Back in 2001, Brian Wynne didn’t just listen to his mother’s concerns about shark sightings in her northern Florida community. He dove into researching everything he could about the deadly sea creatures, determined to invent a gizmo to repel them.
The Huntington resident, who holds a degree in data processing and works as a commercial real estate agent, wasn’t daunted by his lack of formal training in marine biology or engineering.
Relying on the good graces of marine experts, who shared their research and accompanied him on seafaring expeditions, Wynne eventually formulated his own “secret sauce” for repelling sharks — a recording of an Orca whale overlaid with a sound he developed.
“I’ve been interested in sharks ever since I was a little kid,” said Wynne, 50, a longtime snorkeler, water skier and fisherman.
As the founder and CEO of SharkStopper Inc., Wynne now seeks to manufacture his shark-unfriendly noise in two varieties: an ankle piece to wear while swimming, surfing and snorkeling, and a watercraft unit to cast into the sea to protect people engaged in recreational aquatic activities around the boat.
The device could also prevent sharks from devouring a commercial fishing boat’s catch and, in a nod to conservationists’ concerns, spare sharks from getting caught on fishing hooks and entangled in fishing nets, he said.
Based on Wynne’s discussions with distributors, the ankle version could sell between $200 and $400, while the boat model would run $1,299. Currently, Amazon sells myriad shark repellents, including Sharkbanz’s bands for wrists and ankles that feature magnetic technology and cost $89.87 to $197.22.
As a newbie in the marketplace, with no marine biologist formally connected to SharkStopper and only his own company-conducted field tests positioned as proof that the products work, Wynne needs to establish credibility, experts said. His venture also needs funding.
Still, his devices are far from sunk, say experts. Their suggestions encompass a range of strategies, from bringing a shark expert into the company to getting the repellents into the hands of swimmers, snorkelers and fishers to score testimonials that can be uploaded onto SharkStopper’s website, sharkstopper.com.
“These things cost money, and right now I need money,” said Wynne, who has already poured $350,000 from his personal savings and $100,000 from friends and family into SharkStopper’s R&D activities, including field tests in Hawaii, Mexico, Florida and the Bahamas, as well as on Long Island.
The lean company has one employee, who serves as CFO and COO, and it taps consultants on an as-needed basis for such functions as product design and marketing. It leases space at Plastics Solutions Inc., a Bethpage company that has fabricated SharkStopper’s pre-production models.
In mid-May, keen to navigate to full-scale manufacturing, Wynne became one of the first Long Island business owners to skipper his operation to an online equity crowdfunding platform — a relatively new way for entrepreneurs to attract small-fry investors in exchange for a slim share of their company. SharkStopper’s funding goal is $100,000; as of Friday, it had attracted less than $2,500. According to equity crowdfunding rules, if the company doesn’t reach its target by Sept. 27, it receives none of the money.
Jason Best, co-founder of Crowdfund Capital Advisors in San Francisco and author of “Crowdfund Investing for Dummies,” believes Wynne should first cultivate a “crowd to fund” his products. That would involve Wynne’s joining social network groups devoted to snorkeling, fishing and other aquatic activities and positioning himself as an online resource for information. Wynne could also become a guest speaker at places like the local snorkeling club, saving the tail end of his talk to discuss SharkStopper’s inventions.
“The first time someone hears from you shouldn’t be with your hand out,” advised Best.
With the firm’s increased visibility, Wynne could then advance to a crowdfunding platform such as Kickstarter, which would enable him not only to promote his products but score funds from the public, said Best. For their financial support, backers should get a shark repellent, so they can help spread the word about its usefulness.
An advisory board of marine biologists and other professionals in the field can also add gravitas to Wynne’s company, said Best. “He’s selling a lifesaving solution, and he needs serious people who can say it works.”
On the scientific front, Stephen Kajiura, a professor in the department of biological sciences at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, suggested enlisting a third-party operation to observe the repellents in action during several trials. In particular, Kajiura expressed some skepticism about SharkStopper’s claims that its devices had driven away bull and hammerhead sharks.
These species “never encounter an Orca in the real world,” said Kajiura. “They don’t have an Orca association as a predator.”
In response, Wynne said he plans to go the independent testing route in the near future, even though he maintains that his taped field tests, which appear on SharkStopper’s website, demonstrate his products’ effectiveness.
And although Razvan Rusovici, an aerospace engineering professor with a strong background in acoustics, received shares in the company last year in return for his ongoing technical input and serves as its “scientific adviser,” SharkStopper is also in talks with a couple of marine biologists who are considering coming aboard as advisers, Wynne said.
Wynne acknowledged that his equity crowdfunding effort was premature. The firm continues to “build the crowd” for its products on social networks, while reaching out to private investors for funding. Wynne said he’s also amenable to partnering with an entity that could help take his business to the next level.
At a glance
Name: SharkStopper Inc., Huntington
Founder and CEO: Brian Wynne
Start-up investment: $450,000
Equity crowdfunding goal: $100,000