Oysters, crab, shrimp, lobster and scallops were on the menu at this week’s Fish 2.0 South Atlantic & Gulf Coast Shellfish Workshop, hosted by University of North Carolina Wilmington at the university’s MARBIONC facility.
Fish 2.0, founded by executive director Monica Jain, uses a competition platform to connect seafood innovators, investors and industry experts so that promising ventures could find funding and knowledge resources.
It’s the first time the organization has extended its competition track into the Southeast U.S. and the first time it has conducted a workshop for the region to help entrepreneurs in the shellfish industry prepare to pitch their businesses to potential investors. Entrepreneurs with the strongest proposals, drawn from all regions, pitch to investors from around the world at a global competition next fall, according to Diane Durance, executive director of UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Durance is a veteran of Fish 2.0’s competition platform, having pitched her own project in Michigan in 2013. When she became head of the CIE in June, she realized there was no Fish 2.0 regional competition track in this part of the country, and set about to change that.
“I’ve had Fish 2.0 on my mind since 2013,” she said at the workshop opening Wednesday morning. “I knew we had a lot of strength in marine technology here. Attending the workshop increases participants’ ability to compete at the global event, which takes place at Stanford University in November.”
The inaugural workshop in Wilmington drew 21 participants from five states. The businesses seeking investor funding ranged from startup oyster farms to shellfish-centric software firms to researchers streamlining the process of diagnosing disease in shellfish populations.
Niels Lindquist of Morehead City is co-founder and CEO of Sandbar Oyster Co. Inc., which has invented a material that can be formed into various shapes and submerged to form an artificial substrate to which oysters can attach.
After trying out his pitch on the workshop audience Friday morning, Lindquist said the workshop had been helpful in understanding how to develop his appeal to investors.
“It gave me a better understanding of the investor side of the equation: what motivates them, what turns them off, and their limitations,” he said. “I also understand how to tailor a pitch to different investors.”
Deborah Keller, owner of Oyster Mom LLC in Oyster Bay, Florida, said the workshop helped her focus on what she wants to accomplish as she expands her business.
“I realize what I need to move forward. I need more tool sharpening,” she said.
Keller is more than an oyster farmer. She takes on apprentices who have disabilities and teaches them the business. Thus far she has trained a blind man and a disabled teenager the routines of growing and harvesting the in-demand bivalves.
“I want to be an oyster fisherman that trains new oyster fishermen,” she said. “There are so many people out there that need that kind of work, and that have the passion for that kind of work.”
Workshop participants spoke of the high demand for shellfish and the ways in which technology and automation can raise the productivity and sustainability of existing aquaculture operations, and make it easier for new ones to get started.
Jain, who moderated the wrap-up pitch session, said she expects more participants in the regional workshop next year. The first year’s competition in a region typically draws what she calls “early adopters,” while other entrepreneurs watch and see how things go.
“The first year in Seattle we had about 20 participants,” she said. “The second year, we had 70 applications in five days.”
Entrepreneurs with shellfish-related ventures located in the 12-state Southeastern U.S. region are encouraged to participate in Fish 2.0, Durance said. The deadline to apply is April 29. Click here
for more information.