Halifax-based MarineThinking, which has developed autonomous technologies for marine vessels, is now going through NATO’s new innovation accelerator operating out of Boston.

The company is one of seven companies selected for the first cohort of the six-month DIANA cohort being offered through MassChallenge in Boston. The program is designed to help startups broaden their networks in the defence industry with the long-term goal of landing contracts in the defence sector.

NATO – the defence alliance formed by the United States, Canada and most western European countries – announced two years ago that it would launch DIANA, which stands for the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic. The alliance is now working with about 200 accelerators and testing sites throughout the member countries to support the program.

“We’re the only Atlantic Canadian company in the current cohort,” said MarineThinking CEO Wenwen Pei in an interview at the Oceanology International conference in London last week. “On the defence side, we are trying to use the [DIANA] network to gain exposure to defence departments. It’s a long process.”

Founded in 2018, MarineThinking has developed technology that helps both uncrewed and crewed vessels adopt autonomous capabilities. The company, which has 30 employees, has been bootstrapping since its founding and has received various grants, including a $100,000 grant from Sustainable Development Technology Canada last year.

Pei said in the interview that Marine Thinking’s core product is an AI-powered control and communication system, Marine Tensor, which has been integrated on a one-meter portable vessel. It has ben sold to clients in four countries – Canada, the U.S., Germany and the Netherlands. It is also developing products for two- and 5.5-metre autonomous vessels, with the two-metre product due to be delivered to the National Research Council's Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre in April.

MarineThinking learned in November 2023 it had been accepted into the DIANA accelerator, and Pei has been attending monthly in-person sessions in Boston since January. In the second phase of the program, she will attend “Outreach Days” in Amsterdam and Washington, during which the defence departments and startups get together for networking and collaboration discussions.    

Making sales in the defence industry is a long process, said Pei, so MarineThinking’s goal in the DIANA program is not to close deals so much as gain exposure and connections in this key industry.

It is not the first Halifax oceantech company to enter a MassChallenge program in Boston. In 2019, Ashored Innovations won a US$75,000 platinum award at the Massachusetts accelerator, and a year later ReelData captured a US$50,000 gold award.

On Friday, the federal government announced that DIANA would work in Canada through two accelerators – COVE in Dartmouth and Communitech in Kitchener, Ont. The program will also work with 13 test centres in Canada, including two Newfoundland and Labrador facilities, The Launch and NRC’s Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre.