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Muscling in on the seafood industry

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Greenshell Spat Co is an aquaculture technology company set to enable the New Zealand Greenshell™ mussel industry’s $1 billion potential through the creation of mussel ‘super babies’. The venture was developed by University of Auckland PhD students Will McKay and Brad Skelton, who have commercialised their knowledge as scientists with the support of the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE).

The Greenshell™ mussel industry is currently valued at $300 million but is capable of so much more. Will says “There is immense global demand for the endemic New Zealand Greenshell™ , however, supply is not able to meet demand and orders can be made years in advance. The fundamental limiting factor that prevents the growth of the industry is the lack of baby mussels (known as spat). These are the seed stock for all farms most of which is collected attached to seaweed from 90 Mile Beach. This “lack” of spat is actually more of an issue of inefficiency – 95 % of all spat are lost from farm production in the first few weeks. This is caused by a natural behaviour called secondary settlement where very small spat let go of farm structures in search of new habitats.

“Our technology enables us to rapidly grow spat beyond the size which they are likely to let go of farms before they are seeded onto mussel farms. Most importantly our nursery system is an enclosed system which prevents the immense losses of tiny spat seen from traditional mussel farm culture.”

Greenshell Spat Co was first developed with the support of the CIE’s Velocity student entrepreneurship development programme. Will and Brad learned to develop a business plan, had access to mentors and knowledge and ultimately went on win $25,000 in start up capital through the programme’s $100k Challenge competition. By the time of the competition the Greenshell Spat Co had already taken their first order of mussel super babies. Following Velocity the team deployed a prototype at a mussel farm in Mahurangi that was successful and where they made significant gains in productivity. They also tested the boundaries of their technology and came away with new ideas for the next design iteration.

Will and Brad are now going through CIE’s six month VentureLab incubator to build upon the foundations they have laid. VentureLab has enabled the team to access further support through UniServices and Momentum and a particular highlight has been the mentorship of VentureLab Manager Ken Erskine. Will says “Ken is incredibly supportive of our business, us as a team and as individuals. He’s always challenging us to learn more, make improvements and has constructive advice on how to get there. He’s also just a laugh to hang out with so we’re looking forward to getting off Zoom and back into the meeting room.”

“The exposure we got after winning the Velocity 100K challenge has lead to further interest from the aquaculture industry and we’re hoping to bring on another customer as a direct result. Additionally it has opened us up to new outputs for our spat such as for restoration projects seeking to bring back the expansive mussel beds that used to cover the seafloor of the Hauraki Gulf.”

Unlike many other businesses, the Greenshell Spat Co have experienced no significant setbacks due to Covid-19. “Given our current scale and timeline for growth our outlook is as ambitious and exciting as it ever has been.”

The team are also looking at applying their technology to other shellfish species here and abroad. “At present we are working with a marine engineering company to better understand potential materials, production methods and design options that will enable both maximum performance and ability to export our product with maximum return.”

James Hutchinson
James Hutchinson

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Greenshell Spat Co is an aquaculture technology company set to enable the New Zealand Greenshell™ mussel industry’s $1 billion potential through the creation of mussel ‘super babies’. The venture was developed by University of Auckland PhD students Will McKay and Brad Skelton, who have commercialised their knowledge as scientists with the support of the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE).

The Greenshell™ mussel industry is currently valued at $300 million but is capable of so much more. Will says “There is immense global demand for the endemic New Zealand Greenshell™ , however, supply is not able to meet demand and orders can be made years in advance. The fundamental limiting factor that prevents the growth of the industry is the lack of baby mussels (known as spat). These are the seed stock for all farms most of which is collected attached to seaweed from 90 Mile Beach. This “lack” of spat is actually more of an issue of inefficiency – 95 % of all spat are lost from farm production in the first few weeks. This is caused by a natural behaviour called secondary settlement where very small spat let go of farm structures in search of new habitats.

“Our technology enables us to rapidly grow spat beyond the size which they are likely to let go of farms before they are seeded onto mussel farms. Most importantly our nursery system is an enclosed system which prevents the immense losses of tiny spat seen from traditional mussel farm culture.”

Greenshell Spat Co was first developed with the support of the CIE’s Velocity student entrepreneurship development programme. Will and Brad learned to develop a business plan, had access to mentors and knowledge and ultimately went on win $25,000 in start up capital through the programme’s $100k Challenge competition. By the time of the competition the Greenshell Spat Co had already taken their first order of mussel super babies. Following Velocity the team deployed a prototype at a mussel farm in Mahurangi that was successful and where they made significant gains in productivity. They also tested the boundaries of their technology and came away with new ideas for the next design iteration.

Will and Brad are now going through CIE’s six month VentureLab incubator to build upon the foundations they have laid. VentureLab has enabled the team to access further support through UniServices and Momentum and a particular highlight has been the mentorship of VentureLab Manager Ken Erskine. Will says “Ken is incredibly supportive of our business, us as a team and as individuals. He’s always challenging us to learn more, make improvements and has constructive advice on how to get there. He’s also just a laugh to hang out with so we’re looking forward to getting off Zoom and back into the meeting room.”

“The exposure we got after winning the Velocity 100K challenge has lead to further interest from the aquaculture industry and we’re hoping to bring on another customer as a direct result. Additionally it has opened us up to new outputs for our spat such as for restoration projects seeking to bring back the expansive mussel beds that used to cover the seafloor of the Hauraki Gulf.”

Unlike many other businesses, the Greenshell Spat Co have experienced no significant setbacks due to Covid-19. “Given our current scale and timeline for growth our outlook is as ambitious and exciting as it ever has been.”

The team are also looking at applying their technology to other shellfish species here and abroad. “At present we are working with a marine engineering company to better understand potential materials, production methods and design options that will enable both maximum performance and ability to export our product with maximum return.”


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