Alyson Myers, an entrepreneur and president of Fearless Fund (an innovation organization), designs new ways to produce food, feed, and energy in oceans. The low-impact process saves fresh water, fertilizers, and land typical of agriculture. Converting carbon from oceans to products benefits the ecosystem. “Together, our team of oceanographers, engineers, and marine biologists asks questions that lead us to a new production process in oceans,” Myers explains. She believes we should use the 97% of water in our oceans to save the 1% of available fresh water for Earth’s expanding population.
To relax, Myers, a graduate of Wesleyan University and Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, kicks back on the dock of her coastal Kegotank Farm by shucking oysters straight out of the saltwater creek. Just beyond in the fields grows a test plot of halophytes (salt-tolerant plants), a collaboration with a university designed to maintain agricultural productivity with rising sea levels.
A believer in the power of everyday people to roll up their sleeves and find solutions, Myers conceived the idea for a floating aquaculture farm when the US Department of Energy ARPA-E called for ideas to grow marine algae at large scale in open ocean… for $80/ton. The goal: to grow energy crops for 1-10% of US energy. Her first thought: “Impossible!” Her second thought, as she stood on a Florida beach, watching a plant float by: “That’s the plant!!!” The team begins work in the ocean in spring 2018.
The project presents new questions every day, and she loves to put them before creative people. The process, as much as the solutions, is what she’s after—teaching us all to be observant and forge a better future for our productive and beautiful, ocean-filled world.
Her earlier start-ups include AlleyFilms, which took short films to non-traditional places; Couch Talk, an online therapy site; and State of the Arts, which highlighted community artistic events.
“She creates partnerships effortlessly and gets parties to work together. She is drawn to projects where the path to success is not clear or easy. Her core values revolve around ideas that are substantive and important.” —Pat Coady
Pat Coady introduces Alyson Myers:
When Alyson found me in May 2013 through one of her oyster customers who was also my friend, it was the first sign of an Alyson trait that one of my children’s summer camp counselors called the “big I,” for initiative. My career is investment banking, and since 2001 or so, I have been working on bringing that experience to conservation finance, particularly innovation. I welcomed Alyson’s outreach and we have been friends ever since. Some of my work focuses on water quality issues, and her work was extremely interesting.
Alyson wanted to discuss her Kegotank Farm oyster operation and related macroalgae project on the Chesapeake Bay, and to think about her next steps, including finance. We had a Starbucks meeting, at which time I suggested she attend the Yale summer Conservation Finance Boot camp. She enrolled within days. Alyson is a relentless environmental entrepreneur and innovator. A string of follow-on ideas and projects are growing based on her algae expertise and knowledge.
Most of my efforts have involved land conservation and water quality. Alyson’s related projects are innovative, which translates into the need for energy, passion, and patience. She creates partnerships effortlessly and gets parties to work together. She is drawn to projects where the path to success is not clear or easy. Her core values revolve around ideas that are substantive and important.
Alyson is a great asset to the field of conservation finance, and has much to offer those coming behind us. The field of conservation finance has a long tradition of mentoring and bringing along the next generation of practitioners. Alyson is an excellent link in that chain.
Pat Coady is currently Senior Director at Seale & Associates, Washington DC. Between 1989 and 1993, he was US Executive Director of the World Bank. He has had stints as Chief Financial Officer at such diverse organizations as a billion-dollar financial services company and a start-up rocket development enterprise. Since 2009 he has raised capital for mitigation banking firms and species banks such as that of the sage grouse. In January 2014, he co-organized a major conservation finance workshop in San Francisco, with follow-on workshops in 2015, 2016, and 2017 in New York, bringing together the leaders in the field. He also organized a finance track for the December 2016 ACES Conference. Pat contributed to the book From Walden to Wall Street (Island Press, 2005) and organized the 2007 Conservation Finance Workshop in New York. A senior fellow at Conservation International, in 1994 Pat co-founded and served as Chairman of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. Pat is a graduate of MIT and the Harvard Business School, and resides in Washington, DC.
“A creative, technical, and business-minded CEO with extreme passion for solving complex scientific problems.” —Alex Monahan
Alex Monahan, undergraduate student at Stanford University, introduces Alyson Myers:
During my sophomore year at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, I was fortunate enough to meet Alyson Myers. I was looking for a mentor to collaborate with on innovative scientific research, and I stumbled into Alyson. She is the CEO of Kegotank Bio, a company based in Washington, DC, that uses natural algae biofiltration to clean waterways. She fueled my interest in environmental innovation, and she helped me develop as both a scientist and a person. I cannot thank her enough, and I am so grateful that Alyson entered my life while I was in high school. It is uncommon to find a creative, technical, and business-minded CEO with extreme passion for solving complex scientific problems, but Alyson has all of these qualities.
Alyson and I worked together on projects at numerous sites, including a joint algae-oyster filtration system at Kegotank Farm in Virginia, and another research project at the Bethany Canals in Delaware. Whether Alyson is working on scientific research in the field or engaging in a business meeting on the profitability of specific types of macroalgae, she always has a big smile on her face. It is easy to see that she is a smart, caring individual with a passion for the environment and life in general.
Alyson is also hardworking and dedicated. Long before I met her, she was already determined to solve environmental problems with natural, creative solutions, such as algae biofiltration. Although I am across the country at university, I still keep in touch with Alyson and see her on school breaks. She has remained dedicated to her company and her goal of forming a cleaner environment. She recently took the time to pursue an additional Master’s degree from Duke University, and she has been published in the Duke Ocean Policy Working Group; her work has impacted colleagues across the world. I know Alyson will continue to pursue her passions and scientific interests, and each time I speak with her, she has new information to share from her journey in the environmental world. Again, I cannot recommend Alyson enough.
How do we get the world to work on a big problem like pollution that causes global change? What can I do?
First: Tell the story over and over again until it becomes a climate treaty. Say what you know; you don’t have to know it all. Even children know pollution is bad locally and disastrous globally.
Second: We can each work towards carbon neutrality, as individuals and as parts of the companies and organizations where we work. Buy from stores that work towards energy independence (check their websites—and if solar panels are on the roof or geothermal is in the ground, they’re telling their story).
Third: Innovation allows us to do things better. If we set the goal of fixing our pollution problem, we WILL incrementally produce this result every day. Problem solving is a culture. Let’s let it be ours. If we can solve this puzzle, we may find we increase the rate of solving others—a beautiful thing for the economy. Everyone has a contribution to make—keep your eyes open.
Several years ago I was experimenting with growing baby oysters in a shallow bay. The bay was choked with seaweed, making the project difficult. The bay seemed out of balance. That same day, I learned via the internet that the bay was responding to fertilizer runoff from the tomato fields upland (naturally, fertilizers grow plants)—the same runoff that creates dead zones in waterways. Further research showed that algae can be put to use. It seemed that an aquaculture system for the plants could remove nutrient pollution by harvesting the biomass and converting it to products and a revenue stream. I called university professors, wrote grants, was turned down, and wrote more grants. I learn, and I talk to scientists. I make paper and fertilizer and building materials that sequester carbon. One day our team will go to market with products that restore waterways. That’s the dream, and there are many others out there waiting for us.