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Join host Paul Shapiro as he talks with some of the leading start-up entrepreneurs and titans of industry alike using their businesses to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Nov 1, 2023

You probably already know why coral reefs are so important—after all, they’re home to a quarter of all marine life. But do you know about seagrass? 

Seagrass not only provides habitat for aquatic wildlife, but it accounts for 10% of oceanic carbon storage, despite only taking up less than one percent of the seafloor. It also produces oxygen, cleans the ocean, protects against coastal erosion and more.

Sadly, humanity is destroying both coral reefs and seagrass forests, with oceanic warming and acidification taking a major toll, along with pollution and fishing. Because of us, the world’s already lost half of all corals and a third of all seagrass just in the past few decades. 

But what if humanity could be as effective at growing reefs and seagrass as we are at destroying them? Proving that is the goal of Reefgen, a startup pioneering not SaaS (software as a service) business model, but rather RaaS (robots as a service) business model.

Reefgen has invented robots that can navigate marine environments with precision and plant baby grass and corals at rates that are orders of magnitude faster than a human could. 

And there’s a business in this RaaS model. Not only are companies that want to pay for eco-offsets willing to pay to robotically plant new reefs and grassbeds, but so do companies that economically depend on vibrant ocean ecosystems for their livelihoods. 

Reefgen CEO Chris Oakes, a marine biologist turned venture capitalist turned entrepreneur talks about the company’s trajectory, its pilot trials in Hawaii, California, Indonesia, and Wales, and how it’s going to scale in order to turn the tides for our planet.

Discussed in this episode

More about Chris Oakes

Christopher Oakes is a marine biologist who specializes in deep-tech product commercialization and corporate development. Oakes holds a B.A. and M.A. in Biology from Occidental College. Oakes has dedicated his career to molecular tools and diagnostics, robotics, sustainable aquaculture and venture building. As CEO of Reefgen, he is setting the company’s vision around mechanizing nearshore planting operations and strategic direction to meet the scale of ecosystem restoration market needs in the face of climate change.

During his time at Occidental, Chris worked with the Vantuna Research Group focusing on life history studies of nearshore marine fishes, marine environmental monitoring, time series analysis and spatial modeling. He also developed laboratory procedures and analytical techniques for morphology studies of gastropods. Former companies and roles include: COO Sustainable Ocean Alliance, VP Product and Market Development NovoNutrients, Development Manager Liquid Robotics, Regional Manager Laboratory Corporation of America, and Director of Strategic Alliances and Venture Portfolio at Deep Science Ventures. Chris is also a long-time board member and R&D chair at the non-profit Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE).