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June 2, 2020

Ocean dreams: SCSU innovators pitch kelp product, business ideas


A music festival featuring food and drinks made from kelp. A cotton and kelp tampon. An app that delivers real-time ocean data to seaweed and shellfish farmers.

These are just a handful of ideas from students at Southern Connecticut State University who took a kelp innovation class.

The students recently showcased their concepts for using the abundant, nutrient-rich seaweed for practical purposes at the 23rd Connecticut Business Conference and Competition administered by the Entrepreneurship Foundation. The contest has several categories, such as venture enterprise, personal or service business, social enterprise, consumer product, mobile app, the blue (marine) economy and growth.

The event typically takes place in-person, but this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, students presented judges with 60-second videos spotlighting their ideas, which garnered a number of awards. 

The team of Louie Krak, Maeve Rourke and Gia Mentillo won the mobile app category.

Krak, an environmental studies master’s student, said their idea is for an ocean data app called Crystal Blue, aimed at collecting and curating data packages for seaweed and shellfish farmers in Long Island Sound and beyond.

According to Krak, though the number of farmers is growing, Connecticut lacks a fully developed market for sugar kelp.

“Our vision is to create a mobile app that delivers real-time ocean data directly to seaweed and shellfish ocean farmers in Long Island Sound,” Krak said via email this week. “Ocean farmers need access to water quality data like temperature, salinity and pH to ensure the health and bounty of their crops. However, self-collection requires expensive equipment and a substantial time investment that could be better spent doing actual farming.” 

Instead of spending time collecting data themselves, farmers would get information at the touch of a button via the app, according to Krak.

The app is still in its concept stage, but the students plan to continue working on it and create a prototype this summer.

The team hopes the app will also be useful to researchers, universities and others, not only for Long Island Sound, but for regions with more developed ocean farming industries, such as Maine and Alaska.

Heather Cushing earned first-place honors in the blue economy pitches category. 

Cushing’s idea is for Connecticut Kelp Fest, which would include a day-long kelp festival on the shoreline featuring music, presentations, retail and food vendors, and kelp-based food and drinks, followed by a restaurant week featuring kelp-based meals. 

Cushing said the idea behind the celebration would be to “stimulate interest around the business of local kelp farming.”

Cushing hopes to make her idea come to fruition after the pandemic subsides and large gatherings are allowed again. She is aiming for the first one to be in late May or early June of 2021.

“The interest is there,” she said. “It’s just a matter of organizing and putting it all together. Late spring would be the ideal season to hold the event, as that is when the kelp is harvested.”

Another student, Kelly Kingston placed second in the same category. Her idea is for “Kelpie,” a kelp-based, vegan, nutrient-rich egg substitute. Finally, Larissa Anderson was awarded third place for her idea for “Kelpon,” a biodegradable tampon made of kelp and cotton.

Two SCSU staffers — Colleen Bielitz, associate vice president for strategic initiatives and outreach, and Patrick Heidkamp, who chairs the Environment, Geography and Marine Sciences Department —created the kelp innovation class.

“For the majority of students, this class was the first time they were exposed to an innovation perspective to sustainability,” Heidkamp said in an announcement.

According to Bielitz, several of the class participants’ projects will undergo continued development this summer.  

A CTNext Grant for $75,000 will be used to help make the students’ ideas a reality.

Contact Michelle Tuccitto Sullo at

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