Rosaria Piseri: My seaweed obsession led to a business

Seaweed product entrepreneur Rosaria Piseri says setting up AlgAran was "like a dream - a difficult dream"

It's green, slimy and can be a bit smelly - but for entrepreneur Rosaria Piseri, a lifelong fascination with seaweed is what drove her to create a business.

Living in landlocked Milan, she had always yearned to be near the sea, and, at 46, with her children grown up, she decided to up sticks and move to an island on the west coast of Ireland to pursue her unusual passion.

The move eventually led to the creation of her company, AlgAran, which makes and sells edible organic seaweed products and remedies, as well as seaweed-infused moisturisers, face masks, shampoo, soap and other cosmetics.

The company's name reflects its birthplace - the Aran Islands - which have a long tradition of using seaweed, both in food and as a fertiliser.

'Amazing effects'
Rosaria Piseri and seaweed Rosaria Piseri has always been fascinated by seaweed

Ms Piseri first became interested in seaweed when she discovered the impact it had when used as a natural fertiliser to enhance the size of grapes. At the time, she was working for a company that supplied products used in wine-making in her native Italy.

Its effectiveness drove her to read up on it, and eventually she discovered a company in Ireland that had just started to produce seaweed extracts, and she decided to visit.

"It was wonderful. I mean the seaweed could [have] really, really amazing effects on plants," she says.

Start Quote

I was really led by just a passion. And I thought, 'This is going to be a business, this is going to be a business.' I just had this feeling that it was going to work”

End Quote Rosaria Piseri

Impressed, she arranged to import a small amount for her own personal use as a fertiliser, and subsequently began to import more to sell to friends.

After this her fascination grew, and she spent all her time researching seaweed, to the point where she says she was shunned by her friends because it was all she ever talked about.

"I was really led by just a passion. And I thought, 'This is going to be a business, this is going to be a business.' I just had this feeling that it was going to work."

A promise

However, it was the death of a close friend from cancer that persuaded her to dedicate herself full time to creating a business.

When her friend was diagnosed, Ms Piseri started to research whether seaweed extracts had any medicinal uses that could help. Sadly, her friend passed away before Ms Piseri could find anything out.

Start-up Stories

AlgAran

  • Year founded: 2004
  • HQ: Donegal, Ireland
  • Annual sales: Not disclosed
  • Number of employees: Five
  • Ownership: Private

"So it was a kind of a promise I made her. I want to keep going in this, I want to know more."

Ms Piseri initially got a job working on the Aran Islands for the company that had supplied her with seaweed in Italy, and subsequently moved to another company in Donegal that had just started to process seaweed for agriculture.

She then decided to stay permanently in Ireland and started her own company in 2004 - using seaweed as the basis for a food product.

Michael McCloskey, a local seaweed harvester she had met at the company in Donegal, joined her as a business partner, providing empty premises he owned to set up offices and a factory.

Part of her research was secretly testing out her products on unsuspecting dinner guests to see if they would like them, using traditional Italian recipes with seaweed as an additional ingredient.

seaweed packaging The seaweed is sold as an ingredient to add to food as well as cosmetics

She says they were amazed when she told them what they had been eating.

However, initial sales were slow, in part due to people's resistance to eating a foodstuff that in Ireland had long been associated with poverty. Just as they began to pick up, helped by a new agreement with an Italian distributor, the financial crisis in the eurozone started to hit demand.

The breakthrough for the company came when Ms Piseri decided to start exporting to Japan last year. The tsunami and earthquake in 2011 had destroyed much of the country's home-grown seaweed, commonly used in food dishes, creating a strong demand for imports.

Demand is now so high that the company is unable to keep up, and it has had to send back orders.

AlgAran products The company makes seaweed infused moisturisers, face masks, shampoo and soap

The company now has five staff who have to harvest the seaweed according to the tides, and then process it within three hours to preserve the nutrients within.

"If the tide in the summer is let's say [15:00, 16:00], then you have to work until late," says Ms Piseri.

Despite the long hours, she says the fact that both the company and the products she makes are her own creations makes it worthwhile, and keeps her motivated.

Her advice to a would be entrepreneur? Get planning early, and write a business and marketing plan at the very outset. Something she says she failed to do.

Ultimately, she says, the process of starting a business is like having a baby.

"You have to be sure that you are going to nourish the baby, that you are going to grow the baby, that you will be available for the baby. So the company is much the same, business is much the same."

This feature is based on an original television interview by Neil Koenig for the BBC's Start-Up Stories series.

More on This Story

Start-up Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    MARKET UPDATE 08:37:

    So, half an hour into trading and European markets look flat.....again!! The FTSE 100 is up by a whopping 0.02%, or 1.62 points to 6,719.66. Meanwhile Germany's Dax is down 0.15%, or 14.76 points, to 9,793.44 and France's Cac-40 is down 0.19%, or 8.09 points to 4,351.75. The biggest riser on the FTSE, despite its concerns about the strength of the pound, is Burberry which is up 5% to 1474p.

