Building Communities Kim Lachance Shandrow  | December 28, 2017

Rethink the Ocean? Why San Diego’s Entrepreneurs Are Doing Just That

From Coronado to Carlsbad to Encinitas to La Jolla, San Diego County boasts 70 beautiful miles of Pacific Ocean coastline. The surfer’s paradise is also fittingly home to a rising tide of next-wave blue tech startups fueling jobs and innovation in the sunny Southern California region.

“We here in San Diego have a natural affinity with the ocean,” Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer said, “so it makes all the sense in the world that we continue to foster our burgeoning blue tech economy.”

Officials in San Diego are positioning the region front and center in the burgeoning blue tech sector, starting with the recent launch of the city’s inaugural ocean technology startup incubator.

Bringing About a Sea Change
Unveiled last October, the promising initiative is designed to help local early-stage ocean tech companies and entrepreneurs directly tap into the resources, services and support they need to succeed. In partnership with the city itself, along with the area Maritime Alliance, startups that participate in the incubator also receive key mentorship, legal support, business management assistance and access to capital.

The first six startups to participate in the incubator are Hydrokinetic Energy and Storage, Intellecy, Clear Blue Sea, Delawarde Consulting, XST and MARSEC.

The early stage companies are creating technology for drawing energy from ocean waves, coding oceanographic and meteorological navigation software for reducing ocean pollution and monitoring residential water through specialized sensors.

The incubator is designed to help them stand out from the crowd in the country’s largest blue tech cluster. And, of course, to further bolster San Diego’s growing reputation as a global hub for research and innovation.

Blue tech is the advanced technology sector of the maritime industry, which drives innovation across emerging markets of the blue economy. It encompasses a wide spectrum of industries, from marine-based biomedicine and ocean-based sensor technology, to clean power of marine vessels and marine clean technology.

San Diego’s Wave of Innovation
Driven by a thriving cargo and maritime vessel port supporting more than 13,000 jobs and approximately $2.5 billion in economic impact, San Diego recently ranked fourth on the 2017 Innovation That Matters report. The third annual analysis — conducted by 1776, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center (C__TEC) and FreeEnterprise.com — examined the readiness of 25 U.S. cities to capitalize on the ongoing shift to a digital economy.

Further fueled by gains in startup ecosystem connectivity and access to venture capital, San Diego moved up one spot on the report from fifth place last year, coming in behind Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area and Philadelphia.

Mayor Faulconer, who pledged a $50,000 grant on behalf of the City of San Diego to the new incubator, says it will not only be a boon to local tech startup and blue economies but also to the environment, starting with the ocean blue.

“This new business incubator is going to provide the tools needed to spur the development of young companies with the potential to harness the ocean to create a cleaner and more sustainable planet for us all,” he said.

The startups taking part in the pioneering blue tech incubator — in collaboration with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Dentons (the world’s largest law firm in terms of numbers of attorneys) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) — are expected to create regional tax revenue and jobs while developing sustainable technologies that safeguard the ocean and the local water supply.   

Navigating New Renewable Energy Technologies
Entrepreneur and marine biologist Jack Pan, founder of La Jolla, Calif.-based Hydrokinetic Energy & Storage, is excited to take part in the incubator. Launched in 2016, his new enterprise provides an independent power source at sea for both military and civilian entities. And it does this by using innovative wave energy mechanical design for clean energy harnessing and compressed air technology for energy storage.  

“When I was deployed to Antarctica for one of my scientific expeditions,” Pan told Free Enterprise, “the idea came to me as I watched gigantic waves during our Drake Passage crossing. I also had a lot of time to think during the expedition, and I realized that my scientific work was not merely enough to stop the current rate of climate change. I needed to take a more active approach through an effort in marine renewable energy.”

Chris Ward and Jack Pan

Pan, a Ph.D. candidate at SIO, said his company has already significantly widened its network and industry reach since being welcomed into San Diego’s groundbreaking blue tech incubator just two short months ago.

“Since joining this program, we have benefited tremendously from the enormous network of connections in the blue tech industry,” he said, “both in the States and abroad. These opportunities have broadened our horizon to understand what is possible, and they also help us to critically evaluate our approaches within the company.”

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory oceans lead is confident that, with a lift from the resources and key contacts he’s privy to through the incubator, his startup’s strides in wave energy could very well accelerate the shift of our energy infrastructure to a more renewable and sustainable model.

And, for blue tech startup leaders like him, he says San Diego is the ideal place to forge oceanic innovations from.

Committed to Blue Tech
“San Diego is a great location for blue tech startups and it is undoubtedly becoming an international hub for the blue tech economy,” Pan said. “This is largely driven by a very active community of entrepreneurs and policy makers who deeply understand the blue tech economy.”

Entrepreneur Chris Ward’s startup, Delawarde Consulting, which specializes in strategy, marketing and business development in the maritime space, is also in the incubator. As its resident tenant, he assists with communications between the incubator’s advisory board and individual startup members.

“Aside from San Diego being noted for being one of the most innovative cities in America, San Diego is one of the best regions on the world to be involved in blue tech, be it ocean or water related,” Ward told Free Enterprise. “There is an inherent support community amongst the various educators, private corporations and government agencies willing to lend their support…you’ll find a lot of mentors and like-minded individuals here who are ready to collaborate and assist in some way.”