Aaron Stevenson, the CEO of Ashored

Aaron Stevenson, the CEO of Ashored

A key development in the Atlantic Canadian startup community in the past year is that we’re finally noticing ocean-related startups cropping up in a meaningful way.

Not long ago, much of the ocean innovation came from large Atlantic Canadian companies, service companies, or divisions of overseas multinationals. But OceanTech startups – meaning independent companies developing innovative products for export markets -- were few and far between.

That changed in 2017.

In Entrevestor’s 2017 Atlantic Canadian Startup data report, we counted 35 OceanTech startups, or roughly 7 percent of a total community of 486 companies. That means we’re now tracking more OceanTech companies in the region than CleanTech companies, and the number of marine enterprises is growing rapidly.

The ocean sector is unlike other sectors we track, because every company in it can be placed in another sector. Some companies are life sciences companies that happen to be working with marine biology, whereas others are manufacturers or IT companies whose products can be used at sea.

How Will the Ocean Supercluster Generate New Companies

Sixteen of these ocean companies, almost half the total, were founded in the last two years, and in 2018 we’ve learned of new companies to add to the databank. The recent startups include such young companies as Graphite Innovation and Technologies, which is using a graphene-based coating to protect ships hulls, and Ashored, whose smart buoys are designed to make sure whales aren’t entangled in fishing gear. These two Halifax companies this week presented their products at The Ocean Exchange in Savannah, Ga. Outside Nova Scotia, new companies like Charlottetown-based Island Aquatech, which automates the process of flipping oyster cages, are joining the OceanTech parade.

Eleven ocean companies – about one-third of the total group – completed our 2017 survey. These companies told us they now employ 68 people and recorded 2017 revenues of $1.3 million. They have raised $4.7 million in equity funding and told us they were collectively raising $3.8 million as of the spring of 2018. More than half of the sector work with universities in research or by using the institutions’ facilities – a higher proportion than the overall startup community.

There are structural reasons that the number of OceanTech startups is rising. The big news, of course, is that the Atlantic Canadian proposal for an Ocean Supercluster was one of five proposals from across the country to win a share of $950 million in the federal Supercluster program. The East Coast group is expected to spend as much as $360 million in R&D over the next five years, which should result in new companies.

In Nova Scotia, Innovacorp has launched its Blue Solutions competition, which last year received applications from 47 companies, including foreign companies from as far away as California. Six companies were accepted in the spring into the Dartmouth-based Startup Yard, an incubator facility for OceanTech companies. Startup Yard has received 21 applications for its second cohort, which should be revealed in the next month or so. 

Meanwhile, Dalhousie’s Ocean Frontier Institute received $220 million in funding in 2016 and should result in more marine research and development.

The OceanTech community in Atlantic Canada is in its infancy. But the metrics seen in the past two years are an encouraging sign of the growth of the community.