AnitMussel attacks invasive zebra mussels

By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller

The Great Lakes have always been a key asset to the growth and development of Milwaukee. Now, as the world struggles to find the freshwater needed to support growing populations and economies, the Great Lakes have become even more essential.

But, there is something lurking beneath the water’s surface that threatens this precious resource by negatively altering its natural ecosystem.

Zebra mussels.

The mussels are an invasive species that were introduced to the Great Lake in the 1980s. They have invaded the Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, the Mississippi River watershed, and an ever-growing list of other freshwater lakes.

Not only do the mussels damage boats and wreak havoc on power stations and water treatment facilities, but they also take food from native species and leave toxic algae blooms in their wake.

Long the scourge of the Great Lakes, zebra mussels may have finally met their match.

Launched in 2022, Plymouth-based AntiMussel has a plan that will not only significantly decrease the number of invasive mussels in the Great Lakes, but it will also turn their shells into a saleable commodity.

Using existing technologies in new way, founder Tyler Rezachek plans to harvest zebra mussels from Lake Michigan and convert the shells into calcium carbonate, a commodity that is in demand in a number of industries.

Traditionally, calcium carbonate is mined from limestone. Using modified farm equipment, AntiMussel grinds the harvested mussel shells into a grade of calcium carbonate that is suitable for industrial use, like in the manufacture of animal feed or as a landscaping material.

“The bulk of the mussels will come from us driving back and forth in the middle of Lake Michigan and vacuuming them off the bottom of the lake,” Rezachek explained. “Once you get out past 80 meters in depth, there is very little wave action at the bottom of the lake and the mussels are in mounds and piles. It’s a pretty devastating picture the first time you see what the bottom of Lake Michigan looks like. You think it’s rocks, but it’s actually just trillions of zebra mussels. It is not possible to overstate how many mussels are in the Great Lakes. The latest estimate is over a quadrillion. That’s a number bigger than I can really comprehend.”

April will be a pivotal month in the development of this emerging business, and perhaps, the future of zebra mussels in the Lakes.

AntiMussel will begin its pilot program in the coming week. “Essentially, I am going to scrape together the bare minimum of what we need to pull it off,” Rezachek said. “We’re going to pay a boat captain to drive out in Lake Michigan and see what happens. It’s a startup thing- go fast and break things. We’re just trying not to sink the boat, but we’ll break everything else.”

The pilot program will help the company prove AntiMussel can successfully remove and reuse zebra mussels. A successful pilot launch will give the company the measurable data needed to be eligible for grant funds offered to remove invasive species from the Great Lakes.

The company has been largely bootstrapped with the exception of $10,000 in a Main Street bounce back grant and wins in a few pitch competitions. “The thing we’re most proud of is that we received a $5,400 grant from Antares Capital that was competitive for all veterans across the United States and we were one of five that were awarded it,” Rezachek said. This opportunity was presented to the company through the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).

The veteran-owned business has made it into the semi-finals of the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.

“Last year I entered with a different idea- it was a half-baked idea,” Rezachek admitted. “But the feedback that I got was some of the best feedback that I’ve ever gotten. I wanted that same feedback on AntiMussel.”

Rezachek sought feedback, but also camaraderie.

“I wanted to find that founder community. I’m in Plymouth… it’s nice to talk to people who are dealing with the same things that I am dealing with,” he said.

Phase Three of the contest begins on April 3, when 20 of the semi-finalists move into the Business Plan phase of the competition.

To learn more about this emerging business, connect with AntiMussel here.

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