Designed as a vehicle to bring marine ecological restoration to the commercial scene, Archireef was co-founded in Hong Kong about three years ago by CEO Vriko Yu, CCO Deniz Tekerek, and Chief Scientist Dr David Baker. Backed by Abu Dhabi’s ADQ and hosted by Hub71, the startup now gives a second life to coral reefs in the Arabian Gulf, embarking organisations on a journey to meet their SDG goals.
How did you develop Archireef’s technology?
It was my co-founder’s Vriko’s PhD project. For seven years, she tried to identify ways in which corals could be restored using a number of traditional methods. Then, together with a couple of co-inventors at the University of Hong Kong, she came up with this terracotta clay tile that attracts corals and allows them to settle for a long time and thrive. In many areas like Abu Dhabi, the ocean has turned into a desert. Rocky ground has become a sandy substrate to which corals can’t attach. So, why not tile the ocean floors like we tile a kitchen?
How did you get involved?
I had previously co-founded two other startups that had scaled and become fairly big. At that time, I had taken a step back and was getting involved in different types of programmes, like the University of Hong Kong’s incubator, advising other founders. That’s how I met Vriko. She was at a crossroads, trying to understand in which direction to take her research in terms of business model.
I love the idea of building businesses and this challenge of understanding how to turn an environmentally focused product into something that people would want to buy, and then have a real positive impact, is a very compelling proposition to me. So, I joined as a co-founder.
How did you solve this business puzzle?
Typically, people who work with environmental companies want to be able to talk about it. But if you plant trees, you may do a LinkedIn post, a couple of updates, maybe a few press releases, and then you’re done.
So, because I was in software before and software is always about subscriptions and deploying with clients, I thought about a software-like relationship.
We approach the client offering to conduct a site assessment, create the substrate, and deploy it on their behalf. We then bring this client into a subscription where they can extract real benefits in terms of reporting and data from those sites: coral growth, abundance and diversity of life around the reefs, etc. Depending on the jurisdiction they’re in, clients may score tax credits, for instance, because they have an impact on nature that is visible, quantifiable, and easy to access; or they may comply with existing policies – for example, in many countries, if you’re a real estate developer and you damage corals, you’re required by law to mitigate for that damage and we deliver that mitigation data.
There’s a setup fee for the capital that we create. Then, the subscription is annual, with a minimum of 3 years typically, giving them access to very detailed reports as well as features like environmental DNA, ocean literacy courses, and virtual reality experiences – 360 videos that we film in each site to help them have a direct understanding of what it is they’re actually investing in.
Who’s your target clientele?
Our solution is directly targeted towards companies that work in and around the ocean because they’re on the clock to mitigate the impact – particularly in the real estate sector. And we always have a direct engagement with the public sector, both in Hong Kong and the UAE.
Why did you choose to expand to the UAE and Abu Dhabi in particular?
When we visited Abu Dhabi in January 2022, we realised that the waters here share characteristics with Hong Kong’s waters, so we had the experience. And we saw many benefits to operating here: an abundance of facilities, potential areas for our eco-engineering factory, and a lot of potential for our solution across the UAE coast.
In addition, the ability to expand to places like Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia gives us a really wide spectrum and a huge opportunity. And lastly, the research institutions here are very deeply entrenched in coral restoration.
Are you satisfied with how Archireef is growing?
18 months ago, we couldn’t have imagined being where we are today; we’ve grown quite fast. Regardless, more needs to be done for coral restoration because it’s an emergency and the window for action will close soon.
People are obsessed with net zero but we’re not really in the carbon sequestration space; we’re in the biodiversity and nature-based space. It’s not net zero, it’s net positivity – net +1, if you will. This is harder to measure and less visible than simple calculations on metric tons of carbon, for instance, but it’s arguably just as important.