StartBlue's cohort 3 with program leaders and mentors. Photo: Long Truong

Blue Technology Startups Turn Concept into Reality at UC San Diego

StartBlue accelerator program supports businesses advancing San Diego’s Blue Economy

Ocean innovators from the third startBlue cohort gathered at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography on May 29 to pitch science- and engineering-based solutions for ocean-related challenges at a Demo Day event.  

The startBlue accelerator program is advancing the blue technology sector by facilitating the translation of ocean science and technology intellectual capital into startups ready to leverage innovation and market resources.

The Blue Economy — the range of economic uses of ocean and coastal resources for sustainable economic development — encompasses more than 114,000 individuals, 4,320 companies and $16.2 billion in direct sales in San Diego, according to estimates from TMA BlueTech

Launched in 2021, startBlue is a UC San Diego blue technology-focused program led by Scripps Oceanography and the Rady School of Management that brings Scripps science and Rady innovation curriculum to teams that are developing a new business. These innovators and entrepreneurs are devising new solutions that can be integrated into science, industry, investment and government networks.  

StartBlue’s impact to date includes supporting 22 ocean-focused startups, 50% of which are female-founded, that have collectively raised $10.1 million.

“We are thrilled at the impact the startBlue program has had on accelerating diverse ocean-based climate resilience solutions across blue economy sectors,” said Vanessa Scott, co-lead of startBlue and director of corporate affiliates, business development, industry outreach and innovation for Scripps Oceanography. “San Diego’s unique combination of technology development resources and long-standing collaboration between regional Blue Economy and innovation leaders makes it a great place to accelerate an ocean-focused startup.” 

Over the course of five months, startBlue teams are connected into the regional blue technology ecosystem consisting of other companies, investors, entrepreneurs and more. Participants learn about ocean- and climate-focused entrepreneurship curricula, work with industry mentors and subject matter experts, develop their technologies and build networks in the blue technology innovation world. 

Participants of startBlue also receive access to Scripps Sandbox Makerspace and technical facilities at UC San Diego, and they are provided opportunities to raise money through pitch competitions like the UC San Diego Triton Innovation Challenge, grant opportunities and introductions to investors. 

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla recently highlighted startBlue’s efforts in the January 2024 Senate Budget Committee hearing that examined climate change impacts on ocean industries, highlighting the accelerator program’s “ocean technology business training, mentorship and access to capital.”

Through the Ocean-based Climate Resilience Accelerators program, startBlue also received $250,000 in funds from the U.S. Department of Commerce and NOAA to develop and advance ocean observation technologies to help create a more climate-ready nation. 

The May 29 event was held at the Scripps Seaside Forum where seven teams presented the progress of their business ideas and their plans for the year ahead. Each team presented to an audience and engaged in a brief Q&A following each of their presentations.

The startBlue cohort 3 included the following teams:

  • Blue Lotus Energy Corporation, manufacturing and selling portable wave energy converters
  • Coastal Carbon, developing AI models that enable satellites to see underwater
  • Fjord Phyto, pioneering polar citizen science by connecting tourists to the importance of phytoplankton research on the Antarctic Peninsula
  • Greenwater Scientific, producing natural, negative-emission air purifiers that harness the photosynthetic prowess of oceanic plankton and algae
  • New Tides Distillery, using a proprietary marine yeast to ferment and distill ocean water directly without needing to desalinate it first
  • Parley Labs, developing Mollusks (Multisensor Location and Surveillance Cluster (MLSC)), a globally decentralized network of low-cost maritime sensors
  • Wild Genomics, precision pest monitoring through autonomous sampling and analysis of environmental DNA

The audience award for “Best Pitch” went to Fjord Phyto, a Scripps-led, NASA-funded polar citizen science project connecting tourists to the importance of phytoplankton research on the western Antarctic Peninsula. Fjord Phyto’s pitch was given by Scripps PhD candidate and co-founder Allison Cusick and Scripps PhD student Christian Johnson.  

Scripps PhD candidate and co-founder Allison Cusick and Scripps PhD student Christian Johnson pose at their booth on Demo Day
Scripps PhD candidate and co-founder Allison Cusick and Scripps PhD student Christian Johnson at startBlue Demo Day 2024. Photo: Long Truong

“The startBlue program has been transformational in the way I think about the longevity of the Fjord Phyto program for years to come. My background is in science so the materials and resources presented by the instructors and mentors in the startBlue program have exposed us to new ways of thinking more from a business and governance perspective,” said Cusick. “They have helped us reveal exciting potential new paths forward to keeping this program sustainable, alive and thriving.”

Cusick also recently received the first-ever UC San Diego Student/Alumni Innovator of the Year Award at the inaugural Chancellor’s Innovation Awards for her pioneering work to evolve the idea of citizen science through Fjord Phyto.

This collaborative project led by scientists at Scripps Oceanography and Argentina’s Universidad Nacional De La Plata works with Antarctic tour operators and travelers to collect scientific measurements and samples to learn how melting glaciers are potentially altering the level of phytoplankton in the fjords of Antarctica. According to Cusick, about a thousand people participate every year.

The startBlue program is made possible thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, contributions from California Sea Grant, San Diego Gas & Electric, The Beyster Foundation for Enterprise Development, Ocean Visions, and the Builders Initiative, as well as a philanthropic donor match from members of the Scripps Director’s Council.

To find out when applications open for cohort 4 and to stay up to date on the program, subscribe to the startBlue newsletter:

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at

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