Baltimore-based aquaculture technology company Minnowtech was awarded a $225,000 grant through the U.S. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.
The Phase I grant from the National Science Foundation comes after cofounder and CEO Suzan Shahrestani said the company spent time visiting shrimp farmers in Asia, Europe and the Americas to learn about their needs.
Shrimp farms that produce what we eat are largely found in Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Ecuador, China and India. In Southeast Asia, Shahrestani said the shrimp farms are located a mile or two off the coast, where hundreds of individual ponds produce shrimp several times a year.
They’re also filled with murky waters, making it difficult for farmers to know how many shrimp they’re growing.
“Shrimp are messy eaters and make the water dirty when they feed,” Shahrestani said. “Add on aeration systems and it makes for a challenging environment to see and count them in such large numbers.”
Along with affecting efficiency for the farmers looking to get food amounts correct, it also makes things unclear industry-wide, as supply numbers dictate a number of factors for the folks involved in bringing the shrimp to market.
So Minnowtech is developing a solution.
With the grant, the company is developing a sonar-based monitoring system that is coupled with species-specific algorithms to track and predict shrimp behavior and growth.
“The farmers using our system will get an accurate real-time estimate of their crop so they can make daily decisions around feed on their farms,” Shahrestani said.
With a stint in Accelerate Baltimore and Abell Foundation funding that came with it complete, the city’s community is proving a continuing presence in R&D for the company, which Shahrestani founded along with Ken Malone and Kelli Booth of local startup studio Early Charm Ventures.
The prototype for the sonar-based system is being developed at Station North’s Open Works makerspace, and testing is being undertaken at Inner Harbor’s Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET), which has also provided entrepreneurial resources along the way. Over the next year, testing will also take place in shrimp farms around the U.S.
The company is also looking to Baltimore for talent, as Shahrestani said the company is also looking to bring on a new hire.-30-