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Photo by Kelpful

Innovative business models enable us to explore sustainable entrepreneurial solutions to the world’s problems. Seaweed food and body-care company Kelpful showcases how companies can find business success and create a positive impact while living their values. 

A women-founded, worker-owned cooperative in San Luis Obispo, California, Kelpful turns wild-harvested seaweed into culinary products such as kombu, nori and “sea sprinkles” seasoning, and body-care products such as soaps, masks, and body scrubs. Melissa Hanson and Jules Marsh founded Kelpful in 2020 with the mission of stewarding marine ecosystems and building resilience in coastal communities through regenerative aquaculture.

As the world seeks innovative solutions to address pollution and climate change, businesses have the opportunity to explore new solutions to neutralize and reverse our carbon footprint. Requiring no fertilizers, pesticides, freshwater, or arable land to grow, kelp is a nutritious food source that is among the world’s most sustainable crops. It’s low on the marine food chain, does not rely on other marine life for food, and provides habitat for other species. 

As food prices rise and we examine resource-extractive industrial farming practices, kelp farming has emerged as an elegant way to support human, planetary, and oceanic health. By 2028, the global commercial seaweed market is expected to reach nearly $25 billion, putting Kelpful at the forefront of a burgeoning industry. One of a few organizations invited to establish operations at the largest land-based seawater aquaculture facility in the United States, Kelpful aims to continue to grow and use its brand to revolutionize regenerative agriculture.

In this Q&A, Kelpful co-founder Melissa Hanson shares a few of the lessons they’ve learned as their business has grown. 

 

How would you say our current dietary and agricultural habits are affecting our ecosystems? 

We’re not living in reciprocity with our planet. We’re taking more than we’re giving at an alarming rate, and we’re all experiencing the consequences. In order to change the tide, we need to meet our needs in a way that restores and regenerates the Earth.

Kelpful is a worker-owned cooperative. What made you decide that was the right structure for your company?

We believe our current economy is deeply flawed. It’s working very well to do what it was designed to do: concentrate and extract wealth into the hands of a few. We see that as deeply problematic. Worker ownership is an important piece of building a new economy based on radically different principles. We believe people deserve to share in the fruits of their labor, and that worker ownership offers the opportunity for a more dignified way to earn a living that gives everyone some level of agency in their workplace. We also see it as a critically important piece of building a successful business. Science shows that more diverse decision-making groups yield better decisions and better outcomes. 

What kind of demand and competition have you seen for your product?  

Globally, the market is vast and growing rapidly. It’s nascent here in the United States, but it’s catching on. Our biggest competition is imported seaweed from Asia and other regeneratively farmed seaweed from the East Coast. There are only a handful of producers on the West Coast, including in Alaska. Locally, we basically have zero competition. There’s nobody else doing what we’re doing. We are the only seaweed vendor at the farmer’s market. Nobody’s ever seen local seaweed for sale before. And people are really excited about it. They love our products.

Can you speak about surprising sources of growth you’ve observed in your sales?

We’re popular with tourists because we have something unique that people have never seen before. It’s very place-based, so they can take home a little piece of the place they visited. We are also popular for holiday gift-giving and we do a lot of holiday markets.

 

Kelpful was featured in one of our recent Changemaker Showcase events, an hour-long session featuring five companies that transformed their ideas into business realities without compromising their vision or values. Watch our July 2022 Changemaker Showcase to hear more insights and innovative solutions using business as a force for good.

Are you a mission-driven entrepreneur looking to grow your business? Sign up for our Raise Capital on Your Own Terms: Build it, Fund it, Grow It virtual event on November 2-4. This three-day workshop will help you explore the structure, techniques, and insights to find the right investors and fund your business on your own terms. Register here!