Brian Wagner has a business idea that seems fishy. Or rather, less fishy.
His patented idea, FishED, is one of five finalists for the annual Carroll Biz Challenge, a “Shark Tank"-style business competition, now in its eighth year, powered by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce. The live finale is planned for Thursday, when the businesses will pitch to a panel of judges as they compete for $5,000 in funds, plus business startup prizes worth thousands more.
FishED stands for “Fish Escape Diversion," and Wagner said the main idea is that “it’s helping the environment, while meeting the human need.”
But what are the fish escaping from? Wagner is designing for large-scale water intakes from hydroelectric dams to reservoir intakes that provide water drinking to agricultural use.
Water rushes into the intake at high speeds, often bringing fish and other aquatic life with it. The idea of FishED is to slow down the speed of the water so these creatures can make their way out and give them an escape hatch. In traditional intake devices, there isn’t a secondary opening built in, Wagner said.
An analogy that he uses is the drain on the bottom of a pool. When you get close, you can’t feel it sucking in water because it has been designed so that children will not get trapped against it underwater.
“And it’s engineered so that hydraulics and water keep it functioning in the way that we want it to function,” he added.
That’s important because intake devices can have a big impact on aquatic life, even if they make it through alive and come out the other side.
Fish entrainment is when fish get transported out of their normal habitat with the flow of water. They end up in a new habitat where they can be an invasive species, overload the area’s resources or simply die because the conditions aren’t right.
“Even if they aren’t injured or die in physical contact with a diversion ... they can just die because of thermal changes, temperature, changes in the water, things like that, in those other habitats. So the idea is to keep the fish and marine life in the body of water that they’re in, and not send them to another body of water,” he said.
The idea for FIshED was a response to the Bureau of Reclamation’s prize contest where it seeks solutions from the community to engineering and innovation questions.
The bureau wrote in its call for submissions, “While there are exclusion methods for some fish species today, advancements are needed to improve efficiency of those protections, protect a wider range and size of fish species, and reduce the cost of operating, maintaining and constructing conventional fish exclusion methods.”
Wagner said, “They throw it out to the public, and you may get somebody’s perspective that’s not already in that arena. I’m a civil engineer. I work on site development, stormwater management, drainage, water. This is on the fringe of that.”
“The principles are the same. Engineering is the same, it’s just a new idea, based on that problem.”
Wagner is professional engineer who grew up in Pleasant Valley and now lives with his family near Taneytown. For him, thinking and innovating are a way of life in addition to a career.
“I’ve done so much stuff, from fire department to search and rescue. I had a search rescue dog for almost 10 years ... and just bounced around from idea to idea," he said.
The deadline to enter the Biz Challenge came up while he was still waiting to hear back from the bureau contest, so he entered both, in the hopes of possibly securing funding to move his idea forward.
If FishED wins the Biz Challenge, the prize money will go toward additional patent work and prototype development. The additional prizes — like consultations and graphic design support — will go toward developing the business.
He is exploring three different options, but hopes to reach a hybrid point where some standard versions of the devices can be licensed to manufacturers and mass-produced, while retaining the ability to do custom designs.
“You can’t get rid of diversions. We need the water, so why not make them as safe and as easily maintained, as cost efficient, safe for the habitat, safe for the fish [as we can]?” he said.