Canada’s Ocean Startup Ecosystem can lead the world in the Blue Economy

By: Don Grant, Executive Director, Ocean Startup Project &
Richard Egli, Managing Director at Alacrity Canada 
Rife with disruptive and transformative technologies that are reshaping the way we interact with our oceans, Canada’s ocean startup ecosystem is quickly emerging as a leader in the Blue Economy. Innovators across the country have awakened to one of the most consequential opportunities of the century, leveraging experience, knowledge and an entrepreneurial spirit to create profitable ventures that improve ocean health while elevating Canada’s role in a more sustainable, cleaner future.

Despite the magnitude of the opportunity, some confusion still exists around what blue tech actually entails. Let’s simplify it using an analogous term that has gained prominence in public discourse: blue tech is cleantech. Cleantech can be defined as any technology, product or service that uses fewer materials or energy, generates less waste, and causes less negative environmental impacts than the industry standard – and that is precisely what blue tech is on the ocean. Let’s look at some real-world, regenerative ocean startup examples.

Newfoundland and Labrador-based 3F Waste Recovery, purchases cod skins and bones, which are traditionally considered a costly waste, and uses them to develop the first “beyond food grade” collagen to be used in, among other things, beauty products and pharmaceuticals. Recognizing that the circular economy is good for business, people and the planet, the company is on a mission to develop a line of products from fish waste that are actually more valuable than the fish flesh itself. So 3F is not disrupting a traditional industry, but rather, embracing a new vertical which creates more economic opportunity while reducing waste.

Both British Columbia-based Cascadia Seaweed and Nova Scotia-based Seachange Biochemistry are respectively growing and processing one of the most underutilized and high value resources in the world – seaweed – to create robust and environmentally regenerative ocean startups. Seaweed offers huge opportunities for growth in multiple verticals and these companies are leveraging the opportunity in very different manners. What is common though, is that these startups, at their foundational core, maintain a commitment to building massively scalable companies with environmentally and socially-conscious principles. Canada will lead the world in this sector.

Another British Columbia-based startup, a2o Advanced Materials Inc., is developing a new polymer-based marine coating technology that has the potential to significantly mitigate the environmental impact of the marine transportation industry – creating cleaner marine environments and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Their blue tech replaces traditional anti-fouling paints that release toxic compounds into the marine environment with a non-toxic coating system that reduces drag. Reducing drag enables greater vessel efficiency, which directly translates to reduced fuel consumption and therefore enables the technology to directly reduce GHG emissions; the venture has projected a 10 per cent reduction in GHG/CO2 emissions using their friction reducing coating relative to a clean hull with a standard anti-fouling paint.

The ocean sector is exploding with opportunity and the ocean startup ecosystem has incredible momentum. Other significant developments in blue tech include the electrification of marine propulsion, ocean-based carbon capture and sequestration, increased use of autonomous operations, including USV’s and AUV’s, and so many more. The Ocean Startup Project, in partnership with Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, is currently working with 40 ocean startups, which were paired down from 140 Canadian applicants, and Alacrity Canada is seeing more interest and more ocean innovation being proposed on a daily basis.

Something special is happening in the ocean sector in Canada; it’s transforming our economy, regenerating our oceans and climate future, and further confirming this country as a global leader in sustainability. As innovators and global citizens, we all have a role to play in the Blue Economy, and with the world watching, what better time is there to turn innovative ideas into thriving, sustainable businesses?

Don Grant
Executive Director,
Ocean Startup Project
Richard Egli
Managing Director
Alacrity Canada
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