One of the biggest changes in the ocean innovation space in the last five years is the explosion of bluetech accelerators around the world.
Five years ago, an entrepreneur with an ocean-focused venture would have had only a few accelerators to work with, such as PortXL in Rotterdam or Braid Theory, which works out of the AltaSea facility in Los Angeles.
Today, there are bluetech accelerators around the globe, and clusters of them in locations like Atlantic Canada.
What’s interesting about the rise of the bluetech organizations is how interconnected they are, and the extent of collaboration between groups in disparate parts of the world. To a large degree, this is because every oceantech company has to have a global perspective because oceans dominate the planet.
“If you are an oceantech company, your market immediately becomes global,” said Braid Theory Co-Founder and CEO Ann Carpenter in an interview. “Entrepreneurs must scale their solutions beyond their local market to address the problems we’re facing in the blue economy.”
The blue economy has a unity of purpose, which is to build profitable businesses while nurturing the world’s oceans. But it also has a unity of market, because technology that can be used on salt water in South America can also be used in Singapore or Scandinavia.
What’s more, the blue economy is tied together by fleets of ships circumnavigating the globe, transporting goods and bringing technology to new markets.
“It’s unlike other sectors because oceans are really collective on a global level,” said Or Haviv, Partner at Israel’s Arieli Capital, which operates the country’s OceanTech Accelerator. “When you do something for a ship, it sails from Point A to Point B, so you have to talk to people at both points. If the invention works for Point A but not Point B, the ship won’t take it.”
When reporting on the blue economy, you’re immediately struck by the linkages between players in the sector. For example, Carpenter and Haviv, who we met independently of each other, not only know each other but are collaborating on a project in Miami.
There is also an informal association in the two-year-old Ocean Enterprise Collective, which has its own channel on the social media network Clubhouse.
Here are a few of the world’s leading bluetech accelerators:
Ann Carpenter, Jim Cooper
AltaSea was incorporated in 2014 to convert a 35-acre waterfront site in Los Angeles into an ocean economy park, and Braid Theory was the first tenant. It moved into a repurposed shipping container in 2016, where Carpenter and Cooper still work. Braid Theory is a difficult organization to categorize because it is involved in so many projects, but its core mission is that of an accelerator. It works with entrepreneurs, industry partners and other organizations to produce blue technology. It also works with clients, who range from the Canadian government to oceantech groups in other geographical areas, to support the global ecosystem.
Jonas Skattum Svegaarden
Norway is known as one of the world’s most active bluetech communities, and Katapult Ocean is a pillar of its efforts. It is primarily an ocean-focused impact investment fund that targets companies involved in transportation, energy, ocean health, new frontiers and harvesting. Since 2018, the organization has made 32 investments in ocean companies from 17 countries. Katapult offers a three-month accelerator program, working with a network of more than 100 mentors and partners.
Nick Chiarelli, Tim Silverwood
OIO has the dual objectives of accelerating 100 bluetech startups in five years and helping to make Australia a global leader in the blue economy. Launched in 2020, it is Australia’s first ocean impact ecosystem and accelerator for entrepreneurs making a positive impact on the ocean. Its facilities are located in Manly, a picturesque isthmus between Sydney Harbour and the Pacific Ocean. It focuses on such themes as ocean health, harvesting, new frontiers, leisure and travel, and transportations. For its first Ocean Impact Pitchfest in 2020, OIO received almost 200 applications from 38 countries. It will hold its second Pitchfest in August 2021.
We could have named half a dozen organizations in Atlantic Canada, as it’s now home to a cluster of support organizations, such as Lab2Market Oceans, Creative Destruction Lab Oceans, Innovacorp's Start-Up Yard at COVE. We decided on the Ocean Startup Project as it has its own cohort, and is assisting with the curriculum for many of these programs. In its first year of 2020, the Startup Project held its Ocean Startup Challenge, and awarded C$25,000 ($20,700) in non-dilutive funding to 14 companies. These companies went on to raise an additional C$1.2 million in dilutive and non-dilutive funding. The 2021 Ocean Startup Challenge will award funding in three streams: Oceanshot (up to C$200,000), Growth (up to C$100,000) and Idea (up to C$25,000).
The New York/Israeli venture capital fund Arieli Capital launched OceanTech earlier this year in collaboration with Start-Up Nation Central, universities, research institutes and industry bodies. It only launched in February and is therefore working on its first cohort. In an interview, Haviv said OceanTech wants to probe the impact of oceans on a range of challenges – not just climate change and ocean environment but human health and maritime information technology. “I believe it’s not about evolution; it’s about revolution,” he said. “We’re interested in technology that can take humanity to the next level.”
Founded in 2015, PortXL is the dean of maritime startup accelerators. Working with startups and scale-ups, PortXL describes itself as strictly a B2B maritime accelerator, focusing on such sectors as logistics, green energy and process industries. With an extensive network of mentors and partners, it offers programs not only in the Netherlands but also in other jurisdictions. Seventy companies have passed through its five cohorts in Rotterdam, while 12 have graduated from its two Antwerp cohorts and seven companies went through the program in Singapore.
Mark Huang, Alissa Patterson, Jason Kelly
The co-founders of this accelerator come from a combination of maritime, cleantech and tech sectors, and they have experience is such disciplines as business development, venture capital, and operations. SeaAhead started in 2018, when it partnered with the Cambridge Innovation Center. The organization has identified 850 startups in various stages of development within the bluetech sector, and has also brought together a network of “blue angels” who invest in maritime startups. SeaAhead lists 56 alumni companies on its website.
Gwen E. Nero, Karen Jensen, Vanessa Scott
StartBlue is currently accepting applications for the first cohort of its eight-month accelerator program. It is a collaboration between the University of California at San Diego’s StartR accelerator program, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Rady School of Management. StartR has already graduated 198 startups since 2012, while Scripps and Rady have worked with more than 80 environmental startups. Capitalizing on the 1,400-company oceans sector in San Diego, the program features eight weekly classes in the first three months, followed by biweekly site visits in the final months. One-on-one mentoring is offered throughout.