Tech startups turn their attention to the blue economy

A reflection on the first-ever OceanFest event at Montreal’s Startupfest

By: Nancy Andrews, Chief Engagement & Communications Officer, OSC and
Amélie Desrochers, Executive Director, Novarium

Every year, Startupfest brings thousands of founders and investors from across Canada and around the world to explore the latest in tech, emerging trends and opportunities, and also to pitch and hear new, exciting ideas. This year, for the first-time ever, Startupfest included an ocean focused event called OceanFest – hosted in partnership by Novarium, AquaAction, the Ocean Startup Project and Canada’s Ocean Supercluster and with the support of many other ecosystem partners from across the country.

Set to outpace the growth of the broader economy, the magnitude of the opportunity in the ocean sector means that we need more tech companies who aren’t already thinking about ocean to consider how their innovation can also be applied in this space and the investment needed to do it. Oceanfest helped put a spotlight on this earlier this month with speakers who highlighted the role of ocean in climate change and many of the biggest challenges facing our world today and investors who agreed the time to invest in ocean is now. The event featured some of Canada’s foremost academic, industry, and investment leaders as well as some of its most promising startups with clear take-a-way around the tremendous opportunity for ocean innovation in not only helping solve problems that impact us all but also in propelling new growth and new companies in an ecosystem that is bursting at the seams with potential.

The OceanFest agenda included ‘The Next Big Thing’ pitch competition with $30,000 in non-diluted funding prize and the opportunity to join FLOTS’ 12-month post-acceleration program. Canadian startups showed excellent pitching skills, compelling business models with demonstrated strong market pull in front of judges from across the country. After deliberations, Blue Lion Labs, a startup using AI to reduce environmental and biological threats walked away with the top prize. Congratulations to all the startups who participated in the competition and made such impressive pitches.

Before vacating due to inclement weather and a tornado warning later in the afternoon, we gathered in a beautiful space at the Port of Montreal with 24 ecosystem partners from across Canada including founders, accelerators, and regional innovation hubs for an interactive roundtable discussion on how to increasingly work together to advance our collective opportunity in the blue economy and potential through Ambition 2035, but also propel the work of each other. To do this a series of priorities and next steps were identified under pan-Canadian collaboration, diverse ecosystem development, and a strong global ocean brand for Canada. Leaving energized, inspired and excited for what’s next, we concluded the day with a commitment to build on what we started at Oceanfest in the weeks and months to come and come back next Startup Fest with an even bigger ocean event to build on this momentum.