Orri Björnsson: Unlocking the Powerful Health Benefits of Nature’s Most Precious Resources and Nutrients

Orri Björnsson CEO of Algaif Iceland
Orri Björnsson CEO of Algaif Iceland

Being a leader and taking charge of an organization is not an easy feat. It is way more challenging than it looks.

Though, there are plenty of books and even courses that talk about leadership and what traits every leader should possess. But leadership comes with a lot of experience and learning through personal trials and errors.

In today’s competitive business world, organizations are in dire need of leaders who are mentally oriented to continuously look forward to reaching the finish line, set ambitious goals for themselves and their teams, and are driven by progress.

Algaif Iceland found the one as its CEO, Orri  Björnsson.

Orri has been working in the pharma and nutraceutical industries for nearly 25 years. He has extensive experience in building and starting up new plants and upgrading plants in many different countries. Currently, he is taking Algaif to new heights with his exemplary leadership skills and competence in GMP, general quality, project management, recruitment, and operations. Today, Algaif Iceland is a leading supplier of high-grade natural astaxanthin products from micro algae, including ingredients and finished formulations.

At Algaif, Orri leads by example. We, at CIO Look, caught up with Orri to know more about his journey and how Algaif Iceland is helping solve the nutritional needs of current and future generations through the development and delivery of sustainable, high-quality micro algae.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at ALGALIF. What challenges you had to overcome to reach where you are today?

I have been working in the pharma and nutraceutical industries for nearly 25 years. I´ve worked in the industry in Iceland, and in Eastern Europe as Icelandic companies took over companies there. Through my work in Europe, I gained extensive experience in building and starting up new plants, as well as in upgrading plants in all sort of condition. That led my to a position as a consultant for the United Nations in Africa. All this work in many different countries has helped me to gather competence in GMP, general quality, project management, recruitment, and operations. My track record in getting things done on time and budget finally led me to Algalif almost a decade ago. There have been many challenges on that road, big and small. However, the most difficult ones always have to do with the human factor of running a company.

Tell us something more about your company and its mission and vision.

Algalif is a relatively young Startup company in the biotechnology sector. It was founded in 2012 and we started operations in Iceland in 2013. Not long after that we had our first successful harvest of micro algae and commercial astaxanthin, which is our main product. In this short time, we have managed to become a powerful industry leader. Our mission is to become the best micro algae producing company in the world. We are already among the biggest and the quality of our product is unmatched according to our customers. Apart from that, sustainability has always been a big factor for us. My vision is to build a company that can be a role model for others in green technology and sustainable industry practice. We are already a green company, only using 100% renewable geothermal energy and working under strict Zero Fossil Fuel and Zero Waste policies. We also want to be a great place to work. So, quality, reliability and sustainability are the three key words that we keep in mind every minute of the workday to reach our mission to be the best and the greenest in the industry.

Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.

A stated before, we, the Algalif team, work by a simple philosophy of excellence and sustainability. We are guided by three words: quality, reliability, and sustainability. We keep them in mind every day and every minute of the workday. On top of that we want Algalif to be a great place to work. Therefore, we try to make sure that hierarchy in the workplace is as little and as invisible as possible. My doors are always open, and we are informal in our communications. We also make sure that everybody in the company is on board regarding our vision and mission to become the best and the greenest company in the industry. I realize that our success is founded on the great staff that we managed to get to the company. And even though, technology, knowledge, finance and leadership matters, the basis of the company is the people working there.

Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?

Our business is basically very simple. We produce one type of plant micro algae. But to achieve excellent results, as we have managed to do, we need to take advantage of all the best technology available. We grow the algae in glass pipes inside and control the whole environment very precisely. This is a very high-tech cultivation of simple organisms. We have excellent scientists on our staff and approach every step of the production from a scientific and technical point of view. Just to give you an idea. The way we set our lamps is a result of comprehensive experiments and extensive usage of data. To find the exact spectrum of light to get the maximum growth at every stage of the algae lifecycle is a huge task where we use both biology and data driven technology. And the result is that we have great productivity.

