Fiona Houston.‬‬‬


Forever young at heart.‬‬‬

What is your business called‫?‬

Mara Seawee‬d.‬

Where is it based‫?‬‬‬


What does it produce, what services does it offer‫?‬‬‬

A range of seaweed seasonings that are a natural, healthy alternative to salt. These are rich in minerals and we think delicious. We harvest the seaweeds sustainably from the wild in Scotland (particularly the East Neuk of Fife) and Ireland. We then dry and mill them into flakes, powders, blends and other products.

To whom does it sell‫?‬‬‬

Morrisons, independent retailers and direct to consumers through our website. We also sell it as an ingredient to food manufacturers – our seasoning’s featured on M&S Smoked Salmon products, for example.

How many employees‫?‬‬‬


When was it formed‫?‬‬‬


Why did you take the plunge‫?‬‬‬

‬I discovered a passion for seaweed and its untapped potential from spending time on the shore at low tide with my kids in the East Neuk of Fife. A Chinese-American friend came to visit, and said ‘Look at all that seaweed, why don’t you eat it?’. That got me thinking and I realised that it could be the next big thing in food as it is nutritious, delicious and sustainable (seaweed captures 50% more carbon than the tropical rainforest).

Having grown up with an entrepreneurial, maverick father, (my family built up the Gretna Green wedding and tourism business), I was inspired by my parents to build something meaningful. Then I turned 40, my kids were getting older, and I realised if I didn’t take the plunge then I might never do it. I don’t regret it at all.

What were you doing before you took the plunge‫?‬‬‬

I was working as a writer and journalist, and was mother of two small children. I gave birth to my third baby, Mara seaweed, after writing a book, ‘Seaweed and Eat It’ and a newspaper column ‘Forage Rangers’ with a fellow mum, Xa Milne. I met Xa in the school playground in Edinburgh when I first moved back to Scotland from Washington DC.

How did you raise the start-up funding‫?‬‬‬

I invested my own savings and I leaned heavily on my friends and family, and a few other private investors, in particular, Robin Worsnop, of Rabbies Tours, and his wife Martha, who put in a large chunk of seed funding to allow us to get going.

What was your biggest break‫?‬‬‬

Our first big break was landing a deal to supply America’s largest home delivery meal box company. On the back of this we started exporting to the US in 2015. But we have just had our biggest break – after winning selection to participate in the Tesco brand incubator programme. The scheme is designed to give a helping hand to a carefully selected group of small brands that have the potential to offer something different and exciting. We’ll complete a year-long programme that includes advice and guidance on marketing, responding to customer insight, as well as tips and mentorship from Tesco’s product team. We’re one of just six UK food and drink businesses to have been selected and will be launching UK-wide in Tesco in November this year, so it’s a big moment.

What was your worst moment‫?‬‬‬

Starting a new brand in a new industry, and being ahead of the curve, has been challenging. Just when you think you have had your worst moment, another one hits you – you have to be very resilient. Like every start-up, especially when you are producing your own product, the challenge is often related to having enough money!

What do you most enjoy about running the business‫?‬‬‬

I love the creativity and empowerment that building and growing something brings.

What do you least enjoy‫?‬‬‬

The stress and lack of brain space.

What is your biggest bugbear‫?‬‬‬

Pointless bureaucracy.

What are your ambitions for the firm‫? ‬‬‬

I want to see Mara in everyone’s kitchen and in everyone’s lunchbox, alongside their ketchup and pepper. I want to build Mara Seaweed into a global brand with a range of value-added seaweed products that not only improves people’s well being, but also helps the planet with increasing consumption of a sustainable future food.

What are your five top priorities‫? ‬‬‬

Raising finance to grow the business.

Developing, supporting and growing my fabulous team, who I couldn’t do this without.

Making sure that we have a robust plan for Tesco that we deliver on time.

Developing our sales and marketing strategy to deliver sales growth.

Building internal processes, both financial and operational, so that the business can scale.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help‫?‬‬‬

Recognise the seaweed industry and help to kick start its commercial growth by giving it the same kind of support as they would an agricultural product

Scotland has a strong support network for entrepreneurs, however it is difficult to scale up a brand from scratch. The establishment of a food brand incubator would help.

There is lots of government help out there but it can be unbelievably difficult and time consuming to claim. There needs to be a reduction in red tape!

It would also help if both the Westminster and Scottish governments gave businesses an environment of certainty for a while. We could do without any more political upheaval. Let us get on with growing our businesses; it’s hard enough!

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned‫?‬‬‬

You’re more resilient than you ever imagined, and there is pretty much nothing that can’t be overcome. And don’t ever lose your sense of humour.

– we’re so lucky to be living safe and free.

How do you relax‫?‬‬‬

By being outside – either on the shore at low tide among the seaweed, hiking up hills with my dog, Zack, or cycling. I also love to cook, laugh, and dance with my family and friends and like to get lost in a good novel.