Wilmington Fish 2.0 Workshop in April Connects Entrepreneurs, Investors, Network
Seafood innovators from around the world will converge in North Carolina’s coastal business and recreational magnet of Wilmington April 23 and 24 for the second two-day Fish 2.0, workshop.
The workshop for U.S. South Atlantic fisheries and aquaculture businesses will be held at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). The program culminates with a pitch and networking session, where investors and industry experts can hear about emerging innovations and tour the university’s shellfish research hatchery.
Diane Durance, director of the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, had a good reason for inviting the Fish 2.0. workshop to North Carolina, which has a growing entrepreneurial aquaculture industry, for its first event here in 2017.
Working on an aquaculture venture intended to help Michigan family farmers increase their income in 2013, Durance discovered that investors she approached had no interest.
“No one had any experience in it, so they didn’t understand it,” she said in an interview with the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.
So when the first Fish 2.0 event, held at Stanford University in California, selected her venture as a finalist along with 39 others at the initial event, “It was just in time,” Durance said. “Investors from all over” attended. “It taught me that when you have a specialty not in the mainstream, you need to do extra work to get in front of people who understand what you’re doing and bring capital into the picture.”
She added, “My aquaculture venture received a $15,000 Michigan Business Accelerator grant to complete our prototype. Through our involvement in Fish 2.0 (and meeting other entrepreneurs developing recirculating aquaculture systems at the event in California), we came to realize that our business model would not be financially viable until we could reduce the cost of energy and fish feed.”
Investors will hear more than 20 pitches
Investors at this year’s event will hear more than 20 pitches from fishery and aquaculture businesses. Participation is free but space is limited. So entrepreneurs, investors, and experts who want to attend must register online.
The event is open to all fishery and aquaculture business people from the South Atlantic region (Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and the Atlantic coast of Florida) who are involved in seafood supply chains, climate resilience technologies, or seafood production, including aquaculture, wild harvesting, or trade.
Founder and Director of Fish 2.0 Monica Jain told NCBiotech that currently “hot” areas include technologies to make aquaculture more efficient and environmentally friendly, innovation in fish foods, the use of cameras on fishing nets to reduce damage, better seafood packaging, and algae cultivation.
Jain said the event always fills its quota of presenting companies weeks ahead and encouraged applying early. “We’re about half full now,” she said in late March.
Business-building opportunities through Fish 2.0 start with regional workshop and pitch sessions like the upcoming North Carolina event. On day one, workshop participants dig into financing, what investors want, and trends affecting their market. They also learn compelling ways to talk about their businesses. On day two, participants practice what they learned and start taking advantage of the Fish 2.0 network. In the afternoon, participants pitch their businesses to investors and experts, who benefit from learning about emerging trends and get a taste of seafood innovation bubbling up in the region.
At least 75 percent of finalists in the Fish 2.0 2017 cycle, including many businesses from the South Atlantic region, made connections during the program that resulted in investment, new partners, or new customers. Jain said connections companies make at the event often persist for years.
South Atlantic, North Carolina businesses saw successes
“Participating in Fish 2.0 opens the door to a global community that shares our local entrepreneurs’ passion for, and commitment to, building a sustainable seafood industry,” Durance added. “Fish 2.0 is the best possible way for an entrepreneur to get connected to a network that provides important and lasting business connections.”
The South Atlantic workshop and pitch session is part of the current cycle of Fish 2.0, which connects innovators from around the world to grow the sustainable seafood sector. Eligible businesses can take Fish 2.0’s two-part online readiness assessment. Those that meet the standard become “Fish 2.0 qualified” and will be invited to enter the new Fish 2.0 Connect online hub, where they can connect with investors and partners based on mutual interest.
The top-scoring businesses—the Fish 2.0 Forty—will also earn a spot on stage at the Fish 2.0 Global Innovators Forum Nov. 5 and 6, 2019, at Stanford, where they’ll present to invited investors and experts from across the country and around the world.
“We’ve seen a lot of great ideas and innovations come out of the North Carolina area,” said Jain.
“We were very successful,” Durance noted. “Of the 40 companies selected to present at the finals in California in 2017, eight were from our region, four were from North Carolina, and two were from Wilmington.”
While the 2017 N.C. event focused on shellfish and crustacean technologies, this year’s looks at a much broader range of technologies, including the supply chain, catch processing, packaging, seafood safety, transportation and “anything related to coastal resilience and making the environment better,” explained Durance. “There are so many challenges.”
Randall Johnson, executive director of the Biotech Center’s Southeastern Office said, "Fish 2.0 offers our region and state an unparalleled opportunity to shine a global spotlight on the marine biotech-related innovation cluster we have been building here for decades. Our North Carolina entrepreneurial companies had a great showing at the Fish 2.0 regional workshop and Global Innovation Forum two years ago with the guidance of Diane Durance and Deb Mosca, and I expect the same favorable results this time around."