Aquaculture tech company Minnowtech closed on $600,000 in seed financing with an eye on bringing its system for imaging shrimp to the Southeast Asian market.
The round included a $150,000 joint investment from the Maryland Momentum Fund, which is the venture fund of the University System of Maryland, and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). The HATCH Aquaculture Accelerator participated, along with individual investors. The round comes after a $225,000 federal grant was awarded to the company in the spring.
Minnowtech is developing a data-based imaging tool that measures how many shrimp are growing in the murky waters where they thrive. As CEO Suzan Shahrestani told us earlier this year, it’s a “a sonar-based monitoring system that is coupled with species-specific algorithms to track and predict shrimp behavior and growth.” Along with helping farmers understand quantity, this can help inform how they feed shrimp, which in turn can help farmers raise shrimp more efficiently.
“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,” Shahrestani 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.”
The Baltimore-founded company’s path shows a Shahrestani developed imaging expertise while studying for a fisheries doctorate at UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. She gained entrepreneurial training through the REEF program at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore. Founded alongside Ken Malone and Kelli Booth of local startup studio Early Charm Ventures, Minnowtech was also a participant in ETC’s Accelerate Baltimore program in 2018.
The funds will support engineering, field support and data analysis as the company builds devices to deploy at shrimp farms, Malone told Technical.ly. Participation in the round from the Maryland Momentum Fund and UMCES helped the team raise money quickly, as they were willing to invest in a team that they already knew.
“Because they knew Suzan as a talented scientist even before we launched Minnowtech, their vote of confidence was a strong signal to other investors that we could make the technology work,” Malone said.
Along with closing the round, the company was also tapped to pitch at the Fish 2.0 Global Innovation Forum in Stanford, California, this week. The travels have also opened up a new development operations in Hawaii alongside the presence in Baltimore. The team has two employees, including Shahrestani and mechanical engineer Hristo Ivanov, and is looking to gain two more.
“Suzan has excelled at developing an innovative approach to science that directly improves shrimp farming efficiency to help a growing global demand for food,” UMCES President Peter Goodwin said in a statement. “We are excited to see our students apply their knowledge to technological advances that lead to starting their own companies to address some of the world’s environmental challenges.”