GIST Oceans Series Brings Innovation to Lisbon

GIST Oceans Series Brings Innovation to Lisbon

GIST celebrates a successful launch of the Oceans Series, supporting global science and tech oceans innovation.

June 30, 2022

With the close of the United Nations Oceans Conference, we are proud to share the successes of our inaugural GIST Oceans Series. GIST Oceans Series was designed to be a platform for supporting global innovation in developing the blue economy of the future, and a way for our work to dovetail with global efforts towards this at the United Nations Oceans Conference in Lisbon. We designed and executed programs that would allow innovators from around the world the opportunity to share their visions on the world stage, meet and interface with other key ocean stakeholders, changemakers, and ecosystem builders, and learn about cutting-edge scientific advancements and business insights from leaders in the field. 

We accomplished all of this and more, giving innovators life-changing experiences that will affect the trajectories of not only their ventures, but perhaps of their lives. The Oceans Series is a key way for us to fulfill our mission as an initiative within the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. 

"Creating a space for innovative solutions to some of our most pressing global challenges, while providing the necessary resources and tools for them to advance, is at the core of our work through GIST. We recognize the critical role of innovation in solving the these challenges, including those threatening the health of our oceans. GIST continues to be a key driver of diplomacy, scientific cooperation, and a vital platform for the prosperity of future generations."   

-Alexis Lennon, GIST Program Manager, U.S. Department of State.

In fulfilling this mission, we were proud to be a partner to and host of the official U.S. side event at the United Nations Oceans Conference. The week-long Conference brought together some 6,500 participants — including Heads of State and Government, officials of intergovernmental organizations, representatives of civil society organizations, and other stakeholders — under the theme “Scaling Up Ocean Action Based on Science and Innovation for the Implementation of Goal 14: Stocktaking, Partnerships and Solutions”. Highlighting the important role of science, technology and innovation in overcoming hurdles to achieving Goal 14 was a major theme throughout the week, and a key catalyst for the activities of the GIST Initiative throughout the conference.

Over two days, we were proud to be able to host three exciting events in Lisbon: GIST Masterclass Fast Fashion To Ocean Action, TechConnect: Elevating Diverse Voices in Ocean Advocacy and Innovation, and our premier event, the Pitch Showcase for Innovative Water Solutions. 

To kick off the activities, GIST innovators participated in the UN Oceans Conference Youth and Innovation Forum’s "InNOVAthon" at NOVA University Lisbon, where 150 youth from around the world worked in project teams to propose various solutions to address ocean health and sustainability. The two winning projects that were awarded $15k were led by two GIST innovators, Rafeah Mustafa Kamal from Malaysia and Andrea Paz-Lacavex from Mexico. The event was co-organized by Sustainable Ocean Alliance, whose founder, Daniela Fernandez, announced at the event a wave of $15 million in funds to support youth ocean innovation, with GIST participants being the first to receive funding from this source. 

The first day of GIST programming began with the GIST Masterclass: Fast Fashion to Ocean Action. Facilitated by Tierney Thys, an American marine biologist, National Geographic Explorer, and Co-Founder of Around The World in 80 Fabrics. In the session, innovators got hands-on access to insights that are shaping the future of this industry. By bringing together global science and technology early-stage entrepreneurs and ocean advocates GIST hopes to spark innovation and accelerate sustainable solutions that contribute directly to meeting the UN Ocean Conference’s Sustainable Development Goals. Participants learned about ocean acidification and the socio-environmental consequences of fast fashion, and then brainstormed solutions to incorporate sustainable practices into their own startups or ideas in order to scale up ocean action. They had the opportunity to not only learn from ocean expert Tierney Thys, but get to be hands on with examples of ocean-friendly textiles, from traditional indigenous practices to next-generation materials science. 

Tierney then helped us kick off and moderate our next event, the GIST TechConnect: Elevating Diverse Voices in Ocean Advocacy and Innovation. Remember Daniela Fernandez, the founder who just secured $15 million in funding? She joined us for this exciting panel discussion, along with Corpus Christi-based ocean advocate Armon Alex, as the three ocean experts shared unique insights and perspectives that ocean innovators, and the diverse voices they represent, need to know to thrive and build the future of the blue economy–an economy that proves preservation and prosperity don’t need to be mutually exclusive. The event was opened by Deputy Assistant Secretary Maxine Burkett who celebrated the role that GIST plays in helping innovators use science and technology to build a better, cleaner planet.

Moderator Tierney Thys described “GIST is truly remarkable in its ability to attract such talented young entrepreneurs from so many different parts of the world -individuals who are working across so many different tech sectors... The program seamlessly pulls together innovators from diverse backgrounds and provides a wealth of opportunities for networking where even more innovations can occur as a result of the rich cross-pollination of ideas and solutions.” 
That creativity was on full display as these young innovators came together, helping us to imagine what that blue future might look like, and inspiring us to work towards building it. 

