Small Business Programs Offer Grants, Pearls Of Wisdom to Maryland Oyster Farmers

When he started out on Hooper’s Island six years ago, Ted Cooney thought he could manage his oyster farm all by himself. Ted realized all too soon that he needed to hire watermen who were willing to rise early each morning and pull up oyster cages from the bottom of Chesapeake Bay.  He also learned the value of seeking financial help to keep his small business afloat.

Cooney, the founder of Madhouse Oysters, considers himself the “poster child” for accessing funds from state agencies to help make his small business work. The former boat builder who fished in Alaska before starting a healthcare financial services company with his father has been around the small business block. Cooney has taken advantage of state programs aimed at small businesses including the Maryland Industrial Partnership, which offers grants of up to $100,000 per year for existing companies and $90,000 a year for start-ups, and the Technology Development Corporation, which provides seed-funding for local entrepreneurs with fledging concepts.

Libby Hikind, founder and CEO of, said there are plenty of opportunities including grants to fund small businesses. The challenge for entrepreneurs is to identify which grants match their ideas.

Not too long ago, the future of oyster farming was as murky as the muddy waters of the Chesapeake Bay. But now, oyster farming is roaring back from the brink of extinction, thanks to state programs, such as  which offers research grants that provide strategic support for coastal and marine science projects in the bay region.

Cooney might have thrown in the towel himself. The long hours were driving him out of his mind – thus, the name Madhouse Oysters. To his credit, he applied for the grant listed above, which provided him with technical advice about aquaculture, small business financing and public policy.

Today, Cooney, who has taken on two partners, and he no longer thinks about selling his oyster farm. He is pleased that the state is encouraging aquaculture, but more thrilled that oyster bars are popping up everywhere along coastal Maryland.

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