Fomana Capital: Low environmental impact, big global impact
Investing in companies that are doing right by the world
The concept of “Iti-Nui” has guided Wayne Mulligan since he attended the third Te Hono Stanford Bootcamp in 2014.
“Being part of the team that created this Māori concept for Te Hono, this is really important and I see it as low environment impact (iti, or small) and big global impact (nui, or big).”
Wayne and fellow Te Hono alumnus Paul Morgan (Bootcamp II) founded Fomana Capital in 2007 and have now invested in Anagenix, Anagneix IP, NUKU ki te Puku, HoneyLab and NZ Bio Forestry and are now planning to develop an IP and investment company in Singapore.
Fomana Capital focuses on six investment platforms across taiao (environmental welfare), matihiko (digital and informatics), mauri (circular bioeconomy), haumanu (humanity sciences), oranga (natural and nutrition), and ākonga (re-education).
“This is not about reacting or pivoting from Covid-19,” Wayne says.
“Instead, it’s about doing what is right for Papatūānuku (mother earth) and for humanity – by using and integrating indigenous models with the best of global science.”
Their approach is guided by their goal for the environment to be healthier, for better careers and higher incomes, and for more prosperous communities.
“There is a quiet revolution occurring, where groups of Māori are active across these six platforms here in Aotearoa and around the world,” Wayne says.
“One of the things I took from Bootcamp is that it's more than OK to think differently – the whole ability to continually challenge your own thinking and your own mindsets. The primary industry is so much broader than the primary resource – actually the primary resource is our minds.”
Turning NZ trees into bio plastic products
Fomana Capital’s most recent investment is NZ Bio Forestry Ltd, which was inspired by a “mauri mindset” – mauri meaning the living essence or lifeforce, Wayne says.
“From a ‘mauri mindset’ we see trees as much more than logs or planks. Trees are the building blocks of a new circular bio-technology industry. Forests are a huge biomass of bio, renewable chemistry.”
Wayne is the founder and chief executive of NZ Bio Forestry and says the company started with a group of people from New Zealand, Taiwan and Singapore, who got together in Singapore in 2017 and said “imagine if three small nations combined to create a sustainable and renewable bio-economy to provide scalable alternatives to fossil and petrochemical products”.
In the first stage of the project, NZ Bio Forestry and its Taiwan-based research and technology partners are planning to build a high-tech commercial pilot plant alongside new timber processing facilities at Marton, in the Rangitikei District.
This will produce polymers from residual forestry biomass (such as waste material from timber processing and slash), which can be used to make a range of renewable bio-chemistry materials and bio plastic products, such as containers, packaging, and food service items. Unlike petroleum-based plastics, products made in this way will be fully non-fossil and designed to be biodegradable and compostable – and importantly, made from a renewable forestry resource.
“Our motto is a ‘cleaner better future’. Our guiding principles are: Petroleum Free – everything we make; No Waste – everything we use; and Planet Friendly – everything we do.
“If we want to change the value of the forestry estate in New Zealand, then we need to change markets. We are bringing a technology platform to integrate and augment the forestry industry. This aligns with two important global trends: 1) circular renewable and sustainable products that are non-fossil and lower CO2 emissions; and 2) growing global investment demand (trillions) for ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) reporting and the UN Sustainability Goals.
“We also believe we can assist both the global market seeking renewable non-fossil materials and NZ forestry, land owners and research enterprises.”
The pilot plant is expected to be operational by 2024/5. The intention is to scale to full production in Marton, before expanding to other key sites across regional New Zealand over the coming decades to replicate between 7-12 bio-facilities. The initial stage of the project is expected to create up to 200 jobs and establish new careers and capability in bio-technology, bio-chemistry, bio-materials, bio-engineering and new product and solution design.
“A forestry led bioeconomy is part of a whole eco-system – it is not the end point. Other agriculture and marine options are feasible too. NZ Bio Forestry, while starting with bio-packaging, is looking well beyond this to build an integrated bio-chemistry, bio-material and bio-extract industry, including IP for global licensing. Creating an industry, as opposed to a business, requires a fundamental mindset shift.”
Watch a three-minute video on NZ Bio Forestry’s Iti-Nui approach: https://vimeo.com/user13880792/review/473348804/9f9cbf2c87
Māori businesses collaborate to develop high-value nutrition
In 2014, a group of New Zealand food and beverage businesses were brought together by Hemi Rolleston (Bootcamp II), who was GM Māori Economy at Callaghan Innovation at the time, and Dr Bruce Campbell (Bootcamp VI), who at the time was at Plant and Food Research, to form a Māori economy programme called Nuku ki te Puku. Among the group was Wayne and a number of other Te Hono alumni.
