"We have a lot of fun at our meetings,” says Monica Jain, founder of the global network Fish 2.0. “One hundred per cent of the people who attend will tell you they had a great time.’’
She’s talking in part about the fish-related puns posted on the company’s Twitter account, the result of a joke contest at a recent Fish 2.0 networking event. An example being, ‘Why don't baby shrimp like to share their food? Answer, they're just a little shellfish.’
“The fun doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the businesses or the conversations that happen as a result,” she adds. “But the idea is for people to relax, get to know each other and really think positively about what’s possible to achieve.”
It’s this sense of fun, community and communication that forms the backbone of Fish 2.0, a global forum bringing together innovators and investors to grow the sustainable seafood sector.
What is Fish 2.0?
In an industry that’s notoriously fragmented, Fish 2.0 connects seafood businesses and potential investors from across the world through regional networking events, a biennial Global Innovators Forum and Fish 2.0 Connect – a match-making online hub where investors go to find deals, and businesses can connect with potential investors and partners.
I became even more determined to continue working with the ocean but to use my business skills to do some good, too.
Since its launch in 2013, the network has worked with more than 600 entrepreneurs, 500 investors and 50 sponsors in areas including aquaculture technology, waste reduction and seafood by-product use, climate change mitigation and seafood trade and distribution.
Monica, who lists her passions as fisheries and the oceans, finance and impact investment, describes it as a forum relying on user-created content, like Wikipedia.
“We call it Fish 2.0 because it’s like Web 2.0,” she says. "Web 1.0 referred to a static web page, Web 2.0 is like Wikipedia and Facebook, where all the content is user created. Everyone participates and gives but everyone gets something from it, too.”
Those that have benefited from the network include Northline Seafoods, an Alaskan company processing salmon at sea. It honed its business presentation specifically for the impact-investment community using Fish 2.0 contacts and raised more than $6 million as a result.
RSF Social Finance says Fish 2.0 has given it great exposure to businesses as well as providing education on the sustainable seafood sector, allowing it to make better investment decisions.
There’s even a Hollywood connection. Prepackaged sustainable seafood meal company LoveTheWild, received investment from actor Leonardo DiCaprio. He heard about it from a contact who attended a Fish 2.0 event.
Despite the numerous success stories, Monica, who was named a White House Champion of Change for Sustainable Seafood in 2016, says no single example dominates. What’s been more important for her is seeing how the community and range of businesses work together.
“One of my happiest realisations was a couple of years ago,” she says. “When we recognised that the businesses involved with Fish 2.0 were growing so quickly not just because of the investment they were receiving but also because of the strong connections the network was providing.
“Seafood is one of the most fragmented industries in the world because it’s so global – you fish where the fish are. In this industry, it’s incredibly difficult for an entrepreneur from Canada to meet an entrepreneur or even business leader from, say, Thailand, even though the Canadian entrepreneur may be developing aquaculture equipment that’s absolutely necessary for Thai fish farms. Fish 2.0 allows these connections to be made on a global basis. The network has created a very powerful accelerator for change and growth.”
Spotting a gap in the market
The question that many people ask, however, is how did someone who grew up in St. Louis in the landlocked Midwest of America, spot this gap in the market and become so involved with the growth of the sustainable seafood and fisheries sector?
It all started with a scuba diving course.
Hoping to be a doctor, Monica was studying biology at Stanford when she went on her first open-water dive in California. Realising just how much life was underwater she became fascinated with the ocean, switching her studies to focus on marine science.
I kept saying why do you need to destroy the environment to make a profit? And the answer was, that’s just the way it is. They said, 'You can do the good stuff after you make the money.'
Working as a marine biologist, she then decided she wanted to do something “bigger picture,” enrolling at Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania, to study finance. The goal was to run a fish farm or manage a scientific organisation, something which benefited the environment.
This was the late 1980s, however, and business school was also an introduction to the world of people seeking to make profit regardless of impact.
“I kept saying why do you need to destroy the environment to make a profit? And the answer was, that’s just the way it is. They said, “You can do the good stuff after you make the money.”
"I became even more determined to continue working with the ocean but to use my business skills to do some good, too.”
After graduating Monica worked in venture capital and banking before looking for opportunities to apply finance to the ocean. She worked in philanthropy, as a consultant for organisations such as the World Bank and USAID, financing marine reserves … and as she says, “anywhere there was an overlap of environment and finance”.
Then, in the early 2000s, she started working with some of the initial impact investors.
“As I met more and more impact investors, I realised that none of them really invested in the seafood industry,” she says. “I asked them why and they said the deal flow wasn’t quite mature enough, they didn’t meet other investors interested in seafood, they needed to see a number of deals in order to be comfortable making their first investment…”
This feedback became the basis for Fish 2.0, an idea that has become so successful it has accomplished its goal of growing the sustainable seafood field and driving dozens of investments and is now looking at evolving from a non-profit project to a for-profit model.
“I have a firm belief that the purpose of a non-profit should be to accomplish its goal and put itself out of business,” says Monica who will be very much involved in the next iteration of Fish 2.0. “I started this as a non-profit with a specific purpose, to drive investment and grow the field. Now that’s been achieved, it’s time to change the model and let it grow in a different way.”
We’re looking forward to seeing what Fish 2.1 has to offer.
Moinca Jain is the Founder and Executive Director of Fish 2.0. To find out more about the work it they do, visit the website.