An Award-Winning Coral Aquaculture Business Plan

tg-business-plan1Have you ever considered turning your reef aquarium addiction into a side business? I have. The reef aquarium hobby, like many hobbies involving livestock, is an enticing entrepreneurial opportunity.

Successfully maintaining a healthy reef will result in an abundance of coral. That coral, if left to its own devices, will reward the aquarist’s hard work by making every effort to kill off its neighbors. To maintain harmony and prevent turf warfare in a mature, healthy reef aquarium, one must periodically prune back the coral colonies. Here is where the business opportunity emerges.

What to do with the cuttings? Simply discarding them as waste would be…well…wasteful given the value of some of these corals. The hot “named” coral of the month could fetch an attractive offer from another aquarist.

This was the quandary I faced back in 2000. In addition to sitting on a pile of coral cuttings from my modest 120-gallon reef tank, I just started business school. My tank could produce enough coral to pay for itself, but the concept of scaling the production up to commercially viable quantities was exciting. This curiosity led to the drafting of a business plan for a large-scale aquaculture system called Tidal Gardens.

Corals at Tidal Gardens

The true value of a business plan is in the writing of it. The planner has to consider a great many minute details and make decisions based on often-imperfect information. It is a fantastic exercise for anyone looking to start a company.

Although valuable as a thought exercise, the Tidal Gardens business plan also helped finance the company. I entered the plan in two business-plan competitions, the University of Akron’s in 2004 and the COSE competition in 2005. In total, the plan won $32,000 in prize money from those competitions while also receiving feedback from business professionals that served as judges.

Plenty of people over the years have asked permission to read the business plan, and more often than not, the answer was no. The Tidal Gardens plan was a confidential document that had tremendous value, having not only contributed to a successful business launch but also winning prize money.

Clam and coral at Tidal Gardens

It has been a long time since that plan was written, and it now it is just fun to take a look back and see what assumptions I made back then that panned out and those that didn’t. There were plenty of good ideas that were never acted upon and other ideas that seemed great but, in practice, never quite made a difference.

I am sure there are plenty of folks who are interested in starting a business from their hobby, so I want to now share the plan I wrote that helped start mine.


If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to get our new posts in your email.
About Than Thein

Than Thein is the owner of Tidal Gardens and Advanced Reef Aquarium. Than's love for all things underwater began early on when dogs and cats were strictly off limits, but a fish tank? Sure! What started with a 10-gallon goldfish tank eventually turned into a 5,000-gallon greenhouse coral propagation system. In addition to coral aquaculture, Than's other hobbies include scuba diving and underwater photography and videography.


  1. Matt Filippi says

    You are an extremely knowledgable and giving person. You deserve all the success you have already earned and much much more.

    I’m glad I got to thank you for your videos at LEAR swap, but wish I had spent more time with you. It was also nice to see your family there as well.

    God Bless,

    • Chris Aldrich says

      Agreed, Matt! Than is an awesome guy with tons of knowledge he’s always happy to share with others. He is a great asset to this hobby and we were glad to provide him with a platform to share the TG business plan (and other articles) with the SWS community and hobby at large. 🙂

  2. Thanks Than for sharing this!

  3. It never ceases to amaze me how generous people in this hobby are at sharing their knowledge and expertise with others. Whether you are a beginner or an established reefer there is always someone willing to help. Thank you Than for your videos and more importantly your willingness to share all that you have learned.

    • Chris Aldrich says

      Agreed, Brett! There are some great folks in this hobby (Than included). I’m sure he appreciates your kind words.

  4. Andy Henson says

    Very interesting reading through your business plan Than. Thanks for sharing, I’m sure that’s not something very many businesses would share. I am just wondering how close your projections you made for expansion, sales etc have been?

    • Chris Aldrich says

      Absolutely, Andy, there is a ton of information and insights in his business plan. I hope to do a followup of sorts with Than to discuss some of the things you’re wondering about.

  5. It’s true that successfully maintaining a healthy reef will result in an abundance of coral. I think this is a great business plan that can help with that point. It’s cool that you kept the Tidal Gardens business plan confidential until now. That takes a lot of dedication.

  6. Evelyn (jaid) says

    hello Mrs Thein i have started taking an agriculture cores and i wasn’t shore if coral farming fits under that category, however it seems like something i would enjoy doing. are there any requisites to being able to have a coral farm? any degrees in particular? can a small place be a good business? I would like to make it as a part time (hours) business. I don’t realy know anything about corals apart from there pretty and they help produce a grate deal of oxygen for the planet. any information you could give me would be grate. thank you.

Speak Your Mind