The Nuku ki te Puku programme was designed to expose food and beverage businesses across the value chain to the thinking of companies who innovate through R&D and technology.
The programme led to a number of projects, including a high-value berry product, Miro; products that support brain health, Ārepa; and a smoked fish product, Ahia, that involved Ngati Porou’s fisheries division partnering with New World Victoria Park.
The group also partnered with High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge in a $1 million project to prototype how Māori businesses and some of the country’s top researchers could share science and cultural expertise to collaborate on the development of new food for health products for export.
Later, in 2018, Fomana Capital was one of the founding organisations that established NUKU ki te Puku Limited as a nutrition venture.
Now, NUKU ki te Puku Limited focuses on the development of innovative nutrition solutions, with Wayne as the chair.
“The objective of NUKU ki te Puku Limited is to take advantage of the growing demand for nutrition with health claims in order to reduce the prevalence of avoidable illness,” Wayne says.
NUKU ki te Puku Limited plans to open a NUKU Nutritionlab™ in Singapore in 2022/3.
“We’re designing relationships with Asian researchers and businesses that co-create nutrition formulations for Asian markets. Our focus is to help solve non-communicable health issues, such as skin care; lower glycaemic index; and prevent Type 2 diabetes. So, it just makes sense for us to be designing solutions in-market with our Asian partners.
“We want to impress the Asian market with a real understanding that Māori are key players in partnering with them to create natural and clinically evidenced high-value nutrition.”
Aligning New Zealand’s opportunities with health and wellness
One of Fomana Capital’s earliest investments was in Anagenix – a company developing neutraceutical, supplement and branded functional plant-based food ingredients featuring scientifically-supported bioactives cultivated in New Zealand.
Anagenix was established in 2011 to provide a commercialisation link between ground-breaking New Zealand plant science and the world’s best supplement producers. Since then they have developed a portfolio of products that are sold through a mix of distribution and licensing networks in the USA, Canada, China, Australia, Japan, South East Asia, UK and Europe.
“We really focus on science perfected in market. So, taking science from New Zealand and perfecting it in market with international partners,” Wayne says.
In late 2020, Anagenix’s Livaux prebiotic ingredient was awarded the Prebiotic of the Year by the Asia-Pacific region’s leading supplements, health and nutrition publication NutraIngredients Asia. In July 2020 it also won the sister publication’s Prebiotic of the Year award in the USA. Livaux™ and Actazin™ are ingredients made from organically-grown gold and green kiwifruit and used in prebiotic and other products, which promote gut health by providing food and fibre for gut-friendly bacteria. Wayne is also excited about the future opportunities in gut-brain health, Anagenix’s lung and respiratory product BerriQi™, and the planned clinical trials to support respiratory care in highly polluted countries and cities.
Also in the health and wellness game is HoneyLab, which Fomana Capital invested in 2013.
HoneyLab has the ambitious goal to develop new, effective, natural medical topical skin and health products, in a sustainable manner. HoneyLab has had two of its clinical trials published in the British Medical Journal and has recently licensed its formulations with a global pharmaceutical company.
The company’s products are developed from natural sources including New Zealand kanuka honey, bee venom, ginger, tart cherry and capsaicin, which can assist in a range of skin conditions, including acne, rosacea and cold sores. The Honevo™ cold sore product saw more than 900 New Zealanders take part in this clinical trial. Honevo™ was clinically compared to one of the world’s leading branded products and it’s fair to say Honevo™ killed the bacteria significantly quicker – thus enabling healing to occur quicker.
HoneyLab also has products to help with coughs and colds, nausea and vomiting, sleep and stress, and muscle and joint pain.
Innovation happens in the mainstream’s blind spot
“There's only so much you want to do in New Zealand, but there's so much you want to come from New Zealand – this is where technology, know-how, IP and digitisation can augment and reshape our economy,” Wayne says.
“We need to get really smart about using technology and marketing, and taking our know-how, IP and products offshore, because in my view the primary industry is quite a heavy game in terms of emissions, so we just have to complement what we can do at home with what we can do from home.
“At Fomana, we're really proud to be a disruptive model. Innovation doesn't happen in the mainstream – it happens in the mainstream's blind spot. Let's live in the blind spot. Let's get smart stuff done.”