Evelyn Tickle: Founder, GROW Oyster Reefs, LLC
The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Evelyn Tickle to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Evelyn Tickle: The UN recently stated we have twelve years left to find solutions to stop the effects of global warming before they are irreversible. GROW can help do that. The vision is to dramatically increase the presence of reefs as effective barriers and filters, as a direct solution to improving water quality in coastal areas.
I have invented scalable reef restoration solutions, including monitoring sensors for critical data, that transform unproductive marine environments into hospitable environments for oyster reefs, ecosystem regeneration and natural shoreline protection.
The beauty of the solution is its simplicity and the broadness of scope; organic, self-propagating and self-sustaining, it has a range of impact from water quality improvement, flood prevention, re-establishment of native ecosystems, increasing fish populations by providing protection within the reef for juvenile fish, and the bolstering of local economies.
This concept reaches across multiple disciplines and is larger in scope than others. The exponential growth of global warming effects are beyond a single solution—ours will mitigate many of the effects on coastal areas and create skilled light manufacturing jobs for underserved populations, including women.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
ET: I realized the potential global impact of a better solution than expensive, ungainly and unnatural seawalls and jetties in 2013, and started researching the oyster, as an engineer, architect and an answer to water quality issues in coastal areas globally.
GROW Oyster Reef Products are the result of a six-year-long research and development process and are the fastest growing oyster spat product available, equaling rapid repopulation of oysters, and are compatible with mussels and corals as well. In 2015 I formulated the mixture that is the foundation for our product line. I began rigorous testing by partnering with organizations that range from The Nature Conservancy to the University of Maryland. Working with MIT SOLVE has created opportunities to further test and develop new products.
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
ET: Deploying prototypes for testing turned out to be much more complicated than I had anticipated. To collect good data and measure impact requires a test site that is carefully monitored by scientists that are able to do comparative analysis and understand the variables in diverse marine environments. I am an architect and designer and having partners who are marine scientists has proven to be a valuable connection and taught me so much about the nuances of different coastal areas—an estuary versus a river versus a saltwater bay. The learning curve was steep, but there is excellent information available thanks to scientific partners that have been working on this for decades. A minor in marine biology would have been really helpful!
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
ET: The potential for impact and the connection with remarkably bright people all working together to find solutions, keeps me engaged, inspired and pushing the envelope. As a designer, there are always new ideas running through my mind and because of the diversity of environments that could use intervention I am constantly challenged to find the next solution—for everything from the Chesapeake Bay to wastewater treatment plants. I never have a dull day at work. The possibilities are too exciting and the amount of incredible work being done out there is impossible to keep up with. I am happy to be part of the solution…that inspires me.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
ET: As an educator of twenty-five years I have always told women that the world is theirs for the taking. We face obstacles—that is undeniable—yet our impact is immeasurable. Women that work well with others without agreeing to be “less than” are changing the world on a daily basis. I hope that someday there will be fewer obstacles, but change is slow, albeit steady. In the next decade, I hope that the young women begin to benefit from the tardy realization that girls have long been denied access to equal education, drastically affecting their career opportunities and professional recognition. My advice to them would be: fear has no place in the creative process, just make it happen and let nothing stand In your way. There is no way to calculate what the next generation will be able to achieve and I hope I am here to see at least part of it.
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
ET: Women have always been innovators; history is full of examples and we would not live in the world that exists today without them. We certainly would not have gotten to the moon as quickly as we did (Katherine Johnson) or have smart phones (Hedy Lamarr) or won World War II (Bletchley Circle). We need to continue the work of the women whose shoulders we stand upon and be a force for change by defying gender-based bias and creating great things. There is a sea change rolling across the world now as women are recognized and applauded for the incredible achievements they are responsible for and that cannot be stopped. We have far to go, but the progress in the past five decades has been enormous and when women are able to take their rightful place alongside the men they work with, the world will be that much richer.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.