Student startup, Minnowtech, makes a splash in Accelerate Baltimore program

May 11, 2018

Minnowtech’s real-time fish measurements and simplified analyses will help fishers and managers track, interpret, and understand what’s being caught

Accelerate Baltimore supports the development and growth of entrepreneurs and start-ups. Shahrestani (center) joins the 2018 cohort.

Working toward a doctoral degree is enough to keep most people busy. At the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL), innovator Suzan Shahrestani is using the technical expertise she has developed in her pursuit of a Fisheries Science doctorate to launch her own company, Minnowtech, which was recently awarded a place in the prestigious Accelerate Baltimore program.

“I’ve devoted my academic career to advancing solutions for food sustainability in environmentally conscious ways. As an entrepreneur I’m able to put what I’ve learned into action,” Shahrestani said.

An estimated 351 million fish are caught in the United States each year, but limited and slow survey methods, combine with biased reports from recreational fishers, limit the ability of regional fisheries councils to calculate these numbers. This makes it difficult for regional councils to make policy recommendations to fisheries managers. These conditions are exacerbated by strained relationships between surveyed fishers and those responsible for setting regulation.

“There’s distrust and disagreement over policies, but both parties share a common goal of sustaining fish populations,” explained Shahrestani. “My company aims to help find solutions for fishers and managers alike.”

With just the snap of a photo, the Minnowtech application and phone attachment will help anglers instantly measure and log their catch, requiring no external references. The fish catch information is then supplied to fisheries managers, who can use this new type of data to improve assessments of fish populations and, ultimately, regulations.

Shahrestani credited her advisor, Hongsheng Bi, whom she watched closely as he developed, prototyped and programmed technology to solve data limitations.

With Minnowtech, angler competitions will also be able to reduce potential for cheating, our nation’s growing aquaculture industries will be able to track fish production more conveniently and fishing guides can document past successes to share with potential clients.

Shahrestani started learning how to think about science with a business perspective through the Ratcliffe Environmental Entrepreneur Fellowship (REEF) program. Over the course of the year, she created and developed her business model based on scientific research, and received $15,000 seed funding. Through the Emerging Technology Centers’ Accelerate Baltimore program, Minnowtech has been awarded an additional $25,000, as well as 13 weeks of mentoring and programming and the chance to compete for an additional $100,000.

Shahrestani hopes her success will serve as an inspiration for others.

“As a woman, as a scientist, and as a child of immigrant parents who came to this country for the American dream,” she said, “I am committed to increasing the diversity of higher-education and entrepreneurship in hopes of serving as a positive example to my local community.”