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Ask Solomon Frank about his typical workday after launching a start-up on a small tropical isle and he will talk about rolling out of a hammock for a day that includes fishing and swimming. Fishing is for sustenance; swimming is how he gets to work.
There is no checking email or seeing what the stock markets are doing because there is no Internet on the island. But pigs and chickens do get his and his co-workers’ daily attention; so do some food crops.
There’s also a cash crop to tend: seaweed. That’s where he gets down to the business of improving lives through economic development.
Solomon, who was raised in Salem, Oregon, believes seaweed farming is the solution to problems he observed in Micronesia, the land of his father. The people there need opportunities and options to raise their standard of living, he said.
“Nobody has jobs out there,” Solomon said of a particular area of Pohnpei State. “They live simply, but some very minor adjustments could make the standard of living a lot better.”
Solomon found the solution at Thunderbird School of Global Management. Since graduating in 2018, he has spent his time fine-tuning his plan, including traveling to Japan and Malaysia to observe seaweed farms, getting an import/export license and securing a grant from UN Environment and the Global Environment Facility.
“T-bird Solomon Frank, who was raised in Salem, Oregon, believes seaweed farming is the solution to problems he observed in Micronesia, the land of his father.” – Click to tweet
“Business wasn’t something that was on the forefront of my mind,“ Solomon said. “Humanitarianism was behind my drive. Business was a means to an end. I want to help people. That’s what I like to do. I want to do help on a mass scale.”
Outer Atoll Resources, a nonprofit organization Solomon founded with his father, Collen, is a first step toward that goal. It began with seeds, figuratively and literally.
In Salem, Solomon was raised with an appreciation for natural resources and how things grow. Farms are hard to miss there. His biannual month-long trips to Micronesia from the time he was 12 helped him develop an appreciation for how the lifestyle is there, too. The ocean is hard to miss.
It was a trip to Micronesia after graduation from Willamette University in 2014 that gave Solomon the idea to establish a business venture to address some of the underdevelopment holding the locals back. Thunderbird, he said, felt like the right place for him to work out the details.
A dedication to environmentally sustainable development drew his attention to the islands' natural resources. Instead of agriculture, Solomon pursued aquaculture on Sapwuahfik Atoll, where his father and family own land.
“A trip to Micronesia gave Solomon Frank an idea to establish a business venture there to address underdevelopment. Thunderbird felt like the right place for him to work out the details.” – Click to tweet
Thunderbird finance and global development classes influenced some of Solomon’s thinking about the problems he wanted to solve. During his final semester, he researched oceanography and the biology of plants on the island. The farm, he determined, could be inside the lagoon where there is good water circulation. Reefs offered storm protection for the seaweed beds.
Outer Atoll Resources grows seaweed on a farm 50 meters from the island. Seaweed is a versatile crop that can be processed to make carrageenan, which is used in all sort of products. Locally, seaweed provides islanders a nutritious alternative vegetable crop; it also can be used as a meal substitute for pigs , as well as for fertilizer.
The nonprofit also produces sea grapes and sponges. And it helps transfer knowledge by teaching the locals to grow, harvest, dry and bale seaweed for export. It is teaching locals how to make things like coconut oil and soap for their own use and income generation. It also is creating a seed bank and collecting supplies to encourage other islanders to start businesses.
“We’re creating infrastructure for their farms, and then all they have to do is tend to them,” Solomon said. “They’ll be good to go.”
Solomon has a firm belief that a rising tide lifts all boats. He will measure success of Outer Atoll Resources by growth in entrepreneurialism and business development. In the future, he expects to see higher employment rates in Micronesia. He also expects higher graduation rates as families have more money to put toward children’s education.
More opportunities to earn a decent living should also stem the flow of out-migration, Solomon said. Micronesians leave the islands to find jobs in places like the United States. Solomon said he wants people to stay home and live well.
“That’s the only reason people leave,” Solomon said. “They don’t want to come to the U.S. just to visit. They want to come to the U.S. to work and to give their children a chance at a better education. They have no other intention.”
“Outer Atoll Resources, co-founded by T-bird Solomon Frank, teaches Micronesian locals how to make things like coconut oil and soap for their own use and income generation. And that’s just a start.” – Click to tweet
Solomon has plans for vertical integration. With capital raised from exporting, Outer Atoll Resources plans to eventually reinvest in the business and purchase the machine used to process seaweed to create carrageenan. Proceeds from added value would stay in Micronesia rather than go to export nations.
Growing the business would allow Solomon to focus more on sales rather than production and perhaps move on to more projects in different regions.
At Thunderbird, Solomon said he learned that you have to think global to act local. “I would love to help in other countries. Thunderbird got me excited for development. If I can do this on a remote island, I think I can have a good chance of developing on a main land.”