Eric Siegel, Chief Innovation Officer for Canada’s Ocean Frontier Institute and the executive in residence at CDL-Oceans has posted its latest article on sustainable blue economy growth
Almost 8 billion people on earth rely on the ocean for climate and weather regulation, 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods, and more than 200 million jobs are dedicated to fisheries alone. Ocean-based activities are not a niche market. Marine transportation moves the majority of goods around the world, wild capture and farmed fish feed the growing population, and tiny ocean phytoplankton provide the planet with more oxygen than all of the world’s rainforests combined. Anyone who shops, eats or breathes depends on the ocean.
A new wave of innovation is needed to meet global climate and development goals
Because the ocean is critical to life on earth, the UN has proclaimed this to be our Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–30). Climate- and sustainability-focused global development is now at the top of the international policy agenda, creating risks for those in the commercial sector who are not willing to invest in related efforts, and possibly even bigger rewards for those who do.
The ocean is still considered a relatively untapped resource; the OECD estimates that the so-called blue economy will double in size to US$3trn by 2030. Now, we are seeing a rapid focus on accelerating the pace of innovation and commercialisation of ocean technologies, with an aim to both develop sustainable ocean industries and drive attractive financial returns for investors.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report, published in April 2022, found that many of the solutions we need to stave off a climate catastrophe already exist and are linked to the ocean. Now, the challenge is how quickly we can invest in, scale up and adopt these solutions to make a positive impact on the ocean, humanity and global economies. Innovative ocean businesses will be the primary catalyst and solution to the world’s largest ocean and climate sustainability problems—with pioneering ideas often locked in the minds of creative individuals who are part of a wave of start-ups working to solve the many challenges facing the planet today.
De-risking ocean investment
When it comes to investment, the ocean can be a high-risk and challenging place to do business. But the growing market opportunity to generate strong financial returns while making a positive impact on the ocean and planet is too great to ignore.
The recent rise in accelerator platforms is helping to scale sustainable ocean ventures and make the market more attractive to potential investors. Newly formed programmes, such as the Creative Destruction Lab’s (CDL) Oceans Stream, are significantly reducing the risk of ocean start-ups. They do this by evaluating the potential scalability of ocean-based solutions and then connecting the entrepreneurs with world-class mentors and active investors to boost the pace of ocean innovation and fast-track the commercialisation of technologies.
Rigorous mentoring schemes ensure that the technical concept and business plan of start-ups are robust, enabling them to be more ambitious in upscaling the technology, getting the product to market sooner, and driving attractive financial returns for investors within shorter timescales. Using this approach, CDL’s Oceans Stream has been hugely successful. In its first year, the non-profit helped start-ups in its programme create more than US$200m in equity value.
Scaling start-ups to reap triple bottom-line returns
According to the OECD, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life below water is the least funded by far, making up a concerning 0.01% of all SDG funding in 2019. Yet, it is clear that the potential benefits of investing in ocean innovation are vast – not just in terms of making a positive impact on the ocean and planet, but also by creating new opportunities for industries to grow and provide strong financial returns.
Impact investors such as Builders Vision S2G Ventures, SWEN Blue Ocean, Aiim Partners, Oceankind and Cuna del Mar are joining salty, passionate billionaires from fishing fortunes and young, enthusiastic billionaires from Silicon Valley to mentor, invest and scale start-ups that will make a positive impact on the ocean, humanity and the economy. Through mentorship programmes such as CDL-Oceans, start-ups are getting venture capital investments and bringing a more risk-tolerant approach to ocean innovation. As a result, we are seeing new ideas emerge and scale for tackling global ocean challenges, including ocean-based carbon capture, targeting illegal and unregulated fishing, AI technology to improve drinking water and aquaculture safety, and marine algae development to make aquaculture and pharmaceutical production more efficient and sustainable.
With an accelerating global population, growing demand for ocean resources, and heightened sustainability imperatives, now is the time to make a positive impact. To meet rising demand without continuing to harm our ocean, we must focus on sustainable growth. Start-up entrepreneurs and investors have a huge role to play in coming together to demonstrate that through the combination of innovation and strategic guidance, it is possible to save the planet, improve lives and make a profit by investing in scalable ocean start-up ventures.
Source: Ocean Economist