This article was written by Michael Bochoff, Marketing & Communications Assistant at Innovacorp.
As COVID-19 pulls the rug out from under so many start-ups around the world, Matt Zimola, CEO and co-founder of ReelData, and his team are continuing their resiliency in the face of uncertainty.
Over the past year, ReelData has created a multi-faceted approach that allows fish farms to increase production through data-driven decisions and provides insight into projected yield.
“My co-founder, Hossein Salimian, and I were chasing start-up ideas for a couple years as we finished our graduate degrees, and were calling fish farms to ask what their problems were,” said Matt. “After speaking with people in Canada, Norway and Australia, it was apparent that weighing fish was among the pain points they were struggling with.”
With backgrounds in computer science, computer vision and deep learning, Matt and Hossein believed their expertise could help the aquaculture industry.
“Fish farms have a challenging time understanding how much their fish weigh, how much to feed their fish, and the current state of fish health and welfare,” said Matt. “Last summer, we built a stereoscopic underwater camera, equipped with a full operating system, that allows us to weigh fish often and in a non-intrusive way.”
The ReelData camera uses artificial intelligence to continuously monitor fish growth and health. Images from their specially designed camera installed in the tank or pen provide farms with straightforward reports on production efficiency in real-time. Analyzing feed consumption results in less wasted feed and allows fish farms to accurately predict future growth.
However, as the old saying goes, you can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs.
“If you want to break something, the easiest way to do it is to chuck it in the ocean” laughed Matt. “There were a lot of ups and downs dealing with electronics in saltwater. We’ve broken some cameras and GPUs but we’re still moving along.”
For most, the move from student to technology entrepreneur is not an easy transition. In the world of academia, Matt believes that if you have a great idea, there is comfort in knowing there is ample support in Atlantic Canada to help build a business around your research.
“Propel ICT was one of the best things for us. We didn’t even have an idea going into that program and we came out with ReelData,” said Matt. “Then Innovacorp provided us with mentors through its accelerate program, including a sales consultant who met with us every week to help us understand the most effective way to move forward in relation to COVID-19 issues, which was really helpful.”
In September, ReelData was one of 10 companies selected for Techstars AI, one of the world’s foremost AI accelerators. By January, they began validating and trialing their technology. Despite additional challenges thanks to COVID-19, Matt and his team remain optimistic and are pressing forward.
“We’ve been mentored by a lot of people in the community who enable us to ask any technical or business-related questions,” said Matt. “We’re just trying to keep our team as effective as possible and move the needle forward every day.”
April 22, 2020, Halifax, Nova Scotia