World Oceans Day
On Friday, June 8th, SeaAhead hosted over 100 guests for our kickoff event in Providence, which was timed to honor World Oceans Day. The theme for the event, “Sustainability, The Ocean and Innovation” was selected to bring to the forefront the many startups, research groups and implementation efforts in the Southern New England region while recognizing the important role of cleanup activities that have returned the Narragansett Bay to both a thriving ecosystem and economic driver.
Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse opened the discussion by describing the need for innovation to both protect our oceans and stimulate opportunity. He highlighted that we can benefit from these issues commanding largely bi-partisan support. The senator’s talk was followed by Dr. Sandra Whitehouse, who showcased a similar effort that she has been contributing to in Los Angeles, called AltaSea. AltaSea sits on a 35-acre wharf in the Port of LA and their current focus is in building clusters for sustainable aquaculture and the blue technology area of marine monitoring, sensing & exploration.
After an overview of SeaAhead and our goals (see this earlier post for more detail), we shifted to the Town Hall session where we heard from many stakeholders including:
Startups: A number of startups in various stages of development were represented including those in their early stages like WRI, East Coast Heads and Tails, and LEAF Shellfish, to those with initial revenue like OysterTracker, Exocetus, Real Oyster Cult, Forager, and AgCore Tech, to a larger, venture-backed company Utilidata.
Investors: A number of angel investors were present, as well as a few funds including Everwatch Capital and Closed Loop Partners. Danielle Joseph from Closed Loop walked us through their strategy of investing in companies that reduce waste and contribute to a circular economy.
Aquariums: The CEOs of both NE Aquarium and Mystic Aquarium were present and offered their insight that aquariums don’t seem like they would be hot-beds of innovation, but they are often buyers of innovation for their work in exploration and education, are supporters of new innovation that increases sustainability and can be partners to entrepreneurs.
Industry: Lyn Harris with NAMEPA (North American Marine Environment Protection Association), comprised of companies across the marine industry, reflected that “NAMEPA promotes sustainable marine industry best practices and educates seafarers, students and the public about protecting the marine environment. Innovation is the key to creating sustainability in the marine industry as regulations, technology and safety are pressing toward greater responsibility socially and environmentally". The RI Marine Trades Association spoke about their current project to reduce landfill waste from end-of-life craft by working with the cement industry to accept old carbon fiber boat hulls as a feedstock.
Navy: The CTO of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Dr. Vic Ricci, offered his enthusiasm to see so many new faces engaged in the opportunities presented by the ocean, as many commercial technologies will have cross-sector applications. A new funding mechanism called an “OTA” will be starting soon that will make it easier for small companies working in the ocean realm to address federal government challenges that are both defense and non-defense related (more to come on this in a couple of weeks).
Academia & Research: The group heard from Brown University, URI, UMass Dartmouth and Draper Labs about research in each institution – from better understanding the impact of the blue economy on our region, to new devices for exploring the ocean to instrumentation for measuring microplastics. Two sets of graduate students spoke of new ideas for using robotics and data science to build new businesses that can address man-overboard situations and sustainable aquaculture.
The SeaAhead team is inspired by hearing from so many people contributing to the ‘double-bottom line’ impact that can be achieved through bluetech innovation.