In preparing our latest Canadian oceantech report, one thing that has been striking is the swift evolution of a national network of accelerators for early-stage oceantech startups.
Five years ago, any Canadian bluetech entrepreneur looking for a program would have had to learn the ropes in a general accelerator. Today, we can count at least nine dedicated bluetech accelerators, located in four provinces or offered virtually across the country. It’s a huge development in a little time.
“Over the last few years, new ocean incubators and accelerators have launched across Canada, which is beneficial to the startup ecosystem,” said Shelley Hessian, Manager of Start-Up Yard in Dartmouth. “These unique resources and networks help startups get assistance and plug into ocean networks all over the country.”
There are two reasons the growth of this network is important. First, oceantech is highly specialized , with its own fields of expertise and networks of customers. These connections can help the oceans entrepreneur access mentorship and markets that would be foreign to a general accelerator. Second, personal interaction is important in an accelerator so having them spread across the country helps give entrepreneurs the community experience that can be so important when growing a business.
A further factor to consider is that these accelerators and incubators are forming a true network . Many of them list each other in their roster of partners and cooperate together in programing.
Hope Scheller, Venture Manager
CDL is a competitive program that positions high-growth companies before wealthy mentors, who are encouraged to invest in the better companies. In 2020, it launched a stream dedicated to oceantech, based in Halifax. CDL Oceans accepts companies from all over the world. The nine-month program requires each company to fulfill certain milestonesto move to a succession of meetings and then graduate. The mentors are wealthy individuals with experience in maritime industries, who are encouraged to invest in the companies.
Dr. Shannon Bard, Executive-in-Residence
CVAP is being offered by the Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies, or COAST, the British Columbia oceans economy organization, and the Victoria tech hub Viatech. The first cohort of the program is being offered this spring and led by Executive-in-Residence Dr. Shannon Bard. The program lasts about six to eight months.
Jennifer LaPlante, Executive Director
Headquartered at Dalhousie University, the DeepSense innovation environment helps ocean-related companies to connect with data and ocean scientists. Its goal is to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning in developing commercially useful predictive models, analytical prototypes, and applications for use in the ocean economy. Its website says it has helped more than 250 ocean companies access experts to help with more than 1250 projects.
Amélie Desrochers, Accelerator Head
FLOTS is a multi-tiered accelerator offered by the Novarium Innovation Campus, which is dedicated to accelerating the blue economy, especially in Quebec. The first cohort of Flots Pro is being held in 2023. You can read about the first cohort here.
Invest Nova Scotia is the provincial Crown corporation responsible for economic development and innovation in Nova Scotia, and it offers a range of programs for early-stage companies. While oceantech companies could go through many of its programs, its specific bluetech programs include the oceans stream in Accelerate. It provides programing and $25,000 in non-dilutive funds to companies that are almost investment-ready.
Invest NS also hosts the Global Blue Innovation Challenge, which offers oceantech startups from outside Canada a chance to move to Nova Scotia. Winners receive $25,000 in non-dilutive funding and a letter of support for the federal government’s Startup Visa program.
In December 2022, Invest Nova Scotia announced the first six startups participating in its OceanTech Pilot Program, which gives early-stage bluetech companies the chance to test their pre-commercialization products.
Memorial University, St. John’s
Paula Mendonça, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, MUN
The Lab2Market program teaches entrepreneurial methodology to researchers at several Canadian universities. It launched its ocean stream through Memorial University of Newfoundland in 2020. The program helps teams led by a PhD or post–doctoral researcher to assess whether their technology can form the basis of a company. Some 17 teams went through the first cohort, held in 2020, and a second cohort was held in 2021 with 22 teams.
Donald Grant, Executive Director
The Ocean Startup Project aims to find, fund and mentor early-stage oceantech companies across the country. It is supported by ACOA, Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, and startup support organizations in several provinces.
The group’s flagship project is the three-year-old Ocean Startup Challenge, which awards non-dilutive funding and mentorship to oceantech companies based in Canada and in other countries. In 2022, the 30 winners took home a combined $640,000 of funding. Over three years, it has awarded more than $2 million in development capital.
Ryan Grant, Operations Lead & Manager of Projects
The Pier is the Port of Halifax's living lab, designed to be a global centre for collaboration on maritime innovation, especially as it pertains to the port industry. It opened in late 2021 and allows partners, entrepreneurs, researchers and stakeholders to solve industry problems and uncover new commercial opportunities. As of February, The Pier had about 40 organizations signed up as members and had set its sights on increasing the number to 50.
Shelley Hessian, Executive Director
Based at the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship, or COVE, Start-Up Yard has been running since 2018. The Start-Up Yard is part of the incubation services offered by Invest Nova Scotia. As well as office and workshop facilities, the Start-Up Yard offers programming, funding and mentorship. It aims to help early-stage oceantech companies to commercialize their products and services and move into the global marketplace.