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INTERview






Tidal Vision is transforming the water treatment, textile manufacturing and agriculture industries by making chitosan biopolymer solutions lower cost than synthetic chemicals.


Craig Kasberg

CEO


Tidal Vision


www.tidalvision.com


Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor

CEOCFO Magazine


CEOCFO: Mr. Kasberg, the slogan on the Tidal Vision site is “From the ocean for the ocean.” What is the overall concept behind the company?

Mr. Kasberg: The concept behind the company is that we develop and commercialize technologies for taking byproducts from the ocean or from the seafood industry and upcycle them into high performance bio-chemistry solutions. Our biochemistry solution displaces synthetic, often toxic chemicals, which often find their way into our waterways. Hence our slogan “From the Ocean. For the Ocean.”


CEOCFO: What is in the ocean that most of us should know about but probably do not?

Mr. Kasberg: The primary raw material for all of our products is crustacean shells. Crab shells, shrimp shells and lobster shells all have this biopolymer called chitosan. It is the only biopolymer in the world with a positive or cationic charge. Therefore, it has a unique property that we can formulate with to displace what would otherwise require synthetic, often toxic, chemicals across a number of industries. Chitosan is 100% biodegradable, biocompatible, and nontoxic.


CEOCFO: How did people learn about chitosan? How did people know to look for the shells and do something with them?

Mr. Kasberg: Chitosan was actually discovered a long time ago, over one hundred years ago, by a chemist. When you think about how crab and shrimp molt and grow into bigger shells - that is when they are most vulnerable to predators, when they are molting. Therefore, nature evolved chitosan to be something that they can produce that allows them to grow a hard shell very quickly.


It all boils down to chitosan having a positive charge, so it is able to bind to minerals from the ocean and proteins from the crustacean and build a new shell very quickly.  


CEOCFO: What are you doing with the chitosan?

Mr. Kasberg: There are three layers to our business. First is our process technology. We developed a unique and environmentally friendly way of extracting chitosan from this byproduct from the seafood industry, that would otherwise be discarded and it is also a lower cost process. Then we take that chitosan and formulate it into ready to use drop-in solutions for our customers, where we provide an environmentally friendly solution as an alternative to many synthetic non-biodegradable chemicals. The third layer is our service. We service three industries - textile, water treatment and agriculture - with turn-key performance testing so switching to our chitosan solutions is easy.

CEOCFO: Are people in these industries aware of chitosan? Are they looking for it? Have they wanted to use it but it has been too expensive? Where does it compare with whatever else might be used?

Mr. Kasberg: There is some of all of the above there. In water treatment, for example, the industry has been aware of chitosan for a while, but it has always been far too expensive to use in industrial wastewater, so it was primarily only used in stormwater, where you are able to discharge into the environment, because you are using a biodegradable biopolymer. Now, we have made chitosan actually lower cost and compatible with many of the metal based and petroleum derived polymers used more widely in the wastewater and drinking water treatment. Therefore, we have been growing very rapidly, selling hundreds of metric tons per month of those solutions to uses that weren’t commercially viable before our developments.


In all three industries, besides price, it was also very inconvenient to use chitosan before us. The reason being is chitosan was largely only available in the dry flake form and the dry flake form is not water soluble, so it requires additional processing by the company that purchases it. Most companies do not have that specialized infrastructure or expertise to be able to dissolve and formulate the chitosan in a way to maximize performance. Through being the only vertically integrated chitosan company in the world, we are able to provide chitosan in a ready-to-use form and at a lower total cost. By making chitosan lower cost, more convenient, and better performing we are making chitosan the go-to standard in these industries. Companies want green chemistry options but historically those options have always required compromise on price, convenience and/or performance.


CEOCFO: Does the fact that you are in the US make a difference? I see you are the only commercial scale manufacturer of chitosan in the US.

Mr. Kasberg: It absolutely does! We do have plans to grow internationally in the coming years, but all businesses like to support other companies that are local to their region. Therefore, we are glad to be able to do that as the only USA chitosan producer.


CEOCFO: Are you able to ramp up as the demand continues to grow?

Mr. Kasberg: Yes, we have been ramping up quickly here. We have gone from just a couple of years ago, only having 7,000 square feet of production facilities, to now having over 83,000 square feet of production facilities with our headquarter facility here in Washington State and another facility in South Carolina. Now that we have hit this economy of scale, we can build additional facilities rather rapidly, in about 6 to 8 months, versus each step in getting here which took us much longer than that.


CEOCFO: What are the challenges you see ahead as you are growing and more people are becoming aware of what you are doing? Do you need to maintain inventory? Are people ordering well in advance? What kind of technology might you need?

