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MIT Enterprise Forum Dives Into Discussion on ‘Ocean Based Entrepreneurship’

Speakers explore topics of renewable energy, aquaculture — and growing mollusks

The MIT Enterprise Forum of the Central Coast’s presentation on “Ocean Based Entrepreneurship: Renewable Energy, Aquaculture and More” on Wednesday drew about 100 people to the Cabrillo Arts Pavilion.

Moderated by Daniel Brooks, senior engineer with MWH Americas Inc., the formal program began about 6 p.m. after an hour of networking, appetizers and drinks.

Brent Dehlsen, co-founder and CEO of Ecomerit Technologies LLC, gave a brief overview of what his company has been doing in the field of energy efficiency within the context of available technologies. He said Clipper Windpower has seen fast growth and is now “in good hands with United Technologies Corporation.”

He said the wind energy industry is a good template to grow other green technologies. Two of such technologies are ocean current turbines and wave energy converters. He said the difficult part is getting the costs of alternate energy to compete against fossil fuels or even other green energy.

“Change is slow and deliberate,” Dehlsen said.

Paul Olin, Ph.D., an aquaculture expert with California Sea Grant, spoke about the need for additional seafood resources, citing seafood’s positive health benefits.

“(The United States) produces less than 1 percent of the seafood in the world, and we’re the third-largest consumer,” he said.

In advocating for independently grown seafood, Olin said the United States imported 90 percent of its seafood in 2009, and that seafood alone accounts for a $10 billion trade deficit. He pressed the importance of creating a stronger aquaculture industry in the United States, particularly marine aquaculture, citing its healthful properties, lack of environmental impact and status as an untapped resource of seafood.

Bernard Friedman, president of the Santa Barbara Mariculture Company, drew laughter from the audience with his tales of the difficulties of growing mollusks off the Santa Barbara coast.

“This business is for the deeply committed,” Friedman said.

He said believing that weather, government regulations and opposition from other fishermen would be the biggest obstacles was naïve of him, adding that the real obstacle in growing mollusks is other animals that show up in the Santa Barbara Channel and eat his catch.

“Anytime you think you know what you’re doing, be careful,” Friedman said. “There’s an unpredictable nature of growing animals in the ocean, but this country needs sustainable seafood.”

Joining the panel of speakers next was Lad Handelman, founder and retired CEO of Oceaneering International and Cal Dive International. He spoke about the importance of convincing investors of a lucrative green venture with a well-put together business plan.

The event then opened up to questions from the audience, with questions ranging from the unforgiving nature of the ocean, capturing energy from river power, using unused offshore platforms as places for aquaculture and profiting from catfish farms.

The next event hosted by the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Central Coast will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Cabrillo Arts Pavillion, 1118 E. Cabrillo Blvd. The event, titled “And the Bandwidth Played On,” will feature Andrew Seybold and Jay Hennigan and will delve into the future of wireless technology. Click here for more information.

Noozhawk business writer Taylor Orr can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @NoozhawkBiz, @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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