The fact that Pia Haecky and Jone Jacobsen were sitting in a coffee shop in Halifax demonstrated the international appeal of their company, and how the oceantech cluster is progressing in Atlantic Canada.
Haeky and Jacobsen are senior partners in MicroWise, an ocean startup whose technology assesses the quality of water that ships hold in their bilges as ballast. It tests water quality onsite in real time, saving ship-owners money and ensuring that water is discharged in ports meets environmental standards.
“Because of new global regulations . . . all commercial vessels have to monitor their ballast water before dumping it in host ports, otherwise it can lead to the spread of invasive species,” said Jacobsen, the company’s business development officer. “We’ve developed technology that can assess a water sample and very quickly tell if the water is all right to be dumped.”
MicroWise is one of myriad oceantech companies you’ll find being mentored in the region these days, but it stands out in one way: it is based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Its principals were in Halifax because the company was accepted into the latest cohort of the Creative Destruction Lab Atlantic, a mentoring program for a range of innovative companies, with a special emphasis on cleantech and oceantech.
The company was chosen for CDL Atlantic because the accelerator’s organizers understood the global market for the MicroWise technology, which is a combination of hardware and software.
At the same time, traveling several times from Denmark to Halifax is a big commitment for a young company that has yet to raise equity investment or generate revenue. The fact that Haeky and Jacobsen made that commitment shows that Atlantic Canada is gaining a reputation as a centre for expertise in ocean technology, which is one of the key steps in developing a cluster for the industry. For the next two days, we’re going to take a look at MicroWise and Ireland’s Xocean, two European companies that were accepted into CDL Atlantic and demonstrate the region’s international reach in oceantech.
MicroWise got its start when a team of scientists and shipping experts understood that new international shipping regulations on ballast water created severe problems for the 100,000 ocean-going vessels in the world. They devised a system that could instantly assess ballast water for algae and other micro-organisms. And they brought on Jacobsen to handle the commercial side of the business. The MicroWise system can test water in 20 minutes, whereas traditional systems require water to be taken to a lab for tests.
The company now has a minimum viable product that it is testing in such maritime markets as Denmark, Britain, Singapore, Japan and Finland. Each test is a single data point for the system, so developing critical mass in its data set is a slow process. “We don’t get a lot of data points, but the data we get is really good,” said Haeky, the company’s CEO, adding the company’s data will increase its value as it grows.
Haeky said the company eventually plans to apply its technology to other sectors, such as testing the quality of foods.
Meanwhile, she and Jacobsen are impressed with the quality and number of mentors they have found in Halifax.
“We’ve been struggling to find expertise in the marine space,” said Jacobsen. “But there’s so much in Halifax so it’s been a real eye-opener.”