Last year, high-tech company Sealab was taken over without a penny in settlement. Now the Markovic family is rebuilding

Aslak Berge

“Our product market adaptation needs to be scalable to a billion-dollar market,” said entrepreneur Milan Markovic.

They became well known last year in what was undoubtedly the most sensational and talked about transaction in the Norwegian aquaculture industry. The Markovic family had to, powerlessly, watch start-up Cage Eye, later renamed Bluegrove, take over their underwater camera company Sealab. But they have licked their wounds and are now working on a new project.

The company is called Zebop and already has ten employees. In the same way as for Sealab, financing is central to the start-up business.

“We entrepreneurs were granted a 12-month entrepreneurial package from NAV. Other labour costs and operating costs are financed by taking out an innovation loan at Innovation Norway, which gives us great freedom of action now in the beginning,” CEO Oscar Markovic told SalmonBusiness.

Zebop is owned by the Markovic family’s investment company Slottvarden and real estate investor Ole Gunnar Selvaag. In addition, money is being hunted for in venture capital (VC).

“Ole Gunnar Selvaag is an investor in addition to Slottvarden. We are in good dialogue with several VC players, some in Norway, but most internationally,” said Markovic.

“We are well underway with the establishment of our parent company in the US. This is a natural and proper step for us as the venture environments we want to work with are located there. At the same time, the US establishment signals a clarity of our plans for internationalisation and global growth. The US initiative is sobering, the company will be established as our parent company and we continue to envisage that innovation and further building of the business will take place from Norway,” he said.

“Everything we do is based on our vision of giving everyone the opportunity to see underwater. In the last year, we have really verified what we saw coming, that everything will be about IoT gadgets and EDGE computing. Analysis and monitoring in the field are now increasing sharply, all in interaction with the cloud. In other words, hybrid solutions. Now we are raising this up and forward, raising VC capital and setting the bar high. We offer access to the world’s cameras,” explained the entrepreneur.

“Aquaculture is a mainstay of Norwegian business and industry, and we will contribute to ensuring that this continues to be the case. If the industry is to achieve the growth that many want, there is no doubt that companies like us will be an important and significant contributor to achieving its potential,” he continued.

Asbjørn Markovic at work.

Milan Markovic has also this time brought along his sons Oscar and Asbjørn, and they make no secret of the fact that they are inspired by Google’s startup days.

“Just look forward to the next thing in underwater camera vision. More people talk about sensor fusion and AI, but where is camera and imaging technology?” asked lead designer Asbjørn Markovic.

“Our technology will be found in all monitoring systems in the Norwegian and international aquaculture industry. This applies both above and below water. We are talking about a massive sensor fusion, i.e. the coordination of large amounts of sensor data where each source provides a small piece of reality, but the overall overview will be formidable. You simply understand the environment,” he explained.

Ambitions, even this time, are high.

“We have a lot of knowledge about creating good underwater images while offering an AI platform with open standards. Here we want to be the best in the world. But we will also compete in other markets. Exploiting the business potential in competition with other players, that triggers us,” explained chairman Milan Markovic.

“If you are going to establish AI and autonomous solutions for the seafood industry, you cannot skip the hardware. A lot of people only talk about software. It’s going to be all wrong. You either have to develop hardware yourself, or you need to customize and put together smart solutions that enable you to digitize the industry. It’s no use just talking about digitisation with words. New cars are packed with technology that already provides increased safety and driving assistance. All this is based on software interacting with the right hardware. That’s exactly what seafood production around the world needs, he said.

Zebop, which was established last summer, is in the process of establishing itself in Oslo and in the USA. The head office is located in his hometown of Trondheim.

Oscar Markovic

“We can work from anywhere, but we like the city where it all started. Not least the good cooperation with NTNU and recruitment of the best heads. The technology needs of selected industries around the world are unlimited, and we take advantage of and explore all possibilities. Our technology ensures that the seafood industry reaches the same level as the automotive industry in terms of safety, predictability, safety and sustainability. What makes cars get in front of food?” asked Oscar Markovic.

“We clearly see that the aquaculture industry understands the potential of our technology, so it is only a matter of time before the industry adopts new tools,” he added.

“In recent years, the seafood industry has been promised gold and green fields in terms of artificial intelligence and smart imaging. We as suppliers have a significant responsibility here, as we have tended to oversell what comes next. This is explainable. The seafood industry has a large supplier industry that would like to help, but there has probably been a lot of confusion for the end-user,” added Oscar Markovic.

Law of large numbers
They see extensive opportunities on the technology side to contribute to the growth aimed at by the aquaculture industry.

“The industry accounts for a large volume of production that can grow further with considerable value creation. Here the law of the great numbers applies. Being able to make a positive contribution to selected parameters in production will thus lead to increased predictability, earnings and at the same time lower environmental footprint and load on fish farms. We are talking win-win for all parties,” Milan Markovic said.

“Our first meeting with the seafood industry was in 2015, and since then we have secured a broad understanding of our customers’ needs. At the same time, politicians are bracing for growth where they also want the industry to triple. It is possible to turn off the “red light”, he said.

“We clearly see that the Norwegian aquaculture industry is now being challenged by the fact that several international players focusing on land-based aquaculture in the major global markets. In dialogue with several of these players, we experience an insatiable need for software and technological solutions that ensure safe and predictable operation,” he explained.

Entire value chain
Milan Markovic pointed out that market analysis and positioning are central to the start-up company.

“From the establishment of the company, we have looked at the current state of the market, what is the problem and what already exists. Our mantra is product marketing in terms of positioning and thinking about where the gap or entry point is. We’re not ploughing a product forward. Instead, we’re approaching the entire value chain,” said Markovic.

“Our main activity this spring is two customer and partner programs where we establish ten players from each market segment within “Smart and safe cities” and “Smart aquaculture and maritime”. Right now, we have received engagement from end-users and customers as well as major system integrators, insurers, telecommunications companies and other technology providers. The players themselves contribute NOK 60,000 (EUR 6,000 .ed) each for participation, we and Innovation Norway contribute the rest. The goal is complete solutions for deliveries to the markets,” he said.

Now the hard-tested trio are starting over. And that doesn’t shorten the optimism.

“As entrepreneurs, we need to bring the entire value chain with us, gain new insight into needs, build trust and develop the right strategy for our company. Our product market adaptation must be scalable to a billion-dollar market,” Milan Markovic told SalmonBusiness.

Max Montzka in Zebop creates new technology solutions for the salmon industry. “As with mobile phones and self-driving cars, it’s about making the solutions compact and very stable in terms of safe operation,” Montzka explained.

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