After confessing to her high school best friend recently that it still feels unbelievable that the products she’s created are now distributed in eight countries and that she has 15 talented employees, she got the most amazing feedback: “You’ve always been one to march to the beat of your own drum, unlike many of our classmates.” And drumming she is!
Building a whole new industry of impact-enhanced foods based on regeneratively cultivated European seaweed, Deniz and her co-founders grew two companies at once – BettaF!sh (plant-based tuna) and Oceanfruit (spreads). On top of bootstrapping Oceanfruit from 0 to 300k in revenue in just one year, she’s published two books on sugar-free and vegan eating, and blogs regularly.
“A decade ago, I learned that my body has difficulty processing sugar and gluten. Seeing how the current food system prioritizes cost-cutting over diversity sparked my journey into the future of food,” she recalls. Deniz then went on to publish two cookbooks and worked as an innovation manager for various startups, focusing on untapped and regenerative resources. Everything clicked when she met her co-founder Jacob von Manteuffel, who’d just finished filming a documentary about seaweed pioneers called The Seaweed Project. “We bonded over our shared fascination with seaweed and the belief that it is an incredible resource. Why aren’t we consuming seaweed daily when it holds the key to solving the global food crisis and restoring balance to our fragile ecosystem?” They decided to join forces and work towards bringing this overlooked ingredient to the forefront.
But both quickly learned that the missing piece in the equation was the lack of demand. “Despite its potential, raw seaweed is not a popular food option,” Deniz explains. That’s how Oceanfruit came about in 2019: a variation of yummy spreads and salads, with the goal of finding the right processing methods to make seaweed a beloved mainstream ingredient. The following year, they launched BettaF!sh, an authentic-tasting vegan tuna in the form of spreads, pizza, and sandwiches. As a team of more than 16, their vision is to grow exponentially to make seaweed-based delicacies affordable and accessible to everyone as a source of protein for a growing population, while also enabling fishermen to transition to regenerative aquaculture. In 2023, they are excited to launch canned TU-NAH as well as bring TU-NAH to Japan!
One of Deniz’s defining moments in becoming a food entrepreneur was participating in the Grace Female Accelerator program. “It gave me the confidence and inspiration to build my own company, and I am proud to lead a predominantly female team at BettaF!sh with a flat hierarchy and strong internal communication structure. It also led to a number of interviews, podcasts, panels, and events. These experiences have been invaluable to my growth as a CEO at BettaF!sh,” she says. Regular feedback walks with all employees, asking for help and feedback from advisors, as well as improv theater has helped build conscious habits that help her manage the whirlwind of a first-time CEO. Looking back, Deniz considers her blissful naïveté as the driving force of her success.
Spaghetti aglio e olio / Sichuan style eggplant.
“The Power by Naomi Alderman (Mind blowing)!”
“Disney’s Alice in Wonderland; such an inspiration to make room for nonsense and play in our lives.”
“…I’d have the power to travel in time.”
“At our company, we live and breathe our core value of “Love the Game”. But for me, this extends far beyond the office walls. Whether I’m bonding with my nieces over a pirate treasure hunt, strategizing with friends over a board game, or competing in team sports, I relish every moment of play and find pure, unadulterated joy.”