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BlueSwell Incubator Seeks Future Maritime ‘Unicorns’

Barry Parker
Total Views: 948
May 11, 2022

In the world of Private Equity (PE), a “Unicorn” is finance-speak for a private start-up worth $1 billion or more, usually in some type of tech sector.

When it comes to start-ups, investors are always looking to find such an animal before others can pounce. The world of blue-tech, defined loosely as technologies dealing with water (and therefore touching on the maritime realm), is teeming with early stage companies. 

But tomorrow’s maritime unicorn must start as a minnow; so it is with BlueSwell, a Boston-based business incubator with a mission of “[supporting] the creation and growth of startups with scalable solutions that enhance ocean health, sustainable ocean industry, and global resilience.”

This week, BlueSwell, with a mission described as “focuses on bridging the gaps between innovators, ocean experts, industries and the venture community. We support founders as they bring their innovations out of the lab, enabling the path toward commercialization,” held a webinar in its efforts to attract nascent maritime start-ups. 

BlueSwell, with the New England Aquarium as its main sponsor, announced that it is now inviting applicants to present their concepts for inclusion in its third iteration, described as “Cohort III”. In the start-up ecosystem, the incubator is a potential feeder for SeaAhead, a start-up platform which has been able to link established early-stage companies in sustainable maritime businesses, with advisors and financial investors. Its location in Boston offers a unique juxtaposition between the worlds of venture capital investing and businesses, in realms that include renewable energy and aquaculture, though its investments are located farther afield. 

SeaAhead says that it is “catalyzing a blue-tech cluster in the Northeast. Our ecosystem includes technologists, scientists, startups, corporations, governments and other ocean stakeholders that are coming together to create impact in areas including greener shipping and ports, aquaculture and fishery processes, offshore alternative energy, plastics and smart, resilient cities.” 

Moving from nicely worded concepts—there are explicit links to commercial maritime businesses—for example related to the burgeoning offshore wind sector, being rolled out (presently) in New England waters, and to the region’s seafood industry. SeaAhead is presently launching a $30 million venture capital fund to back start-ups; its founders look for blue-tech to grow (over the next decade) into a market where start-ups could be funded at the rate of $10 billion/year.

Its Blue Angels Investment Group, which meets monthly in Boston to hear company pitches (typically “seed stage” companies looking for between $0.5 million up to $3.0 million), has funded names including CoLoadX (based in New York, which provides cargo visibility) and the Houston-based Fuel Trust (which validates decarbonization and compliance, and monitors the fuel supply chain for commercial ships). 

The Blue Angels group has said: “The OECD estimates the size of the Blue Economy at over $1.5T, and on track to double that by 2030.” But tomorrow’s maritime unicorns could well be today’s minnows, so for companies seeking to apply to BlueSwell, can start here.

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