Amelia Martin ‘23 ‘25 (CAHNR) is a surfer. She’s also an environmentalist and a budding researcher. These identities have coalesced to make Martin into an entrepreneur too.
Martin is the founder of Mud Rat, a company that makes surfboards with cores made of something you might not expect: mushrooms.
Surfboard cores are usually made of Styrofoam. The rest of the board consists of fiberglass and a resin coating – all of which contribute to ocean pollution.
“Surfboards are so bad in every way when you look into this stuff,” Martin says.
Determined to find a better way, Martin started with the idea of using plastic ocean pollution to produce more sustainable surfboards.
When she hit a dead end with that prospect, Martin discovered a much more promising material: mycelium.
Mycelium is the underground root-like structure of fungi. Mycelium has a mesh-like texture, making it very strong, yet still incredibly light. Mycelium is a promising alternative material for everything from packaging to furniture.
“It’s the best biological material to replace Styrofoam right now,” Martin says.
The potential uses of mycelium depend on the strain and substrate you use, as each will produce mycelium with unique material properties.
“It’s like a little puzzle,” Martin says. “With some mushrooms, you need to see where they grow in the natural environment and that’s what you have to pick out to make your substrate.”
For example, oyster mushrooms love to grow in sawdust, but don’t do well in manure.
Martin spent years researching and experimenting with growing mycelium to find the ideal mix of properties to replace Styrofoam in surfboards.
After growing the mycelium, Martin bakes or blowtorches it to ensure it stays in the rigid root-like stage and doesn’t turn into full-grown mushrooms.
There are some challenges to using mycelium to replace Styrofoam. Their molecular weight is slightly higher, which is a major consideration for a product like a surfboard that needs to float. It is also less easy to shape than Styrofoam.
But Martin says she has found ways around these problems, particularly being able to sand mycelium into the desired shape.
“We’ve been working on that since the beginning, so that’s our pull right now,” Martin says.
Martin placed third in this spring’s Innovation Quest competition, a program that helps aspiring inventors and entrepreneurs at UConn. She is also part of the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Summer Fellowship and the UConn School of Business InQbator this summer as she is establishing Mud Rat as an LLC.
“I didn’t see it becoming a business as soon as it did,” Martin says. “But some of the professors really pushed me.”
The name, Mud Rat, comes from an affectionate nickname her friend used for her. Martin says the name struck just the right chord for a surfboard brand, something “weird but memorable.”
Martin, who graduated with a degree in environmental studies in 2023, is now pursuing her master’s degree in plant science at UConn. She hopes to make running Mud Rat her full-time job after completing her master’s.
Martin says the resources at UConn for both her research and business development were some of the reasons she chose to continue her studies here for graduate school.
“I have access to a lab to grow my project, and all of my business mentors are here,” Martin says. “Every resource I could ever need to get this off the ground is here.”
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