Ocean Exchange Awards Showcase Tremendous Innovation and Passion for Building Ocean Solutions

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate as a judge at the Ocean Exchange in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The Ocean Exchange’s mission is to help advance adoption of solutions in the field of sustainability. They focus on solutions with working prototypes that reduce waste and the use of nature’s resources while increasing productivity and respecting cultures around the world. The event was held in conjunction with the Fort Lauderdale International Boat show for the first time. It was held near the marina and there were spectacular boats arriving throughout the week.

The Ocean Exchange gives away three awards over the course of the two days. The first is a collegiate award, the Broward College Innovation Award of $10,000, given to one of eight teams pitching at the event. This year’s prize went to Celise BioProducts for developing affordable plant-based disposable product solutions like straws and cups. What is incredible about the Ocean Exchange audience is that it includes several investors who are committed to help all the finalists succeed – not just those that ultimately win the prizes. As a result, lots of follow-up opportunities are created for many of the presenters with innovative solutions to ocean challenges.

The other two non-dilutive awards, the Neptune award and the Orcelle award, are funded through sponsorships at a value of $100,000 each. The Neptune award is given to the company that advances our understanding of the ocean resulting in more resilient bodies of water. The winner this year was Opus 12, a solution that recycles CO2 emissions into chemical products. The Orcelle award, sponsored by Wallenius Wilhelmsen, is awarded to the company that advances high-efficiency or zero emissions technologies. This year’s winner was Noon Energy Inc for developing a new technology for low cost energy storage.

Throughout the two days, past participants also presented on how their companies are progressing and growing. These included ECOncrete, offering environmentally friendly concrete solutions, and Onvector, building water treatment capability leveraging plasma technology.

The awards were presented at a gala event on the final night. What was amazing to me, other than the strong attendance and the celebration of the success of the winners of course, was the centerpieces which included live jelly fish. This was a fitting choice, given the same warming and acidification of the ocean that is leading to a general decrease in fish biomass, is also causing jellyfish to thrive. Funded by the European Union, a project called GoJelly is currently underway to develop new applications for jellyfish including using them as a source of food and as a potential solution to efficiently recover microplastics.

My takeaways:

❶  There is tremendous passion for building solutions that address the many challenges in the ocean, particularly amongst the many students I met at this event. These presentations and discussions reinforced the importance of understanding what is already happening before building a solution that already exists somewhere else.

❷  Being connected is critical. The world is increasingly becoming a global market and the participants at this event demonstrated that. It is important for our Canadian companies to engage not only with others in Canada but also in the rest of the world to identify collaborators and opportunities.

❸  There were no Canadian finalists this year (although there have been in the past). This stands out as an opportunity – and I really hope to see a change in that next year!

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