SEATTLE, Wash. – Whooshh Innovations, creator of the so-called Salmon Cannon, was highlighted at the America’s Small Business Development Center’s Client Showcase on Capitol Hill last week.
Whooshh is a Seattle-based company that has developed an innovative system that transports fish around barriers, including major hydropower dams, safely, efficiently and at less cost than traditional fish ladders.
“Whooshh is a great example of the kind of exciting and innovative clients that SBDC advisors work with every day, and that’s why we like to bring them to Congress,” said Tee Rowe, president of America’s Small Business Development Center (ASBDC).
Rowe said Whooshh was one of 10 Small Business Development Center (SBDC) clients from across the country who were invited to the legislative reception in the Rayburn House Office Building on Feb. 13 to highlight both the diversity of businesses that benefit from SBDC advising and the sophistication and vision of SBDC clients.
“Innovation and doers are alive and well across the country,” Rowe said.
The ASBDC’s Client Showcase was held in conjunction with visits to Capitol Hill by SBDC state directors from across the country. The Washington SBDC is a network of more than two dozen business advisors and two export advisors who work one-on-one with small business owners to help them start, grow or transition a business. The Washington SBDC is hosted by Washington State University and receives funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration, WSU and other institutions of higher education and economic development.
“Fortunately, Congress is very receptive to our message, which is that small businesses are the backbone of our communities and SBDC advising is a critical resource in helping them meet the challenges they face, from cash flow management to financing to cybersecurity protections,” said Duane Fladland, state director of the Washington SBDC. Fladland was joined in D.C. by SBDC export advisor Sharon Sappington and Sappington’s client, Vince Bryan III, CEO of Whooshh Innovations. Brian Kraft, WSU assistant vice president for Innovation and Research Engagement, and Glynda Becker, director of WSU’s federal relations, also attended meetings with the Washington SBDC delegation.
Regulations bog down U.S. implementation
According to Bryan, the Whooshh fish transport system is much better for the health of fish populations than traditional fish ladders, but U.S. regulations intended to protect U.S. waterways make it difficult for new technology to gain approval. Europe has a much faster approval process, Bryan said. In early 2017 Whooshh executives began meeting with Sappington, the SBDC export advisor based in Everett, for assistance on developing export and domestic strategies.
“There is a perception that working with the government — the SBDC in this case — slows down the process,” Bryan said. “We did not find that to be the case. We found just the opposite.”
Free SBDC research opens doors
When Sappington learned of the challenges Whooshh was facing in the United States, she initiated a significant research project conducted by student interns with the Washington SBDC Market Intelligence Research program. The team researched waterways across the country, especially in the West, to identify U.S. dams most likely to be ready and able to adopt Whooshh technology.
It’s extremely difficult for an entrepreneur to reach commercial viability with disruptive technology such as Whooshh fish transport, Bryan said, because there is no existing market for the product. That’s why the no-cost services of the SBDC are so crucial, he said.
Being able to talk with Washington lawmakers about Whooshh technology as part of the SBDC delegation was a huge opportunity, Bryan said. It provided immediate credibility and “enabled us to have a discussion at a different level, much more quickly than we would have otherwise.”
Kraft said he was excited to learn more about Whooshh technology because of its application fish passage around dams, but also because of the possible spin-off applications. “It connects to a lot of research we do at the university,” he said, in areas such as natural resources, fisheries, energy, sustainability and global health. The SBDC is an important resource for helping researchers connect with entrepreneurs in the marketplace, he said.
“It’s another example of how we can leverage the resources of the university to help tackle the big problems facing our country,” he said.