Mr. Kasberg: There are many ways to answer that. What I would say is educating the market on what is now possible and cost effective with chitosan in the industries where chitosan was not available or cost-effective before us. In some of the industries where chitosan has been available before us, many of the companies' first reaction is, “We looked at chitosan years ago, it was far too expensive,” or “it was far too inconvenient.” Now we have solved all of for those things, but you still have to get over that initial hurdle and be able to explain what you are doing that is new and how you have changed those things and get people to give it a serious consideration.   


CEOCFO: Are people willing to listen? Is it a little bit easier since the green economy and environment is so much more prominent these days?

Mr. Kasberg: Yes, absolutely! That helps a lot. Every company is run by people and people want to do better for the environment, but there has to be a business case for it. That is why the thesis statement, when Zach Wilkinson and I founded Tidal Vision back in 2015, was “sustainability should not require compromise on price, convenience or performance.”


We went into this thinking everyone else has gone in saying pricing chitosan is this very expensive, niche, green, more expensive than the synthetic chemical. However, we are going to go in and we are going to make it lower cost, more convenient and maximize performance. We focus on the markets where we can check all 3 of those boxes and not require customers to compromise on price, convenience or performance. Our goal in each industry we serve is to make chitosan the go-to or mainstream solution.   


CEOCFO: How do you decide what to look at in terms of new products?

Mr. Kasberg: We look at what the industry is currently using and why that is. It is a little different in each sector, but we can look at the same in the textile industry, for example. We can see that they are using all of these metal antimicrobials. We know chitosan is biostatic, because of its positive charge, and we can see the costs they are paying and the costs of those treatments and the performance and we can do side by side comparisons.


It is about looking at what the industry is currently using, and then really understanding why they are choosing that. Then knowing your material well enough to know if you can check all 3 of those boxes on price, convenience and performance.


CEOCFO: Are you seeking investment, funding or partnerships as you continue to grow?

Mr. Kasberg: Yes, we are always open to new partnership opportunities.


CEOCFO: What have you found the interest has been?

Mr. Kasberg: Very high. We are actually doing an equity investment round this summer and being led by a current investor, Pangaea Ventures. They are one of the leaders in the advanced material science venture capital space. They have been extremely helpful in opening doors for us. They have seen a lot of growth and we have made some of our milestones quicker than was expected, so all of our current investors want to continue to help fuel our growth.


CEOCFO: What are the barriers to entry from someone else? Where are you with patents? What do you see in terms of potential competition?  

Mr. Kasberg: Most people go, “What is the chitosan competition?” We are the only vertically integrated chitosan company in the world with IP and competitive advantages at the extraction and formulation levels, and we are the only one in the world that does both steps; the extraction and the formulation with chitosan. However, that is not really where our true competition comes from. It comes from the synthetic chemicals that we are displacing.


Those are non-biodegradable metal coagulants in water treatment. Those are halogenated fire retardants and heavy metal-based antimicrobials and textiles and then a lot of synthetic chemical pesticides and fungicides and insecticides in agriculture. That is our real competition in the actual marketplace that we are in.  


CEOCFO: What surprised you as you have come to this point at Tidal Vision?

Mr. Kasberg: Oh man, I get surprised! What is one thing that surprised me, though? I would say how much our customers, even before they were customers, were willing to work with us in hopes of developing something greener and better for their business. We have been very transparent in our growth with all of our customers in building those relationships and doing so has opened so many doors and given us so many key insights, that we would not have been able to develop any of our end formulations without that insight. We are experts at chitosan. Our customers are experts at water treatment or textile manufacturing or agriculture crop production.


Another one, I would say, is that even if you are doing something with something like chitosan, which is 100% biodegradable, biocompatible, non-toxic; all those good things; the regulatory environment can be slow and you have to invest a lot in educating these regulatory agencies whenever there is something new, regardless of it being a non-toxic product of not. I think that was something I underestimated or did not expect when we started this company. However, a huge part of our success is doing that work, which has taken years. For example, getting chitosan added to the Safer Chemical Ingredients list at the EPA and other such things we have done.    


CEOCFO: There are many new ideas for people to look at in so many different industries. Why is Tidal Vision an important company?

Mr. Kasberg: On a macro level, what we are doing at Tidal Vision is taking an otherwise problematic and discarded byproduct from an industry that feeds the world with healthy, sustainable protein, and we are turning that byproduct into ready to use biopolymer solutions that displace non-biodegradable synthetic, often very toxic chemicals.


We have the solution when it comes to green, cationic or positively charged formulas in green chemistry. That is a key function in chemistry. You need anionic or cationic or non-ionic, so there are only 3 things. Chitosan is the only naturally occurring cationic or positively charged option. However, we are making it available, making it accessible from the cost standpoint and making it convenient to use by putting it into a ready to use liquid form, instead of just throwing in that dry flake form. We are empowering many industries to transform one of the hardest chemistry problems to solve with something biological.


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“By making chitosan lower cost, more convenient, and better performing we are making chitosan the go-to standard in these industries.”
Craig Kasberg

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