The Global Startup Ecosystem Report Climatetech Edition

Creating Collaboration Among Marine Ports to Foster Global Blue Economy Innovation

This contributed article was prepared in collaboration with La Zone Bleue. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Startup Genome.

The ambition of our industry will be critical in advancing the Blue Economy agenda globally

Martin Beaulieu undefined
CEO, La Zone Bleue

“The ambition of our industry will be critical in advancing the Blue Economy agenda globally,” says Martin Beaulieu, CEO of La Zone Bleue, a Quebec-based ocean cluster. With seven different Blue Economy research centers and close to one thousand scientists working on marine issues, La Zone Bleue is a Blue Economy-focused innovation campus concentrated along the St. Lawrence River. Innovation hub Novarium is part of the La Zone Bleue project. Based in Rimouski, Quebec, Novarium provides a marine accelerator and has satellite launch pads in Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, Los Angeles, Lisbon, and Barcelona. Its latest projects — two open innovation port challenges called CANAL and Ocean Edge — aim to support larger decarbonization and sustainability efforts globally through collaborative cooperation. 

“Ports are a playground for startups and innovation companies to come in and test technologies related to the Blue Economy safely. They also play the role of honest brokers in the supply chain ecosystem, and partnering with port authorities means you have access to the entire local innovation ecosystem,” explains Daniel Olivier, Senior Strategic Advisor, Commercialization for Novarium. 

Novarium seeks to partner with ports both in Canada and globally to share learnings and pool resources. “With these projects, we will provide a platform to share global learnings and the sourcing of mature, commercialization-ready startups and technology to support the Blue Economy ecosystem worldwide,” Olivier says.

CANAL Global Innovation Challenge

In CANAL, Novarium’s goal is to form a strategic partnership with one or more startups that will develop technology to solve common challenges related to the protection, management, and monitoring of water across the ports of Montréal, Québec, and Trois-Rivières to create a cleaner and more sustainable future. Now in the startup selection phase of the project, Novarium seeks to secure agreements with service providers who can create innovative technology to be deployed within the stormwater caption systems across each of the three geographically and physically different ports.

“Our definition of innovation is broader than simply tech,” Olivier says. “It includes environmental sustainability that goes beyond digital. For the three varied ports CANAL is working with, that means organizational and engineering innovation that supports three ports that are already advanced in terms of Blue Economy initiatives.”

As Novarium goes through the selection process, the strength of the startup pool is clear. “With the CANAL project, we have seen that the startups we are considering have been highly successful. In the Blue Economy, the demand for startups is outstripping the supply, which provides startups in this space a bright future, not only from a strategic standpoint, but also because there is a gap in the market. There is huge potential, and startups are realizing the potential of the Blue Economy.”

Ultimately, the selected startup will be offered a customer-supplier agreement, pilot project, strategic partnership, and co-development project, among other possible outcomes. While working with the port authorities to adapt the proposed solution to meet specific industrial needs, the selected partner is also eligible to benefit from a curated acceleration program provided by Novarium’s marine-focused accelerator FLOTS and access to up to CAD$30,000 in non-dilutive funding geared towards commercialization.

Ocean Edge: A Global, Collaborative Platform

Continuing its efforts to support ports in reaching their climate and sustainability goals, Novarium launches Ocean Edge in late 2023. A global, collaborative, open-innovation platform, Ocean Edge is focused on sourcing and deploying smart, decarbonized, and regenerative advanced technology solutions in the Blue Economy globally.

The brainchild of Novarium and Lisbon-based Climate Edge, the platform will enable ports and maritime corporations to develop strategic collaborations, pilots, and investments with emerging ocean tech startups, supporting them with access to experts and peer innovation teams.

Ocean Edge has three main focus areas: decarbonization, digitization, and regeneration. The three-pronged outcome will be reached through specific strategic points for each goal. For decarbonization, Ocean Edge will prioritize decarbonized shipping through carbon reduction, cleaner energy sources, and enhanced vessel design. It will invest in marine renewable energy such as tidal, wave, and offshore wind technologies and focus on blue carbon, including marine ecosystems, mangroves, seagrasses, and carbon sequestration, with projects such as aquaculture, organic reefs, and coral restoration on the radar.

In its digitization focus area, Ocean Edge aims to streamline seafood traceability, monitoring, and managing of marine resources using IoT, AI, and blockchain; invest in autonomous vehicles for deep sea exploration and maintaining offshore installations; harness advanced GIS tools for marine spatial planning; and transform marine transportation through the use of electronic chart systems and autonomous ships.

“The ports are already doing very well with digitization, but there is still room for progress,” Olivier says. “We will go beyond the smart aspect of ports to integrate the concepts of sustainability and circularity, whether it’s optimizing cargo flows, increasing cargo fluidity, electronic navigation, autonomous vessels, or increasing efficiency through GIS tools.”

Ocean Edge also seeks to enhance regeneration using marine biotechnology to develop marine compounds for health benefits; enhance sustainable fish farming and precision aquaculture using IoT, sensors, and drones; develop cultured cells for cell-based seafood; address freshwater scarcity through advanced desalination technologies; and target new approaches for marine waste conversion into usable products.

Olivier says that as Novarium works toward its sustainability goals, the organization is prioritizing an approach that encompasses the economy, the environment, and a social aspect. “Economically, projects have to be commercially viable of course, and that’s where the startups have a chance to demonstrate their solutions. Innovation must bring economic benefits to the ports,” he explains. “Environmentally, ports are looking to accelerate sustainability initiatives to leverage innovation and resources. The final key factor, the social element, means ports reconnecting with their local communities to deepen the bond and improve the port-city interface. We would like the public to see that ports are dedicating more and more capital expenditures and resources to genuinely make an effort to contribute to the betterment of communities.”

Global Partnership for Shared Success

Though it is still in the early stages, stakeholders around the world are showing interest in Ocean Edge as discussions with world-class ports with innovation capabilities of various levels are ongoing. “We’re taking the initiative of CANAL and expanding it to a global level,” Hendrik Tiesinga, CEO of Climate Edge and Senior Advisor for Novarium, says. “We’re talking to ports around the world with the goal of selecting a curated group of like-minded corporate innovators to jointly source startups that will eventually deploy their technology to the ports.”

Olivier explains that Novarium is creating an atmosphere of cooperation in which ports can share knowledge without having to worry about giving away innovative solutions to competitors. “We want ports to cooperate by sharing international knowledge to de-risk technology and accelerate the pace of innovation so they can collectively compete better,” he explains. As part of that cooperation, Tiesinga says that ports that may have individually struggled to build relationships with leading startups and experts around the world now have the benefit of sharing resources. “With Ocean Edge, the whole is more than the sum of the parts when the parts work together,” he says.

“Ultimately, both projects aim to create a thriving and sustainable port and marine economy where there’s more jobs, more economic activity in the ocean, and people are gaining livelihood that doesn’t harm the environment,” Tiesinga summarizes. “We have all the ingredients for this outcome in place,” Olivier adds, “and as we watch these projects progress, we look forward to seeing the positive impact on the Blue Economy and clean ocean climate goals.”