Almost three years after transforming Seabin into an environmental data firm monitoring marine pollution, co-founder Pete Ceglinski is looking to raise up to $5 million via crowdfunding platform Birchal in a bid to ramp up its global operations.
Founded in 2016 by Ceglinski and Andrew Turton, Seabin initially produced floating rubbish bins designed to clean debris from seawater by catching plastics and other pollutants in a mesh bag. The device quickly penetrated the global market, selling in 53 countries over a two-year period.
But Ceglinski opted to move away from selling the clean-up device to using it as a data collection tool for plastic pollution, selling that information to corporates like the Discovery Channel, Yamaha and Oris Watches. Seabin is now operational in Sydney and LA, where it has collectively captured more than 102 tonnes of litter.
Speaking with Business News Australia, Ceglinski says the fresh funding round will launch next week, and be used to help Seabin ramp up its impact after self-funding its new business model in Australia and the US.
“We have to raise some more cash. We self-funded with Sydney, we've also funded a pilot over in Philadelphia investing about $250,000 with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA),” Ceglinski says.
“They wanted to verify what we do - the monitoring and the data of our operations. We saw it as a really strategic opportunity for us, which I think we’re two months away from wrapping up.
“We're just about to launch a campaign next week - seed round three with Birchal. We're going to try and raise up to $5 million. Part of that is to scale up the revenue that we already have - we're about to hit the $1 million milestone next month selling data, and that's recurring on three-year contracts.”
The upcoming raise comes two years after Seabin bagged $1.2 million in four days through a previous Birchal campaign, which saw participation from more than 1,000 investors. Seabin has raised $2.92 million since using the Birchal platform first in 2020.
Since restructuring Seabin’s business model, the firm has signed on 19 companies to share its pollution data with, the majority (70 per cent) of which are based in Australia.
When asked why he decided to revamp the business structure, Ceglinski explained the previous model would not have been sustainable long-term.
“We had a partnership with a French company. The scaling of it was amazing, but it turned into a huge liability. We scaled into 53 countries in two years, and there are 1,200 or more Seabins in the water. A Seabin was sold for $8,000 and we only got about 33 per cent of that as a royalty. They are designed to last for 10 years or more - so it was once in a lifetime sale and we saw we would plateau one day," he explained.
“When we did the pivot, we stopped selling Seabins because we knew that it wasn't viable, financially and operationally. What we thought we were going to do was sell the services of emptying the units and [have] a utilities model.
“What ended up happening was a whole bunch of corporates contacted us asking: Do you have any data? Can we buy it off you? It turned into a data-driven model. We weren't expecting it.”
While surprised by the initial reaction from corporates, Ceglinski also saw it as an opportunity to transform Seabin into a data impact firm that could align with brands that are eager to win over environmentally-conscious consumers.
“We count things. The most powerful item that we have is Seabin itself, which filters I think it's one 1.3 million litres a day. It's about 480 million litres a year. The Seabin is filtering the water for us, we capture the plastics. We've set up a system where we've employed scientists and we built a microplastics lab," he explained.
“We'll send 16 samples of what we capture every week to the lab and the scientists will go through it - counting how many microplastics, plastic straws, bags – we've got 23 different plastic categories. At the same time, we're monitoring the weather with the wind, wind direction, wind speeds, rain and a few other things.
“We know that microplastics is the number one item here in Sydney. We're capturing one plastic item every six seconds. Over in Los Angeles, we're catching one microplastic every four seconds. We're starting to see the value of the data in terms of supporting creating and monitoring legislation and policies.”
He also noted that Seabin is working with technology giants like IBM to modernise data collection and analysis by using artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor how much debris is captured by the clean-up devices.
“Working with IBM, we know that they have AI capabilities for object recognition. Instead of manually counting things, we can use a live feed camera, run it through software, and then we can train the machine to identify what a plastic bag is. The impact reports we currently use and the actual financial products we want to design and deliver are non-tangibles - like carbon credits," Ceglinski said.
“We sell impact data reports to our clients with all the litres and microplastics filtered. We know that that works but we want to create something in line with the biodiversity market. What the carbon market has done, we want to do the same for nature, but focused on the microplastics and plastic pollution in the marina.
“We've got a beta version of a digital dashboard so we can manage and track all the data and the impact for our clients for ourselves but it’s a bit clunky and so we haven’t made it available to the public yet. For the new build we've actually also found a way of having it open access for school kids or people wanting to just see what the impact is in Sydney Harbour or LA. We will also design it to have a subscription model as well - it was pretty important for myself and the team to consider: How do we have open access but also monetise it and create a robust business model?”
When asked about where he would like to take Seabin next, Ceglinski said he had his eyes set on Barcelona, Spain.
“We chose Barcelona because we need to re-enter the European market and next year is the America's Cup. There's a lot of media and attention,” Ceglinski explained.
“It's an amazing city regardless, and it was a really good cultural fit because of the plastics and single-use - we really think we can have a big impact with prevention.”
Appointing new advisors
To help Seabin’s mission of repairing the oceans, the firm recently appointed Climate Salad ecosystem director Charlotte Connell and environmental activist and public speaker Natalie Kyriacou to its advisory board.
Awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia and the Forbes 30 Under 30 honour for her services to wildlife and environmental conservation, Kyriacou explained she was drawn to Seabin since it offers a solution that can effectively address the pollution crisis.
“We need to be supporting these really bold ideas [and] bold people that have come from grassroots beginnings. By 2050, there's probably going to be more plastic than fish in the sea - that's what WWF reports and Seabin is working to address that,” Kyriacou said.
“I'd say a big reason for my joining is Pete - he's got all of the leadership qualities that I most admire. He's endlessly curious. He's kind, inclusive, very action-oriented and he genuinely wants to change the world for the better. I like standing with people like that.”
An avid surfer, Connell, who also is also a Fishburners expert in residence and sustainability, noted she was drawn to Seabin for the impact it is having in the oceans.
“As a surfer, the ocean is my spiritual home, so anything that I can do to help support solutions that work on ocean health - I'm totally there for it,” she said.
“I really like Seabin because of the hardware - this technology can help seamlessly and efficiently clean our oceans by just like having a place somewhere you can passively clean.
“I also love the data that they collect and how they can use that data to help inform and help just scale up those solutions.”
Kyriacou also noted the introduction of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) – a government-led firm that monitors how businesses integrate nature in their decision-making process – presents a golden opportunity for Seabin.
“That's a huge opportunity for Seabin and for all organisations that have a nature tilt - we're seeing companies around Australia now being asked what is your actual impact on nature and how do you measure that,” she said.
“I think it's very clear that businesses and leaders can't afford to take a backseat on climate and nature anymore. They do need to demonstrate leadership in addressing climate change and nature destruction.
“Seabin is an avenue and an opportunity for them to be able to do that. It's an opportunity for them to be able to authentically demonstrate their commitment to nature, and particularly ocean health.”
Kyriacou previously supported the formation of PwC’s ESG business, having authored and co-authored a range of papers, including PwC’s national report on ‘The value of an Australian biodiversity market’ in 2022.
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