The events of the week culminated in the GIST Oceans Series Pitch Showcase for Innovative Water Solutions, an opportunity for innovators to share their unique vision for the future of water on the global stage. The event was held at a beautiful space in the Central Tejo Museum, in a converted historic power station along the Tagus River as it enters the sea–a unique reminder of the role science and technology have played in fostering humanity’s connection to the water throughout the ages. The event was emceed by Patricia Furtado de Mendonça, oceans advocate and founder of Aqua-Mater, as the  audience filled with ecosystem builders and ocean advocates, as well as a public eager to learn more about what the future holds for ocean innovation. The innovators did not disappoint. Having 3 minutes to share their pitches, each one was a testament to the entrepreneurial and creative spirit that is indicative of people deeply connected to the communities they serve- and the role science and technology can play in deepening and sustaining that connection. They showcased innovative solutions to some of the most pressing water challenges of today, from next generation energy sources to recycled bioplastics, sustainable and traceable fishing networks to kelp forest restoration and carbon sequestration.

The event was joined by Assistant Secretary Monica Medina, NOAA Administrator Richard W. Spinrad, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality Brenda Mallory, and Deputy Chief of Mission Kristin M. Kane. Each spoke of the importance of science and technology innovation in building sustainable water solutions, and the continued leadership of the United States in supporting global innovation.
Each presented respective awards to winning participants, who, with the gracious support of key partners including The Global Good Fund, The Angel Capital Association, Greentown Labs, and Amazon Web Services were awarded start-up capital and generous in-kind prizes, totaling to over $25,000.


The first place winner was Rituparna Das, of Hydrotec Solutions, a venture based in India. Hydrotec Solutions has created the Arosia system for water kiosks, which uses renewable energy and Internet-of-Things connections to bring clean, easily accessible water to communities throughout India. After becoming sick as a student from drinking poor quality water, she realized how pressing and urgent this need was not only for her and her family, but for communities everywhere. Currently present in three states of India, over 250 units of the cloud-based pay per use machine have been installed, which purify half a million liters of water daily. In addition to providing safe, reliable drinking water to numerous communities, the technology is also helping to reduce single-use plastic waste across India, having a notable impact in fragile ecosystems where it has reduced the plastic waste that threatens the region's aquatic life. 

In second place was Marta Uetela, of BioMec Prosthetics, based in Mozambique. After witnessing her friend's challenges in acquiring a prosthesis for a leg amputation, Marta decided to put her talent, knowledge, and drive to the test, building a custom-made prosthetic and along the way serving as a blueprint for women entrepreneurs in Africa. Her innovative prosthetics work to help the 90% of amputees in Mozambique who do not use a prosthesis due to difficulties in accessing them. BioMec prosthetics take just 24 hours to build compared to the conventional process, which takes more than 1000 hours, and has the capacity to produce 20 prostheses per month. She’s not only solving the challenges of access and affordability–each one of her pieces uses the plastic residuals from 6 bottles or 250g of fish net discarded in the ocean. In addition to her work providing life-changing solutions for amputees throughout Mozambique, she’s on track within 3 years to reuse up to 20% of plastic residuals from Costa do Sol, one of the most polluted beaches in Mozambique.

Selen Senal of Algbio from Turkey took third place with her startup’s innovative S&T solution. The technology she developed with her venture uses algae to treat wastewater, in the process creating a biodiesel which has the potential to be a meaningful source of sustainable energy, all while working to solve compounding challenges of waste management.  

The award for Outstanding Ocean Sustainability Entrepreneur was given to Andrea Paz-Lacavex, the principal researcher and founder behind SPORA, or “Sociology, Planning, and Optimal Restoration of Alga.” SPORA, a Mexico-based initiative and venture was founded to foster the development and implementation of the novel technology of “green gravel,” designed to help foster regrowth of kelp forests, an essential part of global ocean pastures, an invaluable source of carbon sequestration, and a key pillar of sustaining ocean life. The People’s Choice Award went to Ibrahim Mohamed of Aquatika, an Egyptian platform seeking to revolutionize the fishing industry by allowing previously distant stakeholders to be able to communicate with one another, creating a for more streamlined, resilient, and sustainable supply-chain flow.

The Outstanding Woman Entrepreneur Award was received by Adriana Mano, founder of Portugal-based Zouri shoes. With the goal of launching “the most ecological sneakers ever made,” Zouri uses multiple innovative technologies to bring this goal to life, from recycled plastic and rubber from ocean waste to an innovative sustainable fabric made from processed pineapple leaves.


Each of these incredible entrepreneurs represents the future of blue innovation, and we are proud that the GIST Initiative is on the vanguard of this youth-led movement to address ocean conservation. As Assistant Secretary Monica Medina describes, “GIST helps innovators from around the world bring environmental solutions to the most challenging problems… We have the solutions to our environmental problems, we just need to find them and expand them.”


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