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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Startups Showcase Blue Economy Innovations

TECH: Demo Day Aimed at Advancing Blue Tech

Local startups showed off their latest efforts to tackle ocean-related challenges during a high-profile demo day at Scripps Seaside Forum in La Jolla. The April event was hosted by UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Rady School of Management’s startBlue accelerator program which supports innovators who are working in the so-called “blue economy” – defined as the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihood and ocean ecosystem health.

Vanessa Scott

“As far as the exciting innovations coming down the pipeline, I would say that the blue economy has many exciting innovation sector areas including clean energy, food, bio-inspired materials, biotech, robotics, and environmental monitoring to name a few,” startBlue Director Vanessa Scott told the  Business Journal.

Teams from startBlue’s program can participate in weekly workshops as they receive mentoring from blue economy experts and meet with potential partners, investors and customers. The program has so far raised more than $8.3 million between the 12 teams from the first and second cohorts.

The teams that participated in Demo Day 2023 were part of the program’s second cohort, which recently wrapped up a seven-month long training period. Each team delivered five-minute pitches highlighting their business ideas and requests for funding from the investors in the audience.

Startup Berkeley Marine Robotics won the Audience Choice Award, complete with a cash prize. Founders Sushil Tyagi and Alexandre Immas are developing autonomous swarm robotic systems with underwater laser communication to help protect marine ecosystems and reduce so-called biofouling-related emissions. Biofouling is the accumulation of organisms on ship hulls.

Tyagi told the audience that biofouling slows ship speeds and increases unwanted emissions. Currently, biofouling is remediated by sending divers underneath ships for inspections once or twice a year. It’s an ineffective approach that perpetuates a lack of data and the potential proliferation of the problem. Berkeley Marine Robotics believes that using underwater lasers to collect data will provide greater insight into optimal cleaning times.

Sushil Tyagi
Berkeley Marine Robotics

“My overall focus is on developing dual-use tech which can be utilized in both commerce and in defense sectors,” said Berkeley Marine Robotics Founder Tyagi. “Also, I am working to bridge the structural gap that lies between fast academic innovation and slow industrial adoption. This is a timely and crucial initiative in San Diego as we have academia (Scripps) as well as a commercial port and Navy here.”

Tyagi explained how Berkeley Marine Robotics’ technology is a prime example of dual-use tech – it generates underwater intelligence data at speed and scale which would reduce fuel emissions of commercial ships by predictive hull management. The technology could also protect the Navy fleet by detecting hull anomalies.

“I believe Sushil Tyagi with Berkeley Marine Robotics won the [award] because he is a passionate storyteller that dedicated his career to finding and supporting the growth of ocean-focused businesses, which resonated with the audience at Demo Day,” added Scott.

Other teams included startup Coil Reef, which is building a removable and low-cost artificial reef system for marine habitat formation and restoration; Ocean Soteria, which is designing a purple zombie sea urchin population management service that to help revitalize coastal kelp forests; Octopus Garden, which is developing aquaculture technology to modernize seaweed farming and bring seaweed products into the dietary mainstream; and Aras Photonics, creators of novel solutions in laser imaging and detection for ocean and coastal monitoring, health and data communications.

A 2020 study from local nonprofit sustainability association TMA BlueTech revealed there were 4,320 maritime, water and blue economy establishments in San Diego generating direct revenues of $16.2 billion and providing more than 114,000 direct jobs. San Diego’s blue economy accounts for 5% of business establishments and 9% of total employment.

Between 2012 and 2020, local Blue Tech industry revenues increased by 18%.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego

FOUNDED: 1903 by the former Marine Biological Association of San Diego
DIRECTOR: Margaret Leinen
EMPLOYEES: 1,465 including staff, graduate students, professors and researchers
BUSINESS: Research facility
NOTABLE: The research facility operates four oceanographic research vessels and one of the world’s largest research piers.


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