If given a chance, what change would you like to bring in the Nutraceuticals Industry?

For any business to be successful you need a few things. Firstly, you need an idea of course and some capital. But the number one factor in success of any business is the knowhow of the team along with leadership, entrepreneurial spirit, and vision. I other words, good team, with the right mindset, is the main ingredient in a recipe for a successful business. This is something that the tech companies discovered decades ago and their success, in my opinion, is the result of that realization. I would like to bring that philosophy of people first, into the Nutraceuticals Industry. But there is also another huge reason for the success of Algalif. We believe that sustainability should be a way of life. All our energy is green, all our cars run on electricity, we also try to make sure the food in our canteen is locally sourced and all other inputs we buy for the business are environmentally certified. I would like to bring that vision of sustainability into the Nutraceuticals Industry as a whole. In my opinion, the best way to do that is to be a leader and a role model. To really show by example that a successfulcompany can be carbon neutral and sustainable. Finally, a transparent and open approach is vital for the industry to reach higher grounds.

What truth everyone needs to know about Natural Astaxanthin and Micro algae ingredients with multiple health benefits?

Algalif is a producer of a raw material that is the sustainable natural astaxanthin. Our marketing is all towards other businesses. From our point of view, we try to get the message of the quality of our work processes and of the professionalism of our quality assurance team across to all current and future customers. We also know that the product quality of our astaxanthin is superb because we have been told so by our customers and independent labs and researchers. The health benefits are not really disputed in the world of science. The health applications are commonly acknowledged for muscle recovery, anti inflammatory benefits joints, skin, eyes, hearth, vascular system, healthy aging and so on. More and more research is coming out every year to support this. The truth that everybody needs to know, is that astaxanthin is an amazing natural product that has very beneficial effects on human health. And because it works, it is gaining more and more popularity every year. All our production is basically sold out and therefore we are building new facilities and will triple our production capacity in two years.

What, according to you, could be the next big change in pharma industry? How is your company preparing to be a part of that change?

Everywhere we look, people are talking and thinking about the climate, global environmental issues, and sustainability. People are also taking action. In my opinion the big change will be that the market will demand traceability of all ingredients and they also need to be produced in a sustainable manner. We are also seeing this happening in the food industry. Being environmentally friendly or sustainable is no longer something that gives you a market advantage. It is more and more becoming an entry ticket into the market. We can clearly see this happening in Europe and America, but also in Asia and other parts of the world. Algalif is at the forefront of sustainability in this industry and we prepare for the future by getting even better at the things we are doing well.

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run and what are your future goals for ALGALIF?

The future goals for Algalif are clear. We want to be the best micro algae company in the world and a leader in sustainability, both in our industry sector and in our community. We are on our way to become the biggest producer of sustainable natural astaxanthin in the world. Once our new facilities in Iceland are finished, we will be producing micro algae in a 12.500m2 state-of -the-art facilities with an environmental footprint that is close to zero. At the same time, we want to nurture our amazing team and still be a great place to work.

My personal goal is to spread our vision of quality and sustainability into the industry and the community. Algalif is a great example of how to use green energy to create a profitable business and good jobs for young, educated people. Now we only produce one type of micro algae, but we are already doing R&D into other types of algae to produce other ingredients. I want to see Algalif grow and be one of the global leaders in the health and sustainability in the coming years.

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the Biotechnology sector?

The Biotechnology sector is young, and this industry is growing and changing fast. Unfortunately, only few of the companies and ideas that start the journey ever become a fully grown and profitable companies. We managed to that at Algalif, and we are thankful to everybody that helped us on that journey. My advice to other entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into biotechnology is to remember that this is a teamwork. Sure, you need vision, you need knowledge and capital, but the team is the heart of soul of each startup company. And do not forget about your social responsibility. No man, and no company is an island. Give back to the society and be a leader in sustainability. These have been my guiding lights in building one of the biggest and most successful micro algae companies in Europe.