The Global Startup Ecosystem Report Blue Economy Edition

Collaborating to Drive Change: Discover Novarium’s Innovation Campus

The opinions expressed in this sponsored article do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Startup Genome.

“Collaboration is vital to making the tech breakthroughs required to grow the Blue Economy.”

In 2018, the UK’s Government Office for Science released a report that estimated that the total value of the Blue Economy could reach $3 trillion by 2030. It also stated that innovative technology would be key to unlocking that potential. At Novarium, we believe that in addition to innovation, collaboration is vital to making the tech breakthroughs required to grow the Blue Economy.

Novarium is a Blue Economy-focused innovation campus located in Rimouski, Quebec. This Boulder, Colorado-sized city on the ocean might not be familiar to many people internationally, but it is well known in the world of marine biology. With seven different research centers related to the Blue Economy, Rimouski is home to close to a thousand scientists working on marine issues.

Rimouski hosts abundant, world-class knowledge in marine engineering, fisheries, aquaculture, smart navigation, and climate change. What has previously been less available in the cluster are in-demand tech skills in AI and machine learning, as well as deep business expertise and venture capital funding. But these essential ingredients for Blue Economy innovation are on their way.

Seeking Out Tech & Business Talent

Just 500 kilometers or so down the St. Lawrence River is the thriving startup ecosystem of Montréal. Ranked as one of the top 20 ecosystems in North America for talent by Startup Genome, Montréal is filled with young people with in-demand tech skills who want to make a difference in the world. The city’s startups attracted a record-breaking amount of VC funding in 2021. But even though Montréal is a port city, it lacks deep roots in maritime industries, and to date many of its ecosystem players have not applied their skills to Blue Economy issues.

Novarium is keen to bring some of this talent to Rimouski to accelerate advances in ocean technology. Beyond that, we’re dedicated to attracting tech talent and investors from throughout Quebec, from across Canada, and from around the world.

We do this in two ways. For one, Novarium’s campus provides a physical space for industry experts and other interested parties to gather, connect, and discover synergies. Offering state-of-the-art infrastructure along with expert advice, it is a hub for the growing Blue Economy ecosystem. We encourage and foster collaboration with a long-term goal of attracting talented individuals seeking support and community.

Secondly, we offer potential founders practical support through FLOTS, our marine-focused accelerator. Launched in 2021, FLOTS offers personalized support, one-on-one coaching, and industry connections to students, researchers, and entrepreneurs exploring projects and ideas related to the Blue Economy. Four programs provide different forms and levels of support, from the 10-week Startups101 program, which is open to anyone interested in entrepreneurship, to the 36-month Canals program, which allows industrial partners to meet new talent. Because the Blue Economy has such a broad reach, the cohort model is less useful than in some other sectors, and personalized coaching is key.

Creating Startup Success Stories

FLOTS is currently supporting 20 projects, from early-stage ideas to more advanced startups on the verge of commercialization. And some of the accelerator’s participants are already starting to make an impact.

Whale Seeker co-founded by a marine biologist who previously manually identified the location of marine mammals from aerial and satellite images in order to help marine managers. In collaboration with Al experts, the startup developed a detection system that uses aerial images, and is presently working on real-time infrared solutions to avoid collisions between whales and vessels.

Founded by three self-described engineering geeks from the Université de Sherbrooke, Dev Ocean is another example. Its founders were interested in helping to improve the relationship between the fishing industry and the marine ecosystem, but had little personal knowledge of the industry. The team spent two summers working with key actors in the maritime field, also trading beers for insights from people who fish for a living and live for fishing. Eventually, they arrived with a "ropeless fishing solution," a buoy into which the rope is winded and submerged with the traps. It can be deployed by an acoustic signal from the owner's boat, thus floating to the surface and allowing the traps to be recovered. The result: ropes in the water column for five minutes while the trap is recovered instead of for the whole season.

The innovation is protecting whales and other marine mammals, and is also benefiting coastal economies — the innovation is allowing fishemen to re-enter fishing zones that were previously closed for whale protection.

These examples illustrate what can be accomplished when advanced tech skills and Blue Economy expertise come together. At Novarium, we’ve found there is no shortage of appetite for these connections. Urban tech hubs are full of idealistic young people looking for ways to make a real difference, and the ocean is full of untapped opportunities to turn a profit while doing good. In addition, Rimouski is filled with scientists with deep expertise in ocean issues looking for partners with experience in commercializing technology or building startups. The Blue Economy has massive potential, and Novarium is the catalyst for meaningful collaboration.