Flipping the Oyster Industry
Farmed oysters mean big business in Prince Edward Island and the island is Atlantic Canada’s largest oyster producer, exceeded only by British Columbia. According to Statistics Canada, the production and value of the farmed oyster has shot up from about $6.3-million in 2000 to $12.8-million in 2015, representing 3,422 tonnes of farmed oysters.
Farmed oysters are grown over five years in cages, which can weigh up to 200 pounds each and during the maturation process, the cages need to be turned once or twice a week to discourage mussel, barnacle and algae build-up and to improve the appearance and size of the matured oysters. Currently, this process is undertaken by manual labour, taking up to 10 hours a day, depending on the size of the farm and requiring strong employees.
To address this problem, oyster producers turned to the engineering program at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI), where students, as part of their studies, are given industry challenges to solve. Second-year students Jordan Sampson, Brett McDermott and Dylan MacIsaac were tasked to come up with an automated solution to flip the oyster cages and the team successfully designed specialized equipment that gently guides oyster cages in a rollercoaster-like flip.
With the desire to bring their technology to market, the student team turned to UPEI’s Synapse (a Springboard member turning ideas into solutions) for support and guidance to commercialize their innovation.
To bridge the gap and to advance the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 5 to TRL 7, Springboard came behind the invention in Spring 2017 with our Innovation Mobilization Funds, Proof of Concept and Patent & Legal, allowing the team to build their full-scale prototype and for the final adjustments and to file for patent protection of the technology.
Meanwhile, the student team has formed the startup Island AquaTech and has further received non-equity funding from Innovation P.E.I.’s Ignition Fund ($25,000), has enrolled in the winter cohort of the Creative Destruction Lab in Halifax and is receiving continued support from Synapse’s Technology Transfer Officers.
We are excited to see this project #springboarding forward and will track the progress of this entrepreneurial team and Island AquaTech in the years to come.