Bluetech Night at Venture Café

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Last Thursday, Sea Ahead programmed and hosted a half-day event at CIC's Venture Café Kendall in Cambridge. It was our first big programmed event of this kind, and we were thrilled that a diverse crowd of more than 650 attendees including the tech, maritime and aquaculture industries joined us for over four hours of presentations, panels, startup pitches and more about the emerging Bluetech industry. Thank you so much to our speakers and sponsors, as well as everyone who came out to join us. 


Here are some of the highlights from the program (and check out videos from the event here: :




Rajiv Singh, managing partner at Grandview Capital Partners, gave some context about the opportunity in Bluetech in his opening keynote, saying that he believed the "scope of what bluetech has to offer" goes well beyond that of other resource-based sectors.


"Oceans have the capacity to solve some of our big problems," he said.  "You talk about oxygen — 80% of the oxygen in the world... photosynthesis in the ocean is actually the greatest source of oxygen.  One variety of phytoplankton is responsible for every fifth breath that we take. ... And if you look at tidal energy — if we are able to tap only a fraction of one percent of all the energy that oceans have, we will be able to supply five times the global demand for power.


"The solutions to a lot of our very huge, big problems is right next to us (in the oceans), and we just need to channel a little of our creativity, education, and resources toward actually using that."


He also suggested that the time is now right to invest entrepreneurial and problem-solving energy into the oceans, because the increased capacity of tech and big data has made solutions more realistic to implement — and more applicable to a wide variety of fields. And he said that New England, with its research universities clustered near ocean resources, was a prime spot to create a cluster for the emerging Bluetech industry.


"The kind of network that you have and the capacities that you have — you can make a huge difference," he said.




The next session was a super-panel bringing together top innovators from a variety of companies operating in the Bluetech ecosystem, moderated by Kelly O'Brien, who covers startups, venture capital and tech for Boston Business Journal. Panelists included Julie Ferland, general manager at Shell TechWorks; Kendrick Repko, head of sustainable retailing at Retail Business Services (a company of Ahold Delhaize); David Dolan, VP of SLNC Ship Management; and Christopher Sherman, president of Island Creek Oysters.


While the panelists represented a wide variety of interests in the marine industry, they seemed to be a strong consensus about the big opportunity that currently exists in Bluetech.


"There has been a lot of technology in the marine environment for a long time," said Ferland, "But now, more of that is becoming accessible. Where before a lot of the marine technology was 'over there and out of sight' and was harder to see and grasp, now we have better data systems, and we can start to see what's going on on a global level. And what we're able to do with that data is really unlocking new possibilities in everything from how we operate, where your ships are, where components are, and how we operate within the marine environment. But it's also enabling startups that might not have the marine in mind — the marine industry was very high-capital to enter in the past, and that was a hard thing for startups. ... Now more of that is becoming accessible in the marine environment; it's opening things up because you can get insights from data that you might not have been able to get in the past."


Repko said that from a consumer perspective things are changing as well, as more people are interested in the sustainability and ethical practices behind the food they consume. She said that technology is now enabling a better understanding of where seafood was sourced and harvested, and how it was transported along the way to its eventual destination in the supermarket. Repko is leading the effort to make Stop and Shop's supply chain sustainable, and she talked about the need to make sure clusters of fishing communities all follow the same guidelines and standards to ensure.


Some of the major issues affecting Bluetech innovation are a result of the industry generally being very traditional in its mindset, said Dolan.


"The culture of shipping hasn't changed, bascially, in hundreds of years," said Dolan. And when shipping companies think about next-generations problems like emissions and ballast water, "the technology being thrown at these problems are basically old technology.  It's nothing that's innovative and new."


He spoke about the need to have startups coming into the industry, thinking out of the box, because the marine industry is facing new challenges that are essentially huge capital costs.    


"It's a challenge every day to look at our operations and keep things going," said Dolan. "Profit is a big issue, but our mission is also to rebuild the US fleet. We're taking some steps right now to look at innovation technology and education ... we're looking at trying to bring young, creative minds in ... and we're saying to them 'We're looking at some hard challenges in the next couple of decades.'"  


Ferland talked about some of the enabling technologies that are used in other onshore industries that are now being adapted to marine use — she cited some of the challenges in taking processes like automation or battery maintenance (which have been honed over time in the auto industry) into an environment where things are moving around and surrounded by water.


"As we get better at the data side, we're going to get a lot better at adapting those kinds of things that have been developed for land use," she said.


Check out the full session here:



Later in the evening, Sea Ahead presented our "Shark Tank" segment, where startups with innovative Bluetech solutions presented their pitches to two major investors that fund projects in the sector — Lisa Sebesta from Fresh Source Capital and Jacob Grose from BASF Ventures. Presenting startups included Nick Pelletier from The Oyster Common; Ryan March from WRI Solutions; Anthony Baro from PowerDocks; Matt Cusack from Mobius Labs; Chip Terry from OysterTracker; Dean Wakeham from XST; Daniel Cho from OnVector; and Mark Henderson from Audiocean.


Check out their pitches and see the sharks' reactions here:




The final session of the program was a series of "reverse pitch" presentations, where several prominent organizations operating in key areas of the marine and maritime sector spoke to the technologists and entrepreneurs on hand about the work they are doing and the challenges their parts of the industry could potentially need solutions for.  Presenters included NAMEPA executive director Carleen Lyden Walker; IBM research scientist Michael Passow; Kent Satterlee, executive director of the Gulf Offshore Research Institute; Alexander Dale, Sustainability Lead at MIT Solve; Kate Masury, program director at Eating with the Ecosystem; and Thomas Carroll, deputy department head at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport.


Check out their reverse pitches here:

SeaAhead Team