Your Place in the New Blue Economy

Your Place in the New Blue Economy

The insights you need to know to take your ocean innovation to the next level

May 9, 2022


Welcome to our latest article in the GIST Oceans Series… we are proud to be a part of the next wave of innovation transforming our planet for the better. We work hard to make sure every innovator who has a great idea has the opportunity to make an impact, and when it comes to building our blue future, this impact is more important than ever. Do you have a great idea, but aren’t sure if it has a part to play in ocean innovation? Do you want to get started, but are worried you won’t know how to make your ocean innovation succeed? Join us as we explore the opportunities, challenges, and regional perspectives that are building the blue economy, one innovation at a time. Whether you are a founder, an investor, or part of the innovation ecosystem, your voice has an important part to play in building our blue future; read on to learn more about how to make it count! 

Does my venture count as a blue startup?

The global ocean innovation ecosystem is surprisingly broad. While many startups, ventures, and innovations do directly impact and work with oceans, a deeper analysis indicates that, like many large-scale earth systems, most things go back to the source. That is, that most products, solutions, or innovations have an impact on the Earth, whether positive or negative. And considering that the Earth is mostly water, that means that many, many more human activities have an impact on our oceans than we might realize. This historically has led to the fact that many human activities, from microplastics to agricultural runoff, have strained the health of our oceans. It is also worth looking at what the flip side of this equation might be: If most human activities affect ocean health, then most innovations can help solve the ocean challenge. We can take this frame of mind and use it to empower our innovation processes. Don’t think your innovation has anything to do with ocean health? Think again! 

Understanding your ocean impacts in a cradle-to-grave (or cradle-to-cradle!) analysis is essential to building a holistically sustainable product or solution, which is a vital task in its own right. But there are also incredible strategic benefits for thinking about ocean impacts. The first is expanding potential customer-bases–you may have a product-market fit in sectors you had not realized. This also opens up possibilities for new partnership strategies, whether in private-public partnerships, associations with academic or research institutions, or regional initiatives (RFPs, etc.). Perhaps most vitally though, is how it might allow ventures new pathways to secure meaningful funding. There are numerous and diverse opportunities for ocean innovation funding emerging every day. Governments, private capital, and grant-giving organizations are beginning to realize the vital role ocean health plays in building a healthy and sustainable global future, and are putting resources towards these values. In many of these processes, a far-wider and more comprehensive understanding of ocean innovation is informing decision making, and many more types of innovation are compatible with this funding. For instance, we can look at the World Bank’s Guidelines for Blue Finance list of project types eligible for blue funding and realize that there is a lot we might not have expected. Many innovation types can fall into these categories, including biodegradable plastics and packaging alternatives, innovations in cosmetics like phosphate-free products (even things like biodegradable toothpaste!), IoT (Internet of Things) innovation and sensor development, and sustainable tourism services all can qualify for blue financing. This larger scale of thinking will help your ideation process, and you may find new opportunities along the way! 

What are emerging opportunities in ocean innovation?

There are clearly many ways to get involved in using innovation to build better when it comes to ocean health. Some of these are surprising, but all of them are vital and need innovation, now more than ever. Three large pillars of the current and future ocean economy are fisheries, aquaculture, and wind power, and there are numerous opportunities within them. The aforementioned World Bank’s Guidelines for Blue Finance list of project types include tons of eligible sectors, including water supply and sanitation, ocean friendly products, ocean friendly chemicals and plastics, sustainable shipping and port logistics, value chains for fisheries, aquaculture, and seafood, marine ecosystem restoration, sustainable tourism, and offshore renewable energy. 

New technologies and strategies are playing an essential role in all of the above, and there is endless potential for innovation. Technology is allowing for innovation across the board, making possible marine simulation, remote monitoring and predictive maintenance, autonomous vehicles, smart protective coatings, forensic seafood traceability, decarbonization, deep-seabed mining, lab-grown seafood and the development of single-cell fish proteins. There are technological solutions that include everything from probiotics for oysters to ocean reconnaissance drones, to the extremely futuristic, like entire resilient cities that can float on the water and virtual reality tourism. Imagine how many creative innovations will be needed for an entire city- Developing a solution that serves as an integral part of a larger product is a popular and viable path for numerous entrepreneurs. Preparing for our shared ocean future also means building the right skills and insights, particularly when raising the next generation of ocean innovators… In addition to the incredible ocean innovators of the GIST community, the next generation of ocean innovators from around the world are building solutions that address sustainable development goals. The best is yet to come when it comes to ocean innovation, and we all have an essential role to play in it. No matter what industry or innovation type you are working in, there’s a place in ocean innovation for it. 

