Are you a San Diego-based innovator, engineer, or scientist working on the next big idea to solve the ocean’s greatest challenges? If so, then you might be an ideal candidate for startBlue, a new program at UC San Diego that supports San Diego’s Blue Economy and formation of new blue businesses.
Launching in Fall 2021, startBlue is part of the university’s StartR accelerator program offered in partnership by Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Rady School of Management. The program supports early-stage science and engineering startups that are tackling ocean challenges and devising solutions that can be integrated into science, industry, investment, and government networks.
The startBlue program received funding in 2020 through the Economic Development Administration’s “Industry Challenge Award” and a local match donated by members of the Scripps Director’s Council and other philanthropic supporters. Applications for the first cohort will be accepted from May 21 through July 2, 2021.
“StartBlue builds upon the successful collaboration Scripps Oceanography has enjoyed with Rady School of Management for years,” said Gwen Nero, director of Corporate Affiliates, Business Development, Industry Outreach, and Innovation at Scripps. “We are thrilled to bring the StartR accelerator program to Scripps to support the formation of new blue businesses in the San Diego Region with startBlue.”
Ideal applicants are passionate about the ocean and ready to fully immerse themselves in the San Diego Blue Economy to develop the business strategy around their science- and engineering-centered solutions, said Nero. No affiliation with UC San Diego is required to participate, but teams must have a San Diego presence as the program is intended to be offered in-person. Eight final teams will be chosen to participate in cohort 1.
Over the course of the eight-month program, startBlue teams will work with program partners and advisors to make their blue technology ideas a reality, with the goal of bringing their product to market. The budding entrepreneurs will receive access to a unique ocean science and technology curriculum taught by experts in these fields, with Rady focused on startups and accelerators and Scripps focused on blue technology—that is technology focused on water, and in San Diego’s case, the ocean.
Teams will participate in weekly classes with expert guest speakers and participate in workshops that focus on core skills to garner funds such as grant writing and pitching. They’ll receive one-on-one mentoring from industry experts, and make valuable connections with others in the field through conferences, pitch competitions, and industry association memberships. Additionally, teams will have access to potential partners, scientific expertise, and technical resources to help them refine their product.
Active participation of partners integrates startBlue into the pipeline of regional blue tech resources from formation to scale including The Port of San Diego and its Blue Economy Incubator, U.S. Coast Guard Blue Tech Center of Expertise, National Defense Industry Association, SDMAC, AIIM Partners, AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles, TMA BlueTech and its Blue Tech Incubator, California Sea Grant, The Brink SBDC, and Ocean Visions.
“The San Diego Blue Economy is vibrant and uniquely offers new businesses support as they are entering the market and scaling; however, it is still challenging for our newest blue businesses with stellar research solutions to get started and develop their go-to-market strategy,” said Nero. “StartBlue fills that gap.”
Since 2012, Scripps and Rady have worked together to support more than 80 new environmental startups out of UC San Diego through entrepreneurship education and pitch competitions. One such program is the Triton Innovation Challenge, a business competition now in its ninth year that features commercially promising, environmentally focused technologies generated by the talent at UC San Diego.
Scripps alumnus and polar oceanographer Jack Pan said innovation networks like startBlue can be instrumental to getting ideas off the ground and into the real world. While a PhD student at Scripps, Pan participated in the Triton Innovation Challenge, ultimately winning second place in 2018 and a prize of $5,000, which helped launch his startup Ocean Motion Tech. This company uses technology to convert the power of the ocean into usable energy.
As a seagoing scientist, Pan had participated in several expeditions to the icy Southern Ocean, where researchers often have to perform maintenance on ocean observing systems, switching out batteries and cleaning solar panels (which get covered in bird droppings and salt spray). While working in the cold and stormy seas, Pan wondered if it was possible to harness the energy of the ocean to power some of these far-flung instruments in a way that is more cost-effective and less maintenance-heavy than current methods.
When he learned that this ocean technology didn’t exist yet, he got to work, designing a small-scale device that converts wave energy to electricity for offgrid, small-scale, low-power applications in the ocean. This technology, which can be placed on buoys, moorings, and other instruments, has useful applications for fields including ocean observation, offshore aquaculture, maritime monitoring, and coastal security and defense surveillance.
Pan said participating in the Triton Innovation Challenge led to a breakthrough for his initial concept, and that the workshops and associated boot camps helped set the foundation for his company.
“The support of the vibrant Scripps blue tech ecosystem and the entire community that believed in my team really motivated us, and they gave us the proper resources and understanding of the space to go forward,” said Pan, who now leads Ocean Motion Tech. and employs a small staff.
While preparing for the pitch competition, Pan recalls his mentors stressing the importance of listening to the customer’s needs, understanding the market, and working to achieve product-market fit. These concepts really stuck with him and have made a difference in the way he runs his business.
“What differentiates us from our competitors—other small-scale ocean energy developers—is that we have been quite focused on customers from the beginning,” said Pan. “Because of this lesson given to us early on, we were able to really follow through with those instructions.”
Throughout the research and development process, Pan’s team spoke with several commercial partners that are now becoming early adopters of their technology. And as the team was developing the ocean technology, they were getting live feedback from customers.
“That’s been tremendous for our technical and commercial development,” said Pan, “and it’s all because of the training we received through the programs at Scripps.”
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 ucsd.edu.