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In 2022, a video of a stilted North Carolina beach home collapsing into the ocean went viral. The 37-second clip of large waves in Rodanthe taking down the house was a wake-up call for those across the country.

As many soon learned, North Carolina’s coastal towns have long been the front lines of climate change. Three homes in Rodanthe, all built in the 1980s, had already fallen that year, demonstrating the accelerated rate of change on the coastal edge.

Home to tumultuous storms and some of the most rapid rates of sea level rise and coastal erosion on the East Coast, North Carolina beach towns are grappling with uncertain futures as their coastline recedes. As houses quite literally fall into the water.

As shorelines erode and waters rise, many coastal communities are relying on adaptive measures like floodgates and seawalls, which can be costly to build and repair.

Others are installing buffers using salt marshes, oyster reefs, and other natural materials to create living shorelines for erosion control while protecting the natural beauty and productivity of the coastal ecosystem.

With this awareness, Nicholas and George Thatos, founders of Coastal Technologies Corporation, are developing novel, deployable living defenses to grow oyster reefs that will protect communities from land loss. Their reef-building device is installed by use of a top-bolt to drive its stainless steel coil armature into the sediment.

Stone plates and spacers are then stacked onto the armature. The plates function as oyster spat (larvae) collectors and habitat. The devices mitigate oyster predation, encourage sedimentation, absorb wave energy, and reduce erosion.

And unlike seawalls or seafloor-locked oyster reefs, the devices—made of stainless steel, natural stone, and bamboo—are easily installed and can be removed or repositioned and reused.

While the father-son team researched and designed the Oyster Stacks™ device (patent pending) on their own, they needed support to have them built and tested. Enter: Stardust Startups

Stardust Startups (Stardust) was founded in 2015 with a vast mission: to provide holistic support for early-stage entrepreneurs and startups in the areas of climate, health, and learning.

Since then, it has supported international impact entrepreneurs by providing them with over $50,000 in recoverable microgrants.

Coastal Technologies Corporation is the most recent project to receive Stardust’s support, including a $3,000 microgrant to fabricate the Oyster Stacks as well as backing to get the devices pilot-tested by a local living shoreline program

“Stardust’s support is expanding not just our initiative but the hope inherent in these new technologies.”

– Nicholas Thatos, Founder of Coastal Technologies Corporation

Not only do Oyster Stacks help prevent erosion, but they also build new shoreline by promoting sediment accretion. Staggered across shorelines, Oyster Stacks may help protect communities like Rodanthe from unprecedented land loss and help them reap the ecological benefits that come with a thriving oyster reef.

After several successful pilots (as of November 2023), twenty Oyster Stacks will be deployed in the research area at North Carolina’s Coastal Federation’s Living Shoreline in the spring of 2024.

The goal is to get results over an extended period (the next 1-3 yrs) on device durability and acceptance of sea life to colonize. This testing will provide insight for any necessary product modifications, as well as “proof of concept” that is required to gain further funding.

On a recent Stardust team call, co-founder Nicholas Thatos shared how his outlook has changed since his involvement with Stardust, “Stardust’s support is expanding not just our initiative but the hope inherent in these new technologies.”

Stardust gives emerging entrepreneurs a unique, nurturing place to create products and services that can become the foundation of scalable businesses for a climate-ready world.

Stardust does more than expand hope, it goes a step further. For early-stage impact entrepreneurs, progress is non-linear. Fear and uncertainty are the norm. To face personal unknowns and still choose to develop new products and services takes courage.

In our climate reality of significant warming and destructive weather, climate entrepreneurs, in particular, possess a special kind of courage. As Kate Marvel puts it in her article for On Being, “Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending.”

The pre-seed funding and human guidance Stardust offers stands out amid the overwhelming landscape of venture capital funding, crowdsourcing, and bootstrapping — all processes often designed for projects well beyond the testing stage.

For new initiatives with limited budgets and manpower, and those with the daring to enact their solutions, Stardust’s intentional and ongoing support takes the existing courage of these entrepreneurs and bolsters it.

“Everyone talks about supporting environmental initiatives and then when it comes down to it there is a lack of support. Stardust supplied not just funding for us but offered emotional support.”

– Nicholas Thatos

The organization itself is no stranger to courage. Stardust has not run from the developments that have complicated and defined human existence on our planet.

COVID-19 activated a shift for Stardust. Due to the global nature of the mission, the team was already familiar with Zoom, but the pause also allowed Stardust to realign. By increasingly coordinating its efforts with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Stardust was able to better position itself within the wider impact community.

At the same time though, the pandemic was presenting the organization with significant resource challenges.

In this period of re-engagement post-pandemic, Stardust has refined its scope. Led by co-founder and board chair Laura-Jean Palmer Moloney (Jean) and Fran Pigott Harding (board member), Stardust Startups is now focused on North Carolina. 

Stardust is honing in on supporting planet-first entrepreneurs developing innovative climate solutions along the coastal plain. They are taking the tried-and-true framework of microgrant support and focusing on climate action. 

In some ways, the transition makes perfect sense. Beyond Jean and Fran calling the region home, the problems of the North Carolina Coast are indicative of the world’s collective worries.

North Carolina is battling a rising need for housing and social services that accompany rapid population growth. Symmetrically, the global population of 8 billion is making it more difficult for nations to adequately increase expenditures on a per capita basis to ensure access to health care, education, and essential services.

Demand for new development in North Carolina is growing and existing infrastructure is becoming more vulnerable. The network of infrastructure in the United States is likewise struggling, posing safety and connectivity risks for the country.

On top of this, pollution from stormwater runoff is threatening existing water distribution systems and impacting the aquaculture productivity on the coastal plain. 771 million people lack access to clean water worldwide.

There is a global call to action to meaningfully address these interconnected issues. A call that Stardust is choosing to answer from home. Although the focus is local, the mission of Stardust is still grounded in the needs of the international impact community.

Sustainable Development Goal #13, Climate Action, and a commitment to the Blue Economy, the sustainable and innovative stewardship of oceanic resources, are the guiding stars of the non-profit. In continuing to learn alongside the innovative startups it supports and adapting its model, Stardust can apply its support framework to other communities in the future.

There has never been a more crucial time for impact investors to be connected to entrepreneurial climate initiatives through organizations like Stardust Startups North Carolina.

Investments in workable solutions bent on creating positive environmental change boost the impact these initiatives have and, perhaps most importantly, boost the hope of communities and build the courage of future innovators alongside them.  

Join Stardust and invest in hope and courage

In a time when both hope and courage are in limited supply, depictions of waves wreaking havoc need to be offset by videos of a smiling George Thatos standing ankle-deep in water, drilling in his new Oyster Stacks.

Are you a planet-first entrepreneur? Learn more about working with Stardust here.

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