It’s tough (impossible, really) to keep track of everything going on in the startup community. But every now and then we hit on a topic that seems to touch on virtually every aspect of this exciting and transformative industry. New tech? Check. Environmental sustainability? Check. Cutting-edge research? Double-check.
You name it, and the Blue Economy – a catch-all term for an industry focused on improving the sustainability and productivity of oceanic industry – seems to touch on it. But exactly what is the Blue Economy? Where is it most active? And what trends and factors are driving most of the activity today?
Continue reading below to find the answers to those questions, and more!
What is the Blue Economy? What should Economic Developers know?
The Blue Economy is a collection of industries, resource managers, NGOs, and other organizations that aim to make humanity’s use of its oceans more environmentally and economically sustainable. It’s a broad sector, encompassing everything from smart shipping designed to lessen the amount of fossil fuels used to transport items from Point A to Point B to sustainable ocean-based energy projects harnessing wind, tidal, solar, and other renewables. It can even include law enforcement initiatives, like those that seek to eliminate illegal fisheries. Here’s just a handful of some major and emerging Blue Economy sectors:
- Marine aquaculture: the growing and harvesting of marine plants and animals (think shrimp, fish, algae, seaweed, etc.)
- Offshore wind energy: the use of huge wind turbines to capture plentiful wind energy found off the coasts
- Oceanic renewable energy: tidal and geothermal energy capture structures
- Marine seabed mining: the location and extraction of valuable minerals found underneath the seabed
- Safety and surveillance: industries dedicated to keeping the oceans, its resources, and the people who work with them safe and sound
- High-tech marine services: the intersection of high-tech and oceanic industry, including the manufacture and deployment of marine vehicles, marine AI use-cases, and much more
- Marine biotech: any biotech that relies on discoveries or resources from the oceans, including novel enzyme development, marine biosensors, and more
Basically, if an institution or initiative aims to make the oceans healthier and more productive over the long term, you’re probably talking about the Blue Economy.
5 Blue Economy Ecosystems to Watch
There’s dozens of Blue Economy hotspots all over the world doing exciting things in the area of oceanic sustainability. A recent big report on the Blue Economy by the folks at Startup Genone, goes into great depth about the startup scene in Blue Economies around the world. We’ve nailed down 5 of those diverse regions that we think are achieving especially interesting things.
While these areas might not seem to have a lot in common at first, a closer look reveals that they all tend to boast at least a few key characteristics:
- A relentless focus on incubating and developing startup companies
- A productive combination of government supports, academic resources, and easy access to maritime environments
- Cities and towns that young, highly-skilled talent want to live in
The Blue Economy’s Rising Wave: Mississippi
The Gulf Blue Initiative (GBI) is a world-class innovation cluster located along Mississippi’s Gulf coast. The GBI aims to bring together actors in government, academia, non-profit, and for-profit organizations to accelerate the progress of the region as a leader in the Blue Economy. It’s currently home to one of the nation’s largest and most diversified clusters of research programs, accelerators, and government agencies, all of whom work together to use science and technology to further economic growth. Mississippi has developed the United States’ third highest concentration of blue economy jobs and is rapidly becoming a global leader in the sector.
The region houses the Marine Research Center, an 18,000 square foot complex of laboratories and fabrication facilities, as well as test tanks for research in uncrewed maritime systems. The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) is highly active in this area, operating a renowned center for aquaculture research. Because of the involvement of USM and other industry leaders, this region of Mississippi hosts the world’s highest concentration of oceanographers.
No company better exemplifies the opportunities available in the blue economy – for communities and for entrepreneurs – than Ocean Aero. As the developer and operator of the TRITON maritime data collection vehicle, Ocean Aero recently relocated from Silicon Valley to Mississippi because of the tremendous variety and amount of resources available in the latter area.
Singapore’s booming high-tech economy, glittering nightscapes, and robust academic, public, and private enterprise ecosystems combine to create an inviting atmosphere for Blue Economy startups. It’s especially attractive to enterprises in the AI, big data, and analytics industries, as well as the life sciences and ag tech sectors seeking access to Singapore’s generous government support and huge pools of effective and skilled talent.
In discussions about the world’s most magnetic startup ecosystems for the Blue Economy, Tunisia sometimes doesn’t come up at all. And that’s a tremendous shame. Because, with easy access to markets in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, Tunisia has extraordinary benefits to offer to new startups.
Its access to resourceful talent, venture capital, and impressive entrepreneurial education opportunities positions Tunisia as one of the top global destinations for Blue Economy startups.
No list of startup powerhouses would be complete without mentioning Silicon Valley in the Bay Area of San Francisco. While it’s been in the news lately for some of its more negative aspects – including its astronomical cost of living – there’s no doubt that it remains a world epicenter for startup innovation, including in the Blue Economy.
Silicon Valley boasts expansive, US-based legal protections for small and large startups alike, along with substantial pools of highly skilled talent, legal representation, and vast amounts of available startup funding.
Situated off the western coast of Canada, the Atlantic region of Canada plays host to some of the country’s most exciting Blue Economy organizations, including the Ocean Frontier Institute and Ulnooweg. Its collection of regional venture capital funds is growing markedly and its strengths in the Blue Economy are exemplified by Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, The Ocean Startup Project, and the Planetary Technologies company.
Trends to Surf
So what’s the talk of the proverbial town in the Blue Economy sector these days?
First, it’s Europe’s preeminent place as the region to watch in this industry. Europe plays host to 39% of the world’s Blue Economy startups and produces – by far – the world’s largest number of early-stage deals. North America comes in at second place (with 31% of the world’s Blue Economy startups, by the way).
Second, public and government funding of early-, mid-, and late-stage Blue Economy startups is becoming increasingly common. The health of the world’s oceans is a priority for many nations and economic developers, and their critical importance to the ecosystem and climate has not gone unnoticed. As a result, more and more governments are pouring investment into initiatives and companies that promise to improve the health and well-being of our shared maritime resources.
Finally, as far as shining lights go, marine transportation and aquaculture are both grabbing a lion’s share of the Blue Economy’s VC funding, at about a combined $800 billion in investment.
The Intersection of Technology and Opportunity
One of the remarkable characteristics of the Blue Economy is its unique position at the intersection of several critical technologies and trends. We’ve already mentioned the increasing interest shown by governments and other public sector investors in this sector – thanks in large part to the improved understanding of the importance of environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation – but there are other players making big moves in the Blue Economy. And, for our money, they don’t get any more impactful than artificial intelligence.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is making a huge splash in the Blue Economy. Organizations like DeepSense – a group dedicated to increasing economic growth by accelerating the adoption of AI in the Canadian oceanic sector – has helped over 250 companies understand how to use AI to improve their growth and operations. They’ve conducted projects involving everything from the counting of fish moving through hydroelectric dams to the analysis of acoustic data generated by tidal turbines.
It’s tough to overstate how important AI is – and will be – to the future of the Blue Economy. And we’ll just have to wait and see to discover the next big development in this exciting subfield of oceanic industry.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of the exciting and fascinating things happening in the Blue Economy these days and what this means for Economic Development organizations. But we hope that we’ve given you enough info and inspiration to go plumb the depths for your next foreign direct investment opportunity!