The story of these two starts at the University of Bergen in 1997. Well underway with their studies in fish health and marine biology, they set themselves the goal of establishing their own diagnostic laboratory. The aquaculture industry was in rapid growth, and the need was patent. The key lay in better methodology, and they therefore focused on this throughout their studies and doctoral work.
Pallet: Collection of samples from the customer’s premises was an important success factor for PatoGen in the startup phase. An estimated 200-300 pallets have been built over the last ten years. The facilities have improved greatly during this period, and pallets are becoming a rare curiosity.
It was during this process that the business idea was born: We will develop methodology and perform analyses that predict infection at an early stage, so that the fish farmers can take action early and reduce risk and loss. “We had absolute confidence in the concept, but did not get funding,” relates Magnus. “The whole thing was about to take off in September 2001. The business plan was finally ready, and with it several potential investors came onboard. Right up until September 11. When everything blew up in New York. Nobody wanted to invest in anything. But even so”, remembers Vidar. We managed to develop our concept further together with the clever people from the fantastic research community in Bergen. It was just that the dream of establishing a company had to be put on ice.
Eventually, Ålesund Kunnskapspark, DNB and Innovation Norway became interested. With these backing them, they went to Ålesund in 2005, established PatoGen Analyse AS, and started a laboratory for large volume analyses. Market surveys gave clear answers. It was believed that early detection of infection, and thus possible future outbreaks of disease, would be problematic, and envisaged total harvesting and loss. But these two remained convinced that they were right. Vidar travelled up and down the coast preaching their vision, while Magnus worked in the lab. But there were slim pickings. Luckily, they could survive by analysing broodstock for Chile. Until the ISA outbreak in Chile in 2008. Chile stopped all import of broodstock and roe from Atlantic salmon, and the bulk of PatoGen’s revenue disappeared.
“Of course it was critical. We had hired staff and felt a huge responsibility,” says Vidar. “We had to get up to speed on sales. Slowly but surely, things started looking up. The turning point came gradually, and after the feedback from customers during Aqua Nor in 2011, we understood that something had clicked. The fish farming industry had seen that the services that PatoGen could offer were profitable for them.
Journey to the future
The company is the market leader in Norway and has 20 employees. What are your thoughts about the future? The guys look at each other and smile, in total agreement that everything can be developed further. Better methods, more rational production, better management tools for customers, new unknown challenges - it’s just a matter of keeping going. “The world is dynamic”, says Magnus “Today, we see that our competitors are copying us.
We will have to work hard to keep the yellow leader jersey and to continue to be the benchmark for others. When you ask what we will be doing in the future, I would say "more of the same". Much more. Our R&D is run in close collaboration with the best research communities in Norway. Remember that everything we do is research-based.
PatoGen 10 years: It has been ten years since Magnus Devold (on the left), and Vidar Aspehaug started up PatoGen Analyse AS. Today, the company has 20 employees and performs 200,000 analyses a year. But for a long time the aquaculture industry was sceptical to the services they offer. But they had every confidence in their concept.
“And so we are venturing out into the world,” adds Vidar. “Fish farming is a huge industry globally, and it is growing fast. The demand is there. But we are happy that we have first taken the time to build a leader position in Norway. It will give us greater ballast the day we venture out. And you must remember that PatoGen has become a competent and powerful organisation.
“Founders often find it difficult not to micromanage. How has it been here? Magnus responds immediately: “Very good. We have been conscious of this all the way. We have wanted colleagues who are good at what we are not good at, and who have the ability and willingness to take responsibility.
And having succeeded with this, it has given great confidence in transferring tasks to others. We think we've built a star team,” they say with a satisfied smile.