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Aquaculture startup Minnowtech gets seed funding from USM

In this Sept. 24, 2013, file photo, freshly-cut stacks of $100 bills make their way down the line at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing Western Currency Facility in Fort Worth, Texas.(AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

In this Sept. 24, 2013, file photo, freshly-cut stacks of $100 bills make their way down the line at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing Western Currency Facility in Fort Worth, Texas.(AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

Minnowtech, a Baltimore-based aquaculture startup, announced $600,000 in seed financing Monday as the firm commercializes technology intended for the shrimp farming industry.

The firm’s seed round included $150,000 from the University System of Maryland’s Maryland Momentum Fund and funding from HATCH Aquaculture Accelerator, which is based in Ireland.

“These new investment funds will enable us to accelerate product launch and execute on our technical milestones as we prepare to enter the Southeast Asian market,” Suzan Shahrestani, Minnowtech’s co-founder and CEO, said in a statement. “Over the last year, our team has spent time visiting with shrimp farmers in Asia, Europe, and the Americas to gain a deep understanding of their needs and how we can help hundreds of thousands of shrimp farmers optimize yields.”

Minnowtech’s technology is a data-based imaging system that lets farmers visualize how many shrimp are in a given farm. Farm-grown shrimping represents a $27 billion industry.

Shrimp farms are typically about the size of a football field and 5-6 feet deep, but they also typically have cloudy, dirty water that prevents farmers from getting an accurate look at how many shrimp there are.

About 50-70% of the cost for shrimp farmers is feed, said Ken Malone, a co-founder of Minnowtech through the startup studio Early Charm Ventures. He said the Minnowtech technology should help in two ways.

“There’s two things: savings from their feed,” knowing how much to feed the shrimp, he said. But also, “If they overfeed, then the water fouls and the shrimp get sick and they all die. It’s not just about managing the cost of the feed, but the matter of not having your entire crop wiped out.”

Minnowtech is based on technology developed at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore’s Columbus Center.

The company has used funding for research from federal grants. It conducts its research in Hawaii, where the climate is more hospitable for shrimp farms, which need a more tropical climate. Indonesia is the world’s leading exporter of farmed shrimp.

The key for Minnowtech is developing a system that is inexpensive enough that farmers will actually use it.

The company hopes to have a final version of its system developed and to begin making revenue from sales to farmers by the end of next year. It plans to grow with its revenue, Malone said.

The technology could also be useful in the farming of catfish, which enjoy similarly dirty waters, and the company is also looking at potential applications in the farming of fish like salmon and tilapia, which are typically grown in clearer waters.

Shahrestani studied at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Studies and was a Ratcliffe Environmental Entrepreneurs fellow at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology. Because of that, Minnowtech was eligible for funding from the Momentum Fund, the University System of Maryland’s investment vehicle.

“Suzan has excelled at developing an innovative approach to science that directly improves shrimp farming efficiency to help a growing global demand for food,” Peter Goodwin, president of UMCES, said in a statement.


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