’s seafood industry constantly surprise Tim Parsons, co-founder and chief executive officer of entrepreneurial connections agency X-Lab Ventures.

He leads Fish-X, an innovation program supported by the FRDC that aims to accelerate growth in the fisheries sector by helping small businesses bring their ideas to life.
Fish-X has two core innovation streams

  1. Two-day ‘micro-hacks’ – hands-on workshops where innovators are trained in the ‘Lean Start-up’ approach to better understand their business and test de-risking business models.
  2. A three-month business accelerator program where teams are mentored through a disciplined process to explore new growth opportunities.

The program’s third micro-hack was held in Brisbane in February at the Queensland Health and Food Sciences Precinct with 11 fisheries-related small business owners. Some have new products, while others are challenging existing supply chains.

Several businesses that have been mentored through the Fish-X accelerator program also participated to provide an update on their business progress and to share their experiences.

Tim Parsons says all the micro-hack participants have great ideas and enthusiasm, but a common theme in the sector is that many undervalue their product and could be even more ambitious than they currently are.

An example, he says, is the product caught by north Queensland’s Kath and Tom Long, who operate a line fishing business on the Great Barrier Reef.

“TomKat Line Fishing has a wonderful story. How many fishers can say that they are operating in the deep ocean off the iconic Great Barrier Reef? Surely a high-end restaurant in New York or Tokyo would love that story and pay a premium to be associated with it,” he says. 

Tim Parsons believes that the answer lies in entrepreneurship and technology and says Fish-X comes at the perfect time for businesses in Australia’s seafood industry.

“Innovation is required to evolve existing business models and harness new technologies to meet the changing needs of the value chain and the tastes and concerns of new markets and consumers.”

To meet challenges such as these, Fish-X participants are coached to rapidly iterate and market-test ideas using the ‘Lean Start-up’ business model. This approach helps to reduce business risk by fine-tuning product value propositions and gathering stronger evidence to either support or ‘kill’ those ideas before investing precious time and money.

“We try to instil a ‘learner’ mindset in them, as opposed to a ‘knower’ mindset. They need to have sufficient humility to listen to customers, take responsibility for meeting their needs, and then ask themselves ‘What evidence do I have or can I gather for what I want to do so I’m confident to invest more time and money?’”

‘Learners’ continually question their own assumptions about why and how something is being done in order to keep up with market developments and changing customer needs, Tim Parsons says. At the opposite end, ‘knowers’ are a ‘closed book’ who do not challenge the status quo because they already ‘know’ it all.

For the FRDC, the program is a means to uncover promising ideas. However, even more than that the process can encourage the development of new ways of thinking to foster innovation for new enterprises, but also for the improvement of established ones. In turn, this can benefit the sector as a whole.

Since launching in March 2017, X-Lab has already trained more than 50 participants from across industry, research and government via its Fish-X micro-hack workshops, accelerated 10 teams via its

Fish-X mentors, and run one local and two international linkage tours – to Silicon Valley, in the US, and to Brussels, Belgium.

A future proposal is to hold ‘pitch’ events, where business founders will get direct feedback from partners and investors looking for exposure to the industry.

The longline fishing business TomKat Line Fish is one of the most recent companies to benefit from the Fish-X micro-hack program. Others include a kelp-processing business, a recreational fishing business and a digital safety initiative.

The X-Lab micro-hack program can be used for all kinds of problems, as evident in the diversity of topics that have so far included: Tuna Solutions, a supply-chain transformation for tuna fishers; SmartOysters, a digital farm-management platform; Wild Gulf Barramundi’s ‘fisher to plate’ sales and provenance tracking system; better fish health and growth in aquaculture while saving children in remote areas from hypoxic death; high-volume hatchery and nursery solutions for the oyster industry; a collaboration between recreational fishing clubs and associations and real-time data; to be the leading Australian provider of kelp and seaweed products; traceability marketing into China with food provenance and supply-chain audits; and a food technologies centre to enable food processing and supply chain innovation within the Australian seafood sector. 

See also

Fish-X cuts to the core of new business opportunities

FRDC Research Code: 2017-058

More information

Norm Jenkins, program director, X-Lab Ventures