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

Business Live

  1.  
    09:30: Banking figures

    Some banking stats from the British Bankers' Association, which lobbies for the industry. ISA deposits in 2014 were 57% higher than in 2013 after the increase in investment limits. House purchase approvals up 9% in 2014.

     
  2.  
    09:30: UK GDP

    For the whole of 2014 the UK economy grew by 2.6%. That marks the best economic performance since 2007, the Office For National Statistics says.

     
  3.  
    UK GDP 09:30: Breaking News

    The UK economy grew by 0.5% in the last three months of 2014, official figures show.

     
  4.  
    GDP preview Via Email Tom Turner, Business live reader

    "Is Richard Portes suggesting we should find a different surgeon then? Because the only two on offer are; the one that nearly killed us and the one that has us recovering.... If a little slower than he thought it might."

     
  5.  
    09:16: Universal benefits BBC Radio 4

    Asked if well-off pensioners could lose benefits such as free travel passes and the Winter Fuel Allowance after the next election , something the prime minister promised would be protected at the last election, Mr Cameron says: "I've always said there aren't huge savings to be made by axing these benefits... I don't think it would be fair to ask pensioners to make the biggest adjustment." He adds pensioners have £800 more in their pension than before he came to power.

     
  6.  
    09:02: Paper review
    paper

    More Greek analysis from the newspapers this morning. Greece and its creditors "dig in" over the debt struggle, says the FT. The Wall St Journal says Europe's "political establishment moved quickly to douse hopes" of a debt restructure. The Times's business section leads on a drop in Greek bank shares. The Telegraph has more on that benefit cap cut proposed by Mr Cameron.

     
  7.  
    Via Email Flydubai spokesperson

    After landing at Baghdad International Airport (BGW) on 26 January 2015, damage to the aircraft fuselage consistent with small arms fire was discovered on flydubai flight FZ 215. All the passengers disembarked normally through the jet bridge. No medical attention was required at the airport. Passengers from Baghdad to Dubai were accommodated on a replacement aircraft. An investigation is underway to establish what happened.

     
  8.  
    08:43: Market update

    Small movements early on in European share trading. London's benchmark FTSE 100 index of top companies has nudged 0.08% lower to 6,846.74 points, Frankfurt's DAX 30 shed 0.12% to 10,785.90 and the CAC 40 in Paris lost 0.07% to 4,671.76 points.

     
  9.  
    08:36: Aircraft fired on
    plane

    Flights between the United Arab Emirates and Baghdad have been suspended after a FlyDubai aircraft was hit by gunfire as it approached the Iraqi capital. No-one was injured in the attack, the budget carrier said. Etihad and Emirates have also suspended their services to Baghdad as a precaution.

     
  10.  
    08:33: Economy BBC Breakfast
    Miliband

    "There are big economic and social challenges," says Labour leader Ed Miliband on Breakfast. "They [the Conservative party] say everything's fixed... I don't agree. People are £1,600 worse off at the end of this parliament than the beginning."

     
  11.  
    08:28: Welfare to work BBC Radio 4

    Did you hear the starting gun? It's 100 days until the general election, so campaigning begins. Mr Cameron's talking on Today about proposals to cut the benefit cap to £23,000. Will that mean more people go out and find work? The Prime Minister says that around 40% of people that have been effected by the current cap have gone out and sought work. He says the government will use the money saved from reducing the benefit cap - if the Conservatives win the election - to create 3 million apprenticeships.

     
  12.  
    08:17: GDP preview BBC Radio 4

    Economic professor Richard Portes of the Centre for Economic Policy Research takes up Mr Littlewood's surgical metaphor in relation to the government's economic policies but says "the patient almost died". The actual proportion of people in work is still lower than before the financial crisis while wages are 6% lower than they should be, he says. If the government points to the way in which the deficit has been handled its story ahead of the election isn't very good at all, he adds.

     
  13.  
    Apprenticeships Via Email Chris Pocock, a Business live reader from Sheffield

    "The pay of apprentices at Ford Dagenham is not typical. The government's own evidence to the Low Pay Commission indicates shockingly high levels of non-compliance by employers in paying apprentices the national minimum wage."

     
  14.  
    07:53: Carpetright sales

    Carpetright has reported a 7.5% rise in UK like-for-like sales in the three months to 24 January. It has also kept its full year profit guidance unchanged. Like-for-like sale in the rest of Europe rose 1.7%, it adds.

     
  15.  
    07:40: GDP preview BBC Radio 4

    The government hasn't stuck to its deficit plans, says Mark Littlewood on Today, but it has stuck to its spending plans. We have several more years before we will be living within our means but "the direction of travel" is the most important thing. "If the government had said to hell with this, we're going to carry on as before, then markets would have had more of a wobble," he says, but a deficit reduction target of five years achieved in eight, while disappointing, is far less of a concern.

