State launches aquaculture accelerator program at NELHA

KAILUA-KONA — A three-year aquaculture accelerator pilot program the state hopes will make Hawaii a bigger player in the global aquaculture industry is poised to kick off this summer.

“We know that we will be able to grow this industry with Hawaii playing a significant role in this global endeavor,” Gov. David Ige said Wednesday in announcing HATCH, a Norway-based investment firm that touts itself as the world’s first accelerator for aquaculture that will run Hawaii’s new aquaculture accelerator program and investment fund.

Beginning Aug. 26, HATCH will bring to North Kona-based Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority’s Hawaiian Ocean Science and Technology Park a cohort of 10 to 14 aquaculture technology startups that will take part in HATCH’s mentor-driven 15-week accelerator program.

“HOST Park is the perfect playground for innovative minds that are seeking to make a major difference in the field of aquaculture. The world class facilities at NELHA offer perfect conditions for fast prototyping and iterative innovative ideas,” said Carsten Krome, HATCH CEO and co-founder.

The investment firm specializing in sustainable aquaculture has successfully ran accelerators in Norway and Ireland.

“We will bring industry, investors, knowledge and mentors — the best of the best people in the industry — to this island and work with the companies for four months to accelerate them and help create value,” said Krome.

The program’s goal is to launch and scale startups in the developing cluster of aquaculture companies operating in Hawaii that service global markets, develop new cultured species, pioneer new feed sources and the technologies needed to support open ocean and land-based aquaculture.

“We want to be the first mover in this space,” said Greg Barbour, executive director of NELHA. “There’s a lot of different changes going on in this sector right now, and we think there is a significant opportunity for Hawaii to grow our aquaculture industry — if we act quickly and get out ahead of everyone else.”

Krome said the sustainable aquaculture sector globally sees about $200 billion in annual sales.

Over the last 10 years, he explained, the sector has been growing 4 to 6 percent annually. That growth rate is expected to continue for the next decade.

“It is also crucial and growing as a sector,” Krome said.

Helping to fuel HATCH is the aquaculture accelerator fund organized by a partnership between NELHA, the Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation and University of Hawaii’s UH Ventures. HATCH will run the accelerator program while working with the partners to raise capital from private investors.

The partnership was formed to undertake a collaborative effort to raise Hawaii’s global visibility in marine aquaculture and to capitalize on the commercial opportunities available globally. Its purpose is attracting investor capital and a follow-on fund for aquaculture in Hawaii to develop technical and intellectual property that can benefit a global industry.

The investment fund already has raised about $4 million of its $8 million goal, Barbour said Wednesday.

The concept for the accelerator originated as a direct result of recommendations produced by more than 100 participants at the 2017 Hawaii Aquaculture Industry Summit. The establishment of the joint accelerator project was made possible through initial funding provided by the state Legislature and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

NELHA will hold an open house during which the public can meet HATCH representatives at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hale Iako on Makako Bay Drive.

Interested startups can apply online at www.hatch.blue/apply.

By Chelsea Jensen West Hawaii Today cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com

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