Flux Marine Awarded Innovation Voucher from Rhode Island Commerce Department

The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation on Friday approved two innovation grants — one for $50,000 for American Mussel Harvesters of North Kingstown, and the other for $49,972 to Flux Marine of East Greenwich.

The directors also approved a $250,000 grant to Polaris MEP, a nonprofit group that runs programs to help manufacturers. Polaris will use the award to develop a technology-transfer program with the University of Rhode Island. The state funding will be matched by federal grants.

The market for mussels has shifted from restaurants to individual consumers. To address that shift, American Mussel Harvesters of North Kingstown is developing an automated bagging system to fill bags with two pounds of mussels rather than 10 pounds.

Gov. Gina Raimondo, board chairwoman, attended the first few minutes of the meeting and said it was probably her last meeting as governor. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology is set to consider her confirmation as U.S. Commerce Secretary on Wednesday, with a full Senate vote soon after.

She thanked the board for increasing commercial real estate investment in the state, business loans, tax incentives and the development of the I-195 land.

“I’m changing my address, but I will do all I can to support the work you do,” she said.

Raimondo launched innovation vouchers in 2016 as part of her economic development plan to encourage companies to expand by commercializing new products and by gaining access to scientific, engineering and design expertise.

Companies with fewer than 500 employees are eligible for up to $50,000 in vouchers, which can pay for research and development help from academics and researchers. To date, the program has awarded 90 vouchers totaling $4.2 million.

The awards Friday went to:

American Mussel Harvesters, founded in 1986 in Galilee, produces, processes, sells and ships mussels, oysters, clams and other shellfish. The company has since relocated to Quonset Business Park.

The grant is to help design a new bagging system because COVID-19 has disrupted the market for selling shellfish primarily to restaurants in 10-pound bags packed by hand.

The hand packing is inefficient, the company said, and overpacking costs the company $44,000 a year.

The company wants to develop a mechanized operation and design a two-pound bag to sell to individual retail consumers to meet a shift in market demand. The project, including a redesign of a process to capture seawater from a new filtration system, will reduce operating costs, save 3,000,000 gallons of fresh water annually and improve productivity, the company said.

Flux Marine, co-founded in 2018 by Jonathan Lord, Daylin Frantin and Benjamin Sorkin, is developing zero-emissions electric outboard motors for boats.

The grant will allow the company to work with experts at the International Yacht Restoration School for Technology and Trades to use composite materials to reduce the cost and improve longevity and the performance of the engine. The composites will also displace more expensive and poorer quality metals, the company said.

Written by: John Kostrzewa, a former assistant managing editor/business at The Providence Journal, can be reached at johnekostrzewa@gmail.com