How do I get funding for my ocean innovation?

With all of the opportunities and diverse spaces for ocean innovation, the innovation itself is in some ways the easier part. Like with all ventures, acquiring funding requires a whole separate set of skills and presents additional challenges, as well as opportunities. The good news? Nine out of ten institutional investors are interested in financing the sustainable ocean economy. Investors and financiers are seeing that the future of ocean innovation is worth being a part of, and are starting to put the resources in place to make it happen. The less good news? A lot of challenges remain… While some ocean innovation is rapidly deployable, much of it can often fall into the category of deep tech, meaning that it requires large amounts of upfront capital with oftentimes slow, long-term returns, with metrics that are often challenging to quantify. Creating a comprehensive, big-picture investment thesis is the task at hand, and many organizations are working to light the way for investors.

For ventures already at work, there are numerous opportunities available, and more emerging each day. There are opportunities available from the World Economic Forum with UpLink, and many emerging opportunities at the UN Ocean Conference and with the Ocean Innovation Challenge. There is a new younger generation of mission-driven investment as well, with organizations like the Sustainable Ocean Alliance and the Seaworthy Collective doing incredible work connecting ventures to essential funding. The GIST Initiative continues to advocate for and empower ocean innovators, and we have continual opportunities for global ocean innovators to prove themselves on the world stage. 

What regional opportunities exist for ocean ventures?

Opportunities exist across the globe for ocean innovation. As we experience a shifting climate and global challenges, each region has a unique opportunity to make a difference. Oceans provide us with a framework for tackling these challenges together, working as communities, countries, and continents to build meaningful change. Around the world, regions are working to protect their ecosystems and fortify their industries, working together for our blue future.
For instance, the African Union (AU) is working to build the framework for an African blue economy. Strengthened by the AU’s adoption of the 2050 Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy, and supported through the AU’s Africa Blue Economy Strategy, the goals include addressing energy exploitation, climate change, environmental protection and conservation. The AU has correctly called the blue economy the “new frontier of the African Renaissance.” This is key as 37 nations in Africa have coasts and 90% of the region’s trade is conducted by sea. Maritime zones under African jurisdiction total over 10 million square km with vast potential for offshore and deep-sea mineral exploitation, with coastal and marine resources also playing essential roles as a source of food, energy, and economic development for the foreseeable future.

Other regions are stepping up as well. While there is growing awareness and application of the blue economy concept around the Caribbean and Atlantic, efforts to encourage the sustainable use of marine resources have often been hampered by factors including a lack of capital, inadequate data gathering, and limited public awareness of just how much value and opportunities marine ecosystems can provide. There are new opportunities emerging however, with expanded UNDP-GEF efforts under PROCARIBE+ that will include training on environmental reporting and natural capital accounting to increase awareness about the value of marine natural resources, plus support for participatory planning exercises for the more sustainable use of marine space. The PROCARIBE+ project will also work with the GEF Small Grants Program to engage communities on ways to preserve marine and coastal habitats in support of improved health and livelihoods. These Atlantic efforts are extending to South America as well, with incredible examples of ocean industry, like the recovery of the acha clam in Mexico, working with indigenous groups, small stakeholders, and ocean conservation organizations to build livelihoods while preserving and expanding environmental protections and sustainability. 

These models are being replicated and expanded around the world; important stakeholders like India, the third largest fish producing and second largest aquaculture fish producing country in the world, are working to build solutions for ocean innovation, with key strategies being aligned with UN SDG goals. Regions like the Middle East and North Africa are also rising to the occasion, with an exciting vision for recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that centers a blue future as a catalyst for economic mobility.

The Future of Ocean Innovation with GIST

GIST innovators are working to help build solutions all over the world, bringing their unique vision to develop blue innovation at the regional and global levels. We look forward to continuing to build and highlight their work at the UN Ocean Conference, where we will gather as a global community to envision a better ocean future, and work to make it a reality. Join us for more oceans insights with GIST Oceans Series, where we are excited to share more content and opportunities for your venture.
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