48 Hours in NYC – Sea-ing Rapid Growth in Blue Tech & Emerging Investment Opportunity

In early October, I had the opportunity to participate in the first-ever SeaAhead conference in New York. SeaAhead is an organization launched in May 2018 to catalyze the intersection of innovation, sustainability and the ocean. Based in Boston, their focus is to work with startups and help them find financing, as well as increase the overall interest in the ocean by multiple domains to ensure the most diversity of thought possible to challenges and opportunities. One of the members of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, Ashored, is currently participating at SeaAhead and Innovacorp is one of their partners. This is a clear example of how new connections with Atlantic Canada are already starting to grow!

One of the key objectives of the conference was to help the investor community see the incredible opportunities in Blue Tech as, currently, the industry does not have a sufficient investor base to be as successful as it could be. This aligns with one of the challenges of the OSC – access to smart capital, and we were certainly happy to weigh in on this discussion.

We had a great warm-up to the conference with a visit to NewLab where we toured the space and heard presentations from several companies in various stages of development. NewLab was established in 2016 and is based in a repurposed building from 1902 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard – the machine shop for every major ship constructed during World War I and II. The space includes over 100 companies and 700 entrepreneurs, and while it does not focus exclusively on ocean, its location attracts many ocean companies. Beyond its incredible history, NewLab has created a place that inspires innovation with several designers as early tenants who helped create amazing spaces. When it comes to testing technology, the Navy yard provides opportunities that would require permits anywhere off Navy grounds. And, for transportation and ease of access, there is an autonomous shuttle service that runs from NewLab to the ferry terminal regularly.

Back at the conference, things kicked off with a presentation from Victor Vescovo, an American Entrepreneur who ran the five-deeps project, the first manned expedition to the deepest point of the five oceans. In August 2019, he completed his mission. Each descent included a scientist who collected various specimens as well as significant amounts of data throughout the water column. His plan is to provide the data he collected open source on the website, once available, to allow others to build on his work.

Ayana Johnson, Founder of the Ocean Collectiv spoke about her work and focus on solutions for a healthy ocean. More specifically, she spoke on coastal resiliency and the importance of planning ahead for the challenges we face with sea level rise. Today, there are 2.4 billion people in the world living within 100km of the coast, and it’s critical to help those not living in coastal communities understand this is an issue that will impact us all.

Key areas of expected growth in Blue Tech were a focus of discussion including examples of the regulatory changes that are impacting the shipping industry: air emissions, invasive species, and noise reduction. A great deal of discussion was also centered on the significant expected growth in offshore wind with a projected $300 billion in investment and an increase of 10GW to US wind energy capacity in the next decade.

The SeaAhead conference also provided companies with the opportunity to present 5-minute innovator flash talks, and included:

·      Marauder Robotics – the Roomba for ocean restoration.

·      Ocean Hugger Food – replacing sushi tuna and eel with plant-based alternatives.

·      Seatrec – creating electricity from temperature differences.

·      Knip Bio – high quality protein for sustainable aquaculture.

In addition, several panels throughout the day focused on the need and importance of increasing investment in Blue Tech and we heard from those with various ocean investment portfolios including Everhope Capital, Schmidt Marine Technology Partners and Closed Loop Partners.

Finally, I had the opportunity to participate on a panel with US-based Cambridge Innovation Centre and Singapore-based Heron Advisory discussing international perspectives on how clusters and accelerators can support new ventures. While all models are not the same, the importance of collaboration and multiple perspectives was a common theme throughout. This panel was facilitated by UN Global Compact who also spoke briefly about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. While the main focus on ocean falls under Goal #14: Life Below Water, ocean is a critical component to success in achieving many of the other goals outlined and shown below:

In the evening, there was a wonderful cocktail reception on the Peace Boat, a Japanese based organization promoting peace, human rights and sustainability since 1983. They have a single passenger ship that travels the world immersing their passengers in an understanding of sustainability issues and providing education at the various ports they visit. They are currently working on their vision of the Ecoship, pushing the cruise ship industry to a more sustainable design.

This was a very busy but tremendous 48 hours in NYC, and here are my key take-a-ways:

❶  The number of players in Blue Tech is increasing fast.

For Canada to be the leader it wants to be in the Ocean Tech space, we need to move fast, too.

❷  The investment interest in Blue Tech is also increasing.

Now is the time to build a technology company with an ocean focus! There is still work to do on education, but the interest is there and so is the understanding of how important it is to build our ocean economy in a sustainable way.

❸  It takes all of us.

We need to bring non-traditional domain expertise to the challenges and opportunities facing the ocean and continue to work together in new ways. This will not just take collaboration across Canada but with partners throughout the world.