The invention — a combined fish tank/plant container which uses the science of aquaponics to fertilize the plant with waste from the bowl — has become Coghlan’s fulltime endeavor. Coghlan was recently accepted to become part of the Austin Entrepreneurship Program‘s Weatherford Garage, and is trying to make the invention into a thriving small business, starting a Kickstarter campaign to fund the initial phase of the operation.
“I have been interested in entrepreneurship for a while and was looking for the right idea to convert into a successful business, and I think what I have has real potential to become something big,” Coghlan said.
Coghlan completed an M.S. in Applied Biotechnology from Oregon State University in 2011, and wrote his thesis on aquaponic technology and its relation to small sustainable business. He interned on an aquaponics company in Wisconsin, giving him the experience he needed to develop his own product.
The first decision was how to scale an aquaponics venture. Coghlan saw three main possibilite; a large commercial operation, a medium backyard system or something small enough for individual consumers.
“I figured that aquaponic technology had a great opportunity in the Northwest,” he said. “After talking to quite a few people about this range of sizes I found that most people were more interested in a small home product and there was mush less start-up costs involved with developing a system like this.”
The Goldfish Garden combines a standard fishbowl with a small planting space attached above. A pump attached to the bowl pulls water up into the plant, which absorbs the nutrients and delivers filtered water back into the bowl. In tests, Coghlan has come bowl that can go up to four months without cleaning.
Bowls are small enough to fit in kitchens or desks, and have successfully grown herbs such as Oregano and basil and small house plants. One package even includes a grow light for areas without natural light.
Coghlan has worked on the Goldfish Garden for more than a year, purchasing the materials for the initial prototype in July of 2011. Over that tim ehe consulted with a number of small-business advisors, including College of Business Entrepreneur in Residence Michael Curry.
Curry provided assistance on the business and helped get Coghlan connected with the Weatherford Garage, a select community of students who get a yearlong immersion in entrepreneurship, from developing an idea to starting a business and creating products.
For now Coghlan is trying to promote the Kickstarter campaign and get investors for the Goldfish Garden.
“The biggest thing I have taken from this process is that no matter how ready you think you are, there are always going to be things that you missed and things you don’t know how to do when launching a business,” he said. “I have also realized that trying to start a business is not a full time job but more of a full life job, especially trying to do it by yourself. It has been hard to break away from the constant thoughts that I could be doing something to advance my business and make it successful.”