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Founder Profile: Zach Stein, CEO — Osmo Systems

At Imagine H2O, we’ve been blessed (again) with a cracking group of companies in the 2018 Accelerator. Having all 12 in one place during the IH2O SF Week was a constructive carnival of working hard and playing hard. It was deeply challenging to pick our winners and runners up, but the judges really saw something different in the founder of Osmo Systems. Zach is relaxed, focused, and an excellent presenter, really communicating that he finds the business of being a founder fun. It’s an underrated thing — the more fun a founder is having, the better they can cope when the path of the company (inevitably at one time or another) becomes not fun. Zach has a great product in a very attractive market, and he was a worthy winner of the overall process. He joined us to give our network more of an idea of the man and the mission…

Zach (right) with IH2O’s Nashelley Kaplan-Dailey at WaterGala 2018 in March after being named as the top company in this year’s IH2O Accelerator (Photo: Nick Otto)

Zach, you founded and run Osmo Systems, the top company in Imagine H2O’s 2018 Accelerator. Who are you?

Born and raised in the Bay Area with my cofounder, so yes I’m a multi-time (serial?) founder and CEO of Osmo Systems in Oakland. We make proprietary monitoring systems to help shrimp farmers dramatically improve production for the same cost they are paying today for manual testing. At IH2O’s SF Week I was known as “The Shrimp Guy”. Which is fine.

Where did you get the idea for Osmo Systems?

Our efforts in Osmo have always been mission-driven, but we began focusing on a different space with our tech — hydroponics and indoor farming. It was only at the beginning of 2017 that we started getting attention from shrimp farmers and we made the pivot to aquaculture so we could make an impact on the sustainability of the seafood industry. It’s a wide-open space with a ton of opportunity to make real impact on a variety of operational areas.

What’s the core value you provide for your customer?

Manual monitoring is stifling growth as the shrimp industry suffers from volatile and generally poor growth, food conversion, and survival rates compared to other species. It is an industry that tech has ignored and one which continuous monitoring and big data can make a significant impact. As I put it to the IH2O judges, this is a fun product to sell because the value is so obvious to anyone who operates a shrimp pond.

What’s unique about selling into the Aquaculture market? It’s a new one for Imagine H2O.

It’s large, growing incredibly quickly, and is international. I’ve just returned from a demo tour that began in China and ended in Thailand. What’s exciting for us is that pretty much every sale is evangelical as the industry is still primarily monitored and generally operated offline. We’re spreading the good word of the advantages of going digital for the economics and sustainability of the industry.

What’s the biggest thing you have learned as a founder?

Easy one — how important your network is. The Rolodex is gold, whether you build it yourself or you plug in to it through investors, advisors, board members, and accelerators like IH2O.

What are your priorities now the seed round is out of the way, and operating capital is less of an issue?

Total focus on bringing our product to market. We have four pilot partners that will validate our tech as well as the operational and financial impacts. Next step is just to nail all four. If that happens, we’re in a good place.

What is your larger vision for Osmo Systems?

Making farmed seafood healthier, tastier, more sustainable, and more economical than large scale commercial fishing. The more protein we can get from land or inland renewable ponds and nets, the safer wild populations will be. The prognosis for wild populations is frightening. We want to help consumers make easier purchasing decisions so we can keep wild fish in the sea.

Finally, sum up your IH2O experience so far in 3 words.

VICTORIOUS (just kidding!!). Energizing, great founders, impact. I took four. Sue me.

We won’t. Thanks for joining us.

Zach and the team have a very exciting 2018 ahead of them. Feel free to reach out to him directly at zach@osmobot.com. Stay tuned through @imagineh2o on Twitter for the latest updates on the 2018 Accelerator companies.