     
  2.  
    EMAIL DEATHWISH 08:19:
    Shiva Ayyadurai and actress Fran Drescher

    So, this follows on from yesterday's 5Live discussion with Charles Elvin, CEO of the Institute of Leadership and Management about unplugging from our smartphones at the weekend. The Daily Mail refers to a Wall Street Journal interview (tucked behind its paywall unfortunately) with the man who invented email, Shiva Ayyadurai. He says: "When I tell people I invented email, the first thing they say is, 'I want to kill you,'"

     
  3.  
    BURBERRY TRADING Via Twitter Kamal Ahmed BBC Business editor

    Tweets: Strength of sterling worrying Burberry: "If exchange rates remain at current levels, the full impact on profit in FY 2015 will be material"

     
  4.  
    BURBERRY TRADING 08:06:
    shop

    The luxury firm says a strong pound may make a "material" dent in 2015 profits if it continues to be so richly-valued. Sales at reported exchange rates rose 9% to £370m in the three months to 30 June.

     
  5.  
    MOTHERCARE 07:50:

    Mr Newton-Jones has spent 30 years in the retail industry, including 18 years at Next. He first task is likely to be to continue to hold off the takeover bid from Destination Maternity, who offered 300p per share for the mother and baby retailer, valuing it at £266m. That was a significant premium to its share price. Mothercare issued a profit warning at the start of the year and is in the middle of a turnaround programme, but it still doesn't expect to return to profit until 2017.

     
  6.  
    MOTHERCARE 07:35:
     general view of a Mothercare store

    Mothercare has announced that its interim chief executive Mark Newton-Jones has been appointed to the role permanently. He will officially take up his position and join the Mothercare board on 17 July. Last week, Mothercare rejected a takeover bid from US rival Destination Maternity.

     
  7.  
  8.  
    INDIAN BUDGET 07:20: Via Email Simon Atkinson Editor, India Business Report
    Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley leaves his office to table the budget in parliament in New Delhi.

    Simon Atkinson, editor of India Business Report, outside the Indian parliament in Delhi, sends this on the Federal Budget: "Early on, this is a budget appealing to foreign investors. Promise to scrutinise retrospective tax laws - something that put off some firms after high profile Vodafone case and allowing up to 49% overseas ownership of defence firms."

     
  9.  
    INDIAN BUDGET Via Twitter

    Tweet from business reporter Shilpa Kannan: Fin min @arunjaitley "We cannot spend beyond our means - fiscal prudence is important for future generations"

     
  10.  
    MARKET UPDATE 06:54:

    Tokyo stocks declined 0.24% after the US Federal Reserve signalled its widely-expected intention to end its long-running stimulus programme in October. The Nikkei 225 index slipped 36.89 points to 15,265.76. Hong Kong stocks rose 0.28%. The benchmark Hang Seng Index added 63.79 points to 23,239.86.

     
  11.  
    PUBLIC SECTOR STRIKE 06:42: Radio 5 live

    Professor Gregor Gall of the Bradford University School of Management is on 5 live talking about today's proposed strike. Strikers should make sure this is the "beginning of something" rather than just a one-off, like the last major public sector strike in 2011, he says. Otherwise the strike may end up just being "letting off steam but not adding to their leverage at the bargaining table."

     
  12.  
    PUBLIC SECTOR STRIKE 06:31:
    A member of the general trade union GMB stands outside The Houses of Parliament in London on November 30, 2011

    More than a million public sector workers are due to walk out on strike later today in a series of disputes with government over pay, pensions and job cuts. Council staff, teachers, firefighters and civil servants are among those walking out. Someone is bound to tell us how much the strike is going to cost the economy later. In the meantime, if anyone wants to have a crack at it, send your answers to bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or @BBCBusiness on twitter.

     
  13.  
    NEW INDIA GOVERNMENT Via Email Yogita Limaye Business reporter, BBC News

    Dozens of media vans are parked outside parliament as the new Indian government prepares to deliver its much anticipated first budget. A short while ago, the finance minister Arun Jaitley left his office to go to parliament, posing with the traditional 'budget briefcase' - a bag that carries the document. Bureaucrats have been locked in for days preparing this plan.

     
  14.  
    SUNDAY TRADING 06:05: Radio 5 live

    Ewen Cameron-Watt, chief investment strategist of investment institute at BlackRock, is on 5 live, talking about Sunday trading for shops. "There's a law of diminishing returns for Sunday trading," he says. Will shops make back their costs, he asks? "Are we really going to be doing our weekly shop at 10 past 8 on a Sunday?" Not him, he says.

     
  15.  
    06:00: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Good morning from the Business Live team. You can get in touch via bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or @BBCBusiness on twitter

     
  16.  
    06:00: Matthew West Business reporter

    Morning folks, lots of news promised for today. It's the start of a new era at Sainsbury's under boss Mike Coupe; we have the monthly interest rate decision from the Bank of England, India announces its first Budget under new prime minister Narendra Modi; another house price index - this time from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors - and a trading update from Burberry. So plenty to come.

     

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.