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ENTREVESTOR: ReelData enters prestigious accelerator program


Halifax-based ReelData, whose software uses artificial intelligence to analyze video for the aquaculture industry, has entered the Techstars Montreal AI Accelerator. - Contributed
Halifax-based ReelData, whose software uses artificial intelligence to analyze video for the aquaculture industry, has entered the Techstars Montreal AI Accelerator. - Contributed

Halifax-based ReelData, whose software uses artificial intelligence to analyze video for the aquaculture industry, has entered the Techstars Montreal AI Accelerator.

Founders Matt Zimola and Hossein Salimian joined the latest cohort of the accelerator last week, immediately beginning one-on-one meetings with the range of mentors brought in for the program.

ReelData uses artificial intelligence to collect and analyze data for fish farms. Its software can analyze video from fish pens and produce meaningful data on the weight distribution of fish stock and the progress of certain diseases.

As a promising AI (artificial intelligence) company, it was able to enter the Techstars program in Montreal, which focuses on AI companies. Affiliated with Real Ventures, it is the third Techstars accelerator in Canada, and one of a network of Techstars programs around the world.

“Techstars itself is like this mentor-focused accelerator, and they’re one of the best in the world at it,” said Zimola in a phone interview from Montreal.

Zimola and Salimian were graduate computer science students at Dalhousie University who wanted to start an AI venture, and their professor Thomas Trappenburg suggested they consider an ocean venture. Soon they settled on aquaculture as a target market.

Aquaculture companies have a problem in assessing the weight distribution among the fish in their pens, and all the pens are equipped with underwater video cameras. These operations need to know that a certain percentage of their fish meet a minimum weight requirement, and until now the only way to do it was to get the fish out of the pen and weigh them.

Zimola and Salimian have developed what they call the “biomass” component of their technology, which applies artificial intelligence to produce data on the weight distribution of a fish stock just by analyzing video from the pen.

Working out of the Start-up Yard in Dartmouth and Volta in Halifax, ReelData now has paid pilot projects in Canada and the U.S., including with a major company in a central state in the U.S. that operates an on-land fish farm — a growing segment of the aquaculture market. The founders are also in discussions with operators in Mexico, Denmark and Iceland.

Now they’re in Montreal and enrolled in one of the country’s leading accelerators. Zimola said the first few weeks are spent with as many as eight meetings a day with mentors, during which they discuss problems specific to the company.

At the end of a few weeks, Zimola and Salimian will request a single mentor to work with them during the remainder of the program.

One problem they’ve encountered so far is just making the AI experts they’re meeting understand how big the aquaculture industry is and the opportunity it represents. The total value of the aquaculture industry is expected to reach $242 billion by 2022, according to Allied Market Research.

ReelData now has three part-time staff, as well as the co-founders, and has an opening for a full-time developer. To finance the business, it received $25,000 from Innovacorp’s Sprint competition, won a $25,000 equity investment from the Volta Cohort and is receiving a US$120,000 investment from Techstars. Zimola said the company is planning to raise a round of funding in the spring.

He also said that once it emerges from Techstars, the priority will be to sign major customers on to full subscriptions to the ReelData technology.

“The next year or so, we will sign on international big companies on land and we want to sign on ocean customers as well,” he said.

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