Lateral thinking achieves results for Fishbox duo

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By Fiona and Magnus Houston

Husband and wife team, Fiona and Magnus Houston, of Coast and Glen, have been working with experts from University of Stirling to develop their innovative Fishbox. They will be speaking at the inaugural Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards on 25 February in a workshop session, along with University of Stirling’s Professor Rachel Norman. There is still time to register for the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards – but don’t delay as tickets are going fast.

What gets you up on a Monday morning?

Fiona – Going to work and thinking that the possibilities of what you want to do and can do are endless!

Magnus – Work of course! I am normally up really early, as working in the fishing industry is like working in a different time zone.

Where do you want to take the business – regional, Scotland-wide or global?

At the moment our business is UK based. We have plans to create a franchise of the business which could be used worldwide – possibly targeting Canada, South Africa and Australia.
The project with Stirling University is allowing us to create a robust system for our whole supply chain ordering system, to packing our boxes which will allow our fishbox system to be easily reproduced to ensure the same high quality and standards anywhere in the world using their own local fish species. The algorithm will remove any element of guess-work and everything is calculated out exactly to ensure minimum waste and freshness of the products being key.

What was the issue/hurdle you wanted to overcome by working with academics?

We knew we needed an algorithm and software specific to the needs of our business. We had approached some of the world’s largest seafood software companies and discussed our requirements – all of these companies told us that they couldn’t provide what we needed and that what we were asking for wasn’t going to be possible to build. We realised that our problem wasn’t necessarily a seafood related problem but more of a mathematics calculation and in order to find a solution we would require some lateral thinking from academics to achieve our results.

What benefits did the collaboration bring to your business?

We have been working with University of Stirling to produce an algorithm which can be coded into software which will ultimately give us a unique and innovative pick-pack process for our business that will allow the business to operate at a zero waste level.

Fishbox customers do not dictate what fish they will receive in their fishbox – instead we fulfil orders with whatever has been landed in the market on that day. This reduces pressure on fishing stocks and utilises less popular species. We have only completed part of the algorithm so far, so at the moment it can’t be used in the day-to-day running of our business. However, we have successfully been granted the Follow-on Innovation Voucher to complete our project which will transform the way we run our business – allowing us to scale up dramatically and internationalise. 

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Fiona – I always wanted to be a physiotherapist involved in sport – which I actually am as well! I have worked as the team physiotherapist with Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC for four years and now I run my own sports injury clinic called “Physio Inverness” as well as working with Sport Scotland to treat up and coming young athletes. So my time is split between Fishbox and the clinic which is an interesting challenge!

Magnus – I only ever wanted to be a professional motorcycle racer. I raced with Suzuki GB for 2 years, but unfortunately an accident put an end to my motorcycle career – so I chose something equally as dangerous, and turned my hand to single-handed inshore shellfish fishing!

What advice would you give to other businesses when it comes to academic collaboration?

Our advice would be to go for it! I guess we thought we had nothing to lose by putting our idea/problem out there and seeing if we would receive any response from the universities. I think we did have our reservations that working with academics may be difficult as they are… well, academic, and we are maybe as Prof. Rachel Norman calls us the “crazy entrepreneurs with all the ideas!” The dynamic relationship we have created has been such great fun, as well as being really productive. The innovative thinking by the team at Stirling has helped to realise our ‘crazy ideas’ and we feel we have really tapped into such a valuable resource which without the academic collaboration the skills and foresight would have been very difficult, if impossible to source otherwise.

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