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Local groups prepare to launch blue tech ecosystem

Mark Parker



From left: Linda Olson, CEO of Tampa Bay Wave; Alison Barlow, executive director of the St. Petersburg Innovation District; and Pat Mack, founder and CEO of PVM discuss parameters for a new Ocean-based Climate Resilience Accelerators program Monday. Photos by Mark Parker.

Area entrepreneurial, innovation and scientific leaders are establishing an ecosystem to support the nascent – and lucrative – marine technology industry as they compete for $15 million in federal funding.

In February, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that a local consortium led by Tampa Bay Wave was one of 16 nationwide awardees to receive new Ocean-based Climate Resilience Accelerator funding. The goal is to help support and scale startups that pioneer environmental sustainability solutions through technological advancements.

The initial $250,000 award tied for the highest amount provided and qualified the local group to vie for a four-year, $15 million grant. Proposals are due July 31, and myriad regional stakeholders gathered Monday afternoon at the Maritime and Defense Technology Hub to discuss their planned approach.

“We thought there was an opportunity to do something special,” said Linda Olson, CEO of Wave. “When you try to build an ecosystem, it takes a village.”

Her nonprofit organization has fostered business growth since 2013. While technology often bridges industries, Wave has never led a marine-focused startup accelerator program.

Officials with the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science and St. Petersburg Innovation District are lending their expertise. However, Olson noted that entrepreneurs will need additional mentors and investors.

Representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, the City of St. Petersburg, Congresswoman Kathy Castor’s office, Port Tampa Bay, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Tampa Bay Estuary Program, multiple corporations, local businesses and investment firms attended the meeting. They also participated in a brainstorming session.

“There are things we can do to help Florida protect its most precious natural resources and boost our economy,” Olson said. “Wouldn’t that be a great win-win?”

Linda Olson, CEO of Tampa Bay Wave, stressed the importance of providing NOAA with commercially viable products.

Alison Barlow, executive director of the Innovation District, noted that Tampa Bay’s blue economy generates $4.8 billion annually. Florida’s coastal areas boast a higher gross domestic product than 45 states.

NOAA will award up to five groups that propel the intersection of tech, data and marine resources – the new blue economy. Developing new renewable ocean energy tools is a priority.

Those efforts could include site planning for offshore wind, solar and aquaculture farms, tidal power generators, mitigating impacts on fisheries, creating new sensors that improve environmental observations, enhancing satellite or drone imagery and providing ocean energy monitoring systems.

Additional program themes include coastal and ocean carbon sequestration monitoring and accounting, hazard mitigation and coastal resilience, and ecosystem analysis to inform policymakers. Barlow noted that many organizations in and outside the Hub, Innovation District and College of Marine Science are already working in those areas.

“We would love any and all help because this will be pivotal for us moving forward,” she added. “A side benefit of working on this grant is starting to coalesce all of that and, hopefully, start to really build our regional ecosystem.”

NOAA encouraged its 16 initial awardees across 11 states to partner with fellow winners. The local consortium joined forces with the Miami-based Seaworthy Collective to form a statewide venture.

Barlow explained that the Collective would foster early-stage startups while Wave would work with more established businesses. Accelerator participants must receive 40% of the $15 million in NOAA funding.

Olson said helping blue tech entrepreneurs sustain and scale their companies “means looking for commercialization opportunities outside of just NOAA. We’ve got to make sure it’s a type of ecosystem that’s attracting investor dollars.”

And customers and buyers,” she said. “It’s got to be more than, ‘Hey, we’re building a technology we think NOAA is going to like.'”

Representatives from myriad public and private organizations participated in a brainstorming session to help inform the local proposal.

After the presentations, Olson shared the importance of providing some early “success stories” while other startups continue developing commercially viable products. She told the Catalyst that integrating marine scientists with innovators could accelerate those efforts.

Barlow said the group would provide a continuum of support to foster success. Olson stressed that people have created technologies for other industries that could align with NOAA’s goals.

“It’s not a huge pivot to their business,” she said. “In fact, it just expands the business opportunities for their new technology.”

Olson added that incorporating currently viable products that address climate resilience gaps would “make a case for NOAA that this is not the government just spending money in futility. This is an investment in saving our oceans … and having an economic impact.”

Olson and Barlow plan to host another meeting in September detailing the group’s partner network and what ideas they will include from the brainstorming session. NOAA should announce up to five awardees by the end of the year.

While the local partners like their odds, Barlow said they would establish a marine tech accelerator with or without federal funding. “We’ve got to keep going,” she said. “This is too important.”




1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Dr. Bill Goodman

    June 28, 2024at4:46 pm

    Hey, you all should count me in! You already know me! We make nanomaterials for the most extreme environments

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