The Maersk containership Venta Maersk transits the Northern Sea Route on a one-off trial run of the Arctic route, September 2018. File Photo: Maersk

EU Directive Will Turbocharge Maritime Venture Capital While US Falls Far Behind

John Konrad
Total Views: 2313
May 17, 2021

The European Union and the European Investment Bank Group, today said they will increase their cooperation and investment in the maritime “blue” economy. The institutions will work jointly with European countries to unlock financing needed to reduce pollution in European seas and pay for venture capital investment in maritime innovation.

The new European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund – with its ‘BlueInvest’ platform and the new BlueInvest Fund – will support the transition towards more sustainable value chains based on the oceans, seas and coastal activities.

To further finance the transformation, the Commission has urged member states to turbocharge investment in maritime sustainability technology and projects in their national resilience from now to 2027.  Other EU programs, such as the €95.5 billion research program Horizon Europe, will also increase maritime funding and a dedicated Mission on Oceans and Waters will be set up. As regards private investments, the EU-sponsored Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Initiative will be used in venture capital decisions.

While Europe continues to turbocharge venture capital for ship and ocean technology, the largest venture capital funds in the United States (with the possible exception of Y-Combinator which fostered FlexPort, Boundary Layer Technologies, and a few others) have mostly avoided investing in ship technology, instead preferring environmental projects like sustainable seafood technology through startup incubators like Sea Ahead in Boston.

It’s unlikely that things will change as the federal entity tasked with advocating for US Shipping – the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) – has mostly failed to invest in venture capital or technology. Calls from gCaptain and others to build maritime technology centers at the United States Merchant Marine Academy and the state maritime academies – including California Maritime Academy located just outside of silicon valley – have gone unanswered.

Despite the Biden Administration’s strong focus on sustainability and infrastructure, it is unlikely that MARAD will be able to join its European Counterparts and invest in maritime technology anytime soon. Sources close to the White House have confirmed that Biden has shut down a number of key maritime adviser positions including the EOP’s White House maritime desk which had been staffed by a US Coast Guard Officer. Even more troubling is the fact that – nearly four months into his administration – Biden has yet to appoint a new head of MARAD to replace Rear Admiral Mark Buzby who was a champion of maritime technology and sustainable blue economy initiatives.

According to Buzby, his efforts to attract Silicon Valley venture capital or direct government funding for maritime technology have mostly failed but, from the sidelines, he continues to promote and advise innovating startup companies like the Boston-based Sea Machines.

Other venture capital powerhouses outside the European Union – like Japan’s venerable SoftBank – have also failed to invest significantly in ship technology but small maritime clusters with limited government support are starting to emerge in Singapore and Hong Kong.

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