Ashored, which is developing fishing equipment that reduces risks to marine life, was one of two companies to receive a US$75,000 (C$98,000) platinum award at the MassChallenge demo day Thursday night. They were exceeded only by North Carolina-based Tellus Therapeutics, which won the US$100,000 diamond award.
The Boston-based support organization had accepted just over 100 startups out of 3,000 applications for its 2019 cohort. In total, MassChallenge handed out about US$1 million in non-dilutive funding to 12 graduates, including Ashored.
“Last year, we were one of the finalists in [the U.S. oceantech conference] Ocean Exchange, and looking back on it, that competition validated our solution,” said Ashored Co-Founder and CEO Aaron Stevenson in a phone interview Monday. “But MassChallenge, with its mentors and everything that it has done for us, I would say that being in the top three at MassChallenge has validated the business model.”
Ashored, which was the only Canadian company in MassChallenge this year, is developing fishing equipment that reduces the risk of animals such as whales becoming entangled in ropes and the risk of lost equipment littering the ocean floor. Its first product, the Modular Ocean Based Instrument, or MOBI, is a lobster trap buoy that is positioned near the ocean floor and released only when the fishing boat approaches.
Stevenson, who last year took the company through the Masters of Technology, Entrepreneurship and Innovation program at St. Mary’s University, said the team conducted its first sea trials of MOBI last fall. That product had a timer for unraveling the spool and it established the basic functionality of the product in the open ocean. Working with the Halifax engineering company Enginuity, Ashored this autumn tested an improved product in which the spool unwinds on command via a radio signal as the fishing boat approaches.
Now, he said, the company has a few more pilots planned for this autumn. Then it plans to take what it has learned in the past year or so and re-engineer MOBI to come up with a product it can take to market. It is planning more extensive pilot projects and possibly some early sales next summer, and then a full release in 2021.
The company has just completed a “family and friends” round of $260,000. With that money and the roughly C$100,000 from MassChallenge in the bank, Ashored is hiring two more people to expand its six-member team.
Stevenson has his sights set on raising a seed round of $1.2 million to $1.5 million, and hopes to close the round in the first quarter of 2020.
One advantage he will have as he courts investors is that Ashored has the validation of competing with 3,000 startups to get into MassChallenge and ending up in the top three in the program. What’s more, he said the program was a great stepping stone into a key strategic market with a major knowledge base and customer base.
“We had identified New England and Boston as a strategically important region for us as a company,” said Stevenson. “But we didn’t know anyone there, didn’t know where to go. One of the biggest things that we walked away with was an instant community. . . . Just to be handed the opportunity to walk into this ecosystem has allowed us to benefit more from MassChallenge perhaps even than some of the other companies based in Boston.”