Food and drink / Products

As product launch looms, Minnowtech’s CEO offers some lessons on company growth

The Baltimore-based aquaculture technology company is set to launch its principal commercial product, which measures shrimp biomass, in mid-April.

(Center) CEO and cofounder Suzan Shahrestani with more members of the Minnowtech team. (Courtesy photo)
Minnowtech‘s CEO and cofounder Suzan Shahrestani spent the past two years using the company’s over $1 million of seed funding to prepare the launch of its shrimp farmer technology.

That tech — specifically, a data-based imaging tool to measure how many shrimp are growing in the murky waters where they thrive — debuts to the world with a livestream on April 21 at 9 p.m. The founder worked on the prototype of this tool, known as BRS-1, during the COVID-19 pandemic’s earliest stages. Now, the company (a 2020 RealLIST Startups honorable mention) has reached an inflection point of growth in which a founder cannot do everything.

“The company moves as fast as you do,” Shahrestani told, comparing the five years a Ph.D candidate typically gets for subject mastery to the life of an entrepreneur. “Your success in entrepreneur-hood is really determined by how much you can do in a short amount of time. And you can’t do it all alone.”

Minnowtech has four full-time team members and one part-time worker, which makes for a staff headcount of six. The company’s partnership with local startup studio Early Charm Ventures builds out Minnowtech’s business development, HR and marketing teams to create a larger network of employees.

After the product launches, Shahrestani expects to hire more field scientists, research scientists, software engineers and sales and marketing professionals with international experience. Hiring will begin once the company narrows down what market to focus on, with Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Ecuador and India being its main choices.

Minnowtech’s journey to product launch was supported with a six-figure grant from the National Science Foundation, as well as seed funding from Maryland institutions like the university system-connected Maryland Momentum Fund. The product grew out of Shahrestani’s own doctoral studies at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, during which she used naval sonar to study jellyfish populations. This work helped her realize that she could build a startup that might impact global shrimp markets and aquaculture.

“I never saw a pathway for how science get put into action,” Shahrestani said. “I think it’s quite remarkable [that] the stuff I was learning in grad school, or even the math from middle school, can have an impact today. It’s so exciting to think that, wow, everything you’ve done and learned up until this moment is actually going to improve the way people are growing food. To me, my bottom line will always be food sustainability and food security.”

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: Minnowtech / University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science / Early Charm Ventures

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