A number of trends have emerged over the past several years that continue to impact the growth of early stage ‘BlueTech’ companies. This post discusses some of the biggest ones I see happening in 2019.
On a broader scale, members of the global blue tech ecosystem are thinking about major industry shifts and new supports that will significantly impact the way startups operate in the year ahead. 2019 is the year for a massive leap forward.
Without further delay, here are my early predictions for 2019
1. Aquaculture Leads the Way
There’s no doubt that the number of organizations jumping at the chance to support BlueTech startups is on the rise, but the biggest gains will continue to be in the aquaculture space throughout 2019. With groups like Fish 2.0 and Hatch amplifying their programs in the new year, it’s without question going to be a growth year for aquaculture accelerators and incubators.
2. Traditional Venture Money Takes Notice
With a growing flow of better BlueTech startups putting the industry on notice, you can bet that others — like more traditional VC’s — will suddenly have oceans on their investment radars. The past few years have seen a societal shift in thinking towards ocean protection. We’ve already seen familiar names like Adam Draper’s BoostVC testing the waters, plus a strong showing from others like the regional network in Norway with Oceanview VC. If traditional VC’s don’t go right to the deep end themselves in 2019, then you could expect to see them partner with established ocean groups such as Hatch to start blue-focused funds.
3. Ocean Tech Startups Head to Canada’s Atlantic Region
We’ve already seen companies like XOcean and MicroWISE cross the pond to Canada for Halifax’s Creative Destruction Lab program and that trend should only gain momentum as the world-class Start-Up Yard at COVE incubator finds its footing and the $300,000,000+ Ocean Supercluster initiative takes off. 2019 is going to be highlighted by an influx of non-dilutive capital to foster the best ideas. It would be a no-brainer for international firms to land in Canada — especially with a weaker loonie expected throughout the next twelve months.
4. Hawaii Emerges as Aquaculture Startup Capital
Towards the end of 2018 came an interesting development from the government of Hawaii — they decided that they want the island state to become the best place in the world to develop an aquaculture startup. They already have many of the important pieces needed for a successful ecosystem and recently issued a call for proposals from accelerators around the world to set up shop on the big island. With over $2 million USD in support to launch an equity-driven accelerator, you can expect a strong contingent to be vying for this opportunity. Hawaii has put enough money and in-kind gifts on the table to make a big impact right out of the gate. This is going to be big, if done correctly.
Prediction #4.5 (for bonus points): I suspect Hatch will be the successful applicant.
5. Big Blue Exits Bubble Up
Boeing bought Liquid Robotics in 2016 for north of $300,000,000 and things have been fairly quiet on the blue M&A scene since. There are some interesting startups doing great things globally, like Blue Nalu of San Diego. They are pioneering cellular aquaculture (eg. petri dish fish) and have already raised $4.5 million to date since being founded in 2017. Their upward trajectory is sharp and they are putting traditional investors on notice that there’s an ocean of opportunity out there.
Saildrone, also of California, closed a Series B funding round earlier in 2018 and has already raised over $88 million, fuelled mostly by success to the similar Liquid Robotics. Saildrone’s mission-as-a-service model is ultimately the most attractive business model and would prove to be a smart purchase for companies in the data collection and military fields.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other great startups primed for big exits. Will we see the very first narwhal¹?
6. Non-Profits Open Sustainability-Driven Accelerators
There’s no doubt that a lot of money is coming in from marine conservation philanthropists. In 2015 alone it topped $399 million. The Moore, Packard, Walton Family, Marisla, and Oak foundations account for a significant share of global marine conservation funding. More tech entrepreneurs and investors are recognizing the importance of healthy oceans and it’s only a matter of time before those people recognize technology gaps that need to be addressed. Using their startup expertise and partnering with established ocean conservancy non-profits to deliver results will ultimately lead to solutions for big problems.
a privately held BlueTech startup company valued at over $1 billion. A play on the term ‘unicorn’ typically given to tech startups with the same value.
Please note that these are not actually ranked — they have different degrees of importance and impact depending on where you sit. The numbers are purely just to add some structure to the post.