Small Biz: Rossville, Ga., aquaponics company makes finals in state competition

Small Biz: Rossville, Ga., aquaponics company makes finals in state competition

September 4th, 2013 by Shelly Bradbury in Business

Ryan Cox, CEO of HATponics and founder of Inner-City Aquaponics, speaks about his portable food system, which can be delivered around the world, at the testing lab at the former Rossville High School.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

A Rossville, Ga., company that offers aquaponics programs in Walker County schools has been named a finalist in a statewide competition sponsored by the Technology Association of Georgia Education Collaborative.

About 170 schools, businesses and organizations applied for the STEM Education Awards, which are given annually to recognize groups that promote learning in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Eight companies will be named winners on Sept. 27.

Inner-City Aquaponics is up against six other finalists in the corporate outreach category, including IBM, UPS and General Electric. The two-year-old organization builds farming systems that combine aquaculture -- growing fish -- with hydroponics -- growing plants in water, and does everything from demonstrations to lessons to full-fledged installations in regional schools.

"We're up against some real heavy hitters who are really doing good work," founder Ryan Cox said. "It's a real honor to be there."

The Technology Association of Georgia is the largest technology association in the country with over 20,000 members. The organization's educational arm focuses on preparing Georgia students for jobs in STEM fields, said Tony Cooper, senior director for strategic communications, and the awards recognize groups that are pushing STEM education.

"We'll need 211,000 STEM-related jobs by 2018 and in order for us to do that, we have to prepare our kids for STEM careers," he said. Those careers span everything from digital entertainment to the financial industry, he added.

Inner-City Aquaponics works with about 1,000 elementary, middle and high schools regionally, Cox said.

"From science to technology to engineering and mathematics, there needs to be a tangible way to engage students," he said.

The company designed a system for LaFayette High School that will let students raise striped bass, catfish, okra, tomatoes and herbs, said John Parker, coordinator of secondary instruction at Walker County Schools.

"The systems have been useful not just for our agriculture programs but for our math and science classes as well," he said. "They're really school-wide science projects. You could have AP biology go out there. You could have any of your math classes go out there -- they could calculate volume, water flow rate. And engineering because they're constantly looking at how it's put together."

Walker County Schools, Ridgeland High School, Rossville Middle School and Brookwood Elementary School are also finalists in the competition, in various categories.

Parker said he thinks the corporate outreach category that Inner-City Aquaponics is a finalist in is one of the toughest categories of the eight in the competition.

"He's got some stiff competition," he said of Cox. "If he does happen to win, that would be pretty impressive."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com.