They developed a machine that could help the oyster industry in Atlantic Canada and opened up a whole new business opportunity for themselves at the same time.
As part of their studies, engineering students Jordan Sampson, Brett McDermott and Dylan MacIsaac designed a solution for oyster growers and producers – specifically designed equipment that gently guides oyster cages in a rollercoaster-like flip.
Farmed oysters, grown in cages weighing up to 200 pounds each, need to be turned once to twice per week during the growing months for an average of five years. Oyster farms vary in size, from a couple of hundred cages to up to thousands of them.
Growers need employees who are physically strong enough to turn these cages for up to 10 hours a day. Their cage-turning efforts discourage mussels, barnacles and algae build-up, which lets water circulate better, allowing more food to reach the oyster. It results in more appealing oysters that can garner higher prices.
“Last year, as part of our second-year engineering project we were given a project with an industry client and we were tasked with finding a new way to automate the oyster cage flipping process,’’ Sampson told The Guardian on Tuesday after the provincial government awarded the students a $25,000 Ignition Fund grant for their entrepreneurial spirit.
The three students developed the product under their company name Island AquaTech, one of 10 successful Ignition Fund applicants to receive grant money on Tuesday.
“We tested a few different ideas and none of them really caught on and then we came across this idea and we kind of went with it.’’
With help from UPEI and Synapse, which turns UPEI ideas into solutions, they continued working on it over the summer and patented it. Synapse helped the students file for a patent, securing proof-of-concept and patent funding from Springboard Atlantic and apply for start-up funds from Innovation P.E.I.’s Ignition Fund.
“We’ve built a small-scale prototype . . . and we tested it on land and on water and it was really successful.’’
A full-sized prototype will be used in November before the ice forms and the money the students received from the Ignition Fund will be used to build a production model that the industry can use.
“We’re going to tackle the Atlantic provinces first and, hopefully, sell it to other oyster farmers.’’
But, they aren’t stopping there.
“Once we start getting these models into production and start getting some sales we’re probably going to look at some other designs for some different problems. We’re focusing on the aquaculture industry right now but we don’t want to limit ourselves to it either. In the future, we’re probably going to keep doing some similar work, develop new technologies, patent them if we need to and make sales off them.’’
Province hands out grants to 10 companies to help with new ideas
The P.E.I. government wrote a cheque for $250,000 on Tuesday for 10 companies that are coming up with new ideas.
Each of the companies will get $25,000 under the Ignition Fund.
This year, the grants are being awarded to Island companies that are starting up or working to commercialize new products.
Mike Beamish, owner of Deep Roots Distillery, said the grant money helped him create a new line of buckwheat whiskey and will help the distillery, based in Warren Grove, expand its market share while supporting local farmers.
“Buckwheat is beneficial to potato farmers, especially as a rotation crop that aids in soil health and reduces certain pests, and, as it happens, it makes a very fine whiskey,’’ said Beamish, who hosted the Ignition Fund ceremony on Tuesday at the distillery.
“The grant we received under the Ignition Fund was crucial to the development of our product which is now in the final production stage, and we anticipate being able to begin the aging and tasting process inside the next few weeks.’’
Economic Minister Heath MacDonald said supporting ambitious, innovative companies is all about expanding the economy, increasing exports and creating jobs.
At a glance
2017 Ignition Fund recipients:
- Exit Speed Inc. - To patent and market an innovative training apparatus that will increase baseball/softball players’ bat speed and power.
- Island AquaTech - To commercialize an oyster cage flipper.
- Redrock Power Systems – To develop and commercialize zero emission fuel cell solutions for use in the marine industry.
- Fresh Start Fauxmage – To produce nut-based, dairy-free, vegan cheese alternatives in a variety of flavours.
- Lighters Candle Company – To produce all natural soy wax candles and home products.
- MacWorth Industries – To produce the Highway Safety Prevention Bar, a safety device intended for use on school buses.
- Taylor Pharmaceuticals – To develop and manufacture a hybrid high-flow nasal irrigation device.
- Bony Broth Co. – To increase production, to enable export and develop new products.
- FieldEtect – To commercialize a handheld device that will permit DNA identification of known pathogens in the agricultural sector.
- Cradle Technology Design Inc. – To develop an innovative urinalysis device to provide athletes with reliable, informative and empowering health data to help optimize their performance.