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Seafood Innovators Present To Investors, Mentors At UNCW-sponsored Workshop

By Jenny Callison, posted Apr 26, 2019
Startup business owners mingle with advisers and investors at the recent Fish 2.0 event at UNCW's Marine Science Center. (Photo courtesy of Fish 2.0)
Young seafood-related businesses from the East Coast had the opportunity Wednesday to spotlight their innovations – and their need for funding – to investors. The pitch session came at the conclusion of a two-day Fish 2.0 workshop for South Atlantic fisheries and aquaculture companies, held at UNCW’s Marine Science Center.

University of North Carolina Wilmington sponsored the workshop, billed as “an active community-building exercise where participants learn from their peers’ real-world experience as well as from advisors.” All the companies represented have some role in the sea-to-table seafood supply chain.

Fish 2.0 calls itself “the global community for seafood innovators” and conducts events all over the world aimed at fostering innovations in seafood sustainability. At the Wilmington event, 14 selected startups from North Carolina, Florida, Maryland, Virginia and Massachusetts spotlighted their businesses, which ranged from a traveling seafood raw bar atop a barge to an instrument that can measure corals in their natural habitats.

Each presenter gave a 90-second pitch and took questions. Outside the pitch session, they met with advisers and – if they were lucky –interested investors.

Two of the startups presented at the previous Fish 2.0 pitch session, held at Stanford University in the fall of 2017. Fish 2.0 founder Monica Jain invited them back to update the audience on their progress and to give them exposure to area investors.

One of those presenters, Wilmington resident John Hayes, represented ShellBond, a company that extracts antioxidants from bacteria to create an organic alternative to the petroleum-based synthetic product, called called astaxanthin, that is fed to farm-raised salmon to create their pink pigmentation.

Hayes said that the synthetic product is not good for either the fish or for the humans that eat the fish. ShellBond’s organic product “could revolutionize the farm-raised salmon industry,” he added.

At the November 2017 Fish 2.0 session, Hayes and his UNCW faculty partners found an interested investor, a global company. ShellBond cultivated the organic astaxanthin in its lab at UNCW and was two weeks away from shipping a first supply to the company’s laboratories in the Netherlands, but nature intervened.

“We were wiped out by Hurricane Florence,” Hayes said. “Our lab was in Dobo Hall [the science building at UNCW], and it was destroyed. That set us back a year.”

The storm dealt a double-whammy. Because ShellBond gets its bacteria from hog lagoons in southeastern North Carolina, that supply was disrupted because storm-related flooding of hog farms compromised the bacterial growth.

It has taken months, but ShellBond has now re-established its lab and is cultivating its astaxanthin.

“Hopefully we’ll have a shipment ready in September,” Hayes said. “We’re trying to raise funds so we can do that.”

Hayes said he is following up with two of the investors that attended Wednesday’s pitch session.
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