     
  16.  
    07:25: Apprenticeships BBC Breakfast
    Cameron

    Prime Minister David Cameron is on Breakfast. He's talking about apprenticeships: "we overplayed university and downplayed apprenticeships" he says, whereas "both are important." He says after visiting apprentices at Ford in Dagenham trainees can earn £30,000 after four years. Does that match your experience, readers? bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk

     
  17.  
    Facebook down Via Twitter Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

    "Hacker group Lizard Squad -@lizardmafia - claiming it's taken down Facebook, Instagram and other sites."

     
  18.  
    07:14: Aer Lingus bid

    British Airways owner IAG says the board of Aer Lingus has indicated "that the financial terms of [its] proposal are at a level at which it would be willing to recommend [the takeover approach] to Aer Lingus shareholders" after Monday's €2.55 per share offer for the Irish carrier. Aer Lingus appears to be letting IAG have a look at its accounts, granting it access to "perform a limited period of confirmatory due diligence."

     
  19.  
    07:12: Facebook back!
    facebook

    Facebook appears to be back. Panic over, everyone.

     
  20.  
    07:10: Facebook down

    Facebook is down in France, Australia, Spain and Singapore, readers and colleagues tell us. A colleague is busy furiously poking the organisation to find out what's going on. Reader Kath Olliffe in Sydney writes in: "It's a strange feeling because you kind of want to post a status that FB is down and what are we all to do. You want to look up FB to see if there is something wrong with FB!"

     
  21.  
    07:07: GDP preview BBC Radio 4

    The latest estimate of UK economic growth will be released at 9:30 today and the economic recovery is looking increasingly likely to be the government's main story during the election. Has it a good story to tell? Mark Littlewood, director general at the Institute of Economic Affairs, tells Today that broadly, yes it does. He thinks the government will say: "we're only about half way through the surgery and May isn't the time to change the surgeon".

     
  22.  
    06:55: GDP preview BBC Breakfast
    stoke

    Not to be out-done by Wake Up to Money's trip to Aston, Breakfast has sent presenter Steph McGovern to a ceramics factory in Stoke to see if the predicted GDP growth is benefiting people. Lisa Grimley says supermarket prices remain high, especially food. Energy bills need to come down before things improve. Since the credit crisis, petrol prices have reduced and that's about it. "It's a struggle for young people."

     
  23.  
    Facebook down Via Email Steven Weerdenburg Business live reader

    It's 1.50 am and Facebook is down in Toronto. Looks like I might have to go to sleep after all.

     
  24.  
    06:47: GDP preview Radio 5 live

    Wake Up to Money presenter Adam Parsons is in East End Foods in Aston, near Birmingham. "It's like being in Terminal 2" he says. He's there in preparation for today's GDP figure. Jason Wouhra, director of the firm, says stable interest rates have helped confidence in investing. Curry ingredients, corn flakes and coke are the more popular items.

     
  25.  
    06:38: Facebook down
    offline

    Forget the GDP figures. This is much bigger news. Facebook is offline everyone. Facebook is down! Is this just a UK problem? Get in touch and let us know at bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or tweet us @bbcbusiness to tell us how you are coping.

     
  26.  
    06:32: GDP preview Radio 5 live

    Virginie Maisonneuve of asset manager Pimco is on Wake Up to Money talking about GDP. She expects 0.6% growth in this fourth quarter first estimate from the Office for National Statistics. GDP is forecast by a number of experts to have grown by 2.6% for the year, the same level as in 2007 and up from 1.7% in 2013.

     
  27.  
    06:23: Market update Radio 5 live

    Virginie Maisonneuve of asset manager Pimco is talking on Wake Up to Money about the markets. They were mainly up yesterday. Minority parties taking power in Europe has "not been taken seriously" by the market she says.

     
  28.  
    06:07: Greek election fallout Radio 5 live

    More from Yannis Zabetakis, a lecturer at the university of Athens, is on Wake Up to Money. Youth unemployment at 50% is another dangerous signal for the country, he says. He also denies Greece is a special case. While there's growth in Britain under austerity, the wealth gap is widening and there are more people in poverty, he says.

     
  29.  
    06:02: Greek election fallout Radio 5 live
    A supporter of Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza left-wing party, holds the Greek and French flag

    Yannis Zabetakis, a lecturer at the university of Athens, is on 5 live talking about the debt burden on Greece. More than a million unemployed means paying off the debt is very difficult, he says. Employment prospects for his students are very poor and he recommends setting up an export company or going abroad. Salaries are going down and tax up, he adds.

     
  30.  
    06:01: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning folks. Get in touch at bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk ot tweet us at @bbcbusiness.

     
  31.  
    06:00: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Good morning. At 09:30 we expect the first estimate for fourth quarter gross domestic product for the UK. There'll also be company results from 07:00. Stay with us.

     

Features

Copyright © 2015 BBC. 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.