Wisconsinites who enjoy spending their time on Lake Michigan are no stranger to zebra mussels – an invasive creature that’s not only made its home within the vast body of water, but often congregates on boats and other surfaces.
Army veteran Tyler Rezachek is one such Wisconsinite. His frustration with constantly having to clean mussels off of his boat led him to identify a problem that was the catalyst for the creation of his startup AntiMussel.
Rezachek truly began relying on his entrepreneurial side after joining the Army in 2008 and serving over four years as a Chinook helicopter mechanic. His transition to civilian life was less than smooth.
“Like most veterans, I had about 30 jobs in the 10 years between now and when I got into the military,” Rezachek said. “I quickly realized I was unemployable and needed something to myself.”
The first business he founded was an industrial hemp brokerage in Plymouth. From there, Rezachek ventured into the landscaping industry. It wasn’t last December, when he attended an entrepreneurship bootcamp for veterans at Texas A&M University, that he leaned into an idea that had lingered in his mind for years.
“That was one of the most pivotal moments in my life,” Rezachek said. “It gave me the confidence to start thinking about AntiMussel.”
Rezachek grew up fishing on Lake Michigan and like most fisherman, he became quickly familiar with the nuisance that is the zebra mussel. He officially launched AntiMussel last May, hoping to provide a solution to the problem.
That solution is to have the mussels vacuumed up by boats that are set to patrol an automated path. Once the mussels are collected, they are converted into calcium carbonate.
“The innovation here is the process of removal (of the mussels), processing and the end product,” Rezachek said. “We normally get calcium carbonate from rocks. The process right now is mining big rocks, smashing them into a really fine powder, putting it into a pill form, and selling it. The rocks they’re mining are limestone, which are several million year old seashells. In my mind, you can just skip that million years and we can pull them off the lake.”
The calcium carbonate made of out zebra mussels has a higher purity rate than the product made from limestone. It is the world’s only source of renewable calcium carbonate, according to the nonprofit economic development corporation The New North. One zebra mussel provides enough calcium carbonate to make one piece of printer paper.
AntiMussel took home second place at The New North’s pitch competition, which was held at Titletown Tech last December. Aside from the $1,000 won from The New North pitch competition, Rezachek has also received $16,900 in grant funding. Outside of that funding, he has been bootstrapping.
Rezachek is hoping to launch a pilot program in Plymouth this spring. His goal is to remove a 250 square meter area of mussels. He’ll do this himself with the help of a diver.
In March, AntiMussel will also seek feedback from the community via an online survey. This will help with the customer discovery process.
“I didn’t realize how big of a problem this was until I started working on it,” Rezachek said. “It’s astounding. We’re taking about trillions of mussels in the Great Lakes. It’s literal piles and blankets of mussels across the bottom of the lake and we intend to suck them up.”