3 For The Sea; Recapping Seaworthy's 3rd Year, NYC Climate Week, & Major Announcements
Updated: Sep 28
Last week marked 3 years since Seaworthy Collective launched, with our first of over 40 events driving community building, education, and inclusion in ocean and climate impact innovation, AKA BlueTech, as well as access to a diversity of experts in the field. Since our first virtual panel event in September 2020, the journey of building our global non-profit organization and community supporting current, aspiring, and potential BlueTech entrepreneurs has been simultaneously challenging, rewarding, and humbling.
In case you're not familiar with who we are at Seaworthy - here's a quick refresher:
Seaworthy Collective (501c3) is a Miami-based entrepreneur support organization & community on a mission to make BlueTech (ocean & climate impact innovation) accessible & inclusive. We envision bringing all hands on deck for BlueTech; where everyone can contribute to solutions making positive change for our blue planet.
Up to the end of last year, most of our first two years of work centered on building our community and credibility, along with our body of proof in supporting BlueTech founders. We tirelessly worked to iterate on our vision and programs for an accessible and inclusive future for ocean and climate impact innovation, and organically built our community both locally in Miami and greater South Florida, as well as globally. This was capped off with the opportunity to share our vision with a TED talk at MIT in November of 2022, summarizing Seaworthy's systemic vision and approach.
However, this also marked a critical turning point - entering 2023, we had to hit pause on public speaking opportunities, and instead got to work on the ultimate challenge of making Seaworthy financially sustainable as a non-profit 501c3. We faced a harsh reality; we ended 2022 in the red and our runway was running out. Up to the end of last year, Seaworthy only survived because I was able to fund it from my own dwindling savings, with minimal support beyond a crypto grant.
On social media, it’s to easy share wins and to assume everything is great on the surface without seeing the underlying challenges of getting a startup financially stable. Of all the wins we shared, finances had rarely been one of them. As a non-profit entrepreneur support organization, there isn't a sustainable model for what we do; we depend entirely on philanthropy, grants, and corporate partnerships to stay afloat.
2023 was make or break - and we were going to do whatever it took to make sure we not only made it through this year, but also were set up for years to come.
Early Sacrifices & Wins
Putting "whatever it took" into practice meant being willing to at least temporarily let go of many of the things that seemed core to how we operated, and focus on what was necessary over what was fulfilling. Starting 2023, we went multiple months without community events, turned down opportunities to represent our community on global stages, and even stopped writing blog posts - this is my first post in a year! All of this enabled us to take a hard look at what would actually move the needle for Seaworthy to get the support it needed to become sustainable and grow, while staying relatively quiet and head down for this year compared to previous years.
Between December and January, we made our first notable progress as one of 24 winners of the Design It phase of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) American-MadeEnergy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Prize Round 2 . This seeded Seaworthy's design and implementation of our new year-round Founder Mentorship Program (learn more on our startup programs page).
This DOE grant was our first-ever federal grant, and we quickly turned around and executed delivering the new Founder Mentorship Program. At the same time, our small but mighty team navigated growing a new partnership with Impact Stars to deliver crucial curricula and integrate their climate entrepreneur expertise to bolster Seaworthy's programs. Impact Stars Founder and CEO, Neesha Mirchandani, has worked side by side with Seaworthy's Startup Programs Director, Tamara Kahn, to deliver the dedicated support for founders in our programs throughout the year.
While we did not win the second phase of the EPIC grant, Seaworthy continued to explore strategically aligned corporate partnership and federal grant opportunities while iterating on and growing our Founder Mentorship Program. In April, World Centric supported our mission through a regional giving grant. In May, Seaworthy won Stage 1 of the Small Business Administration (SBA) Growth Accelerator Fund Competition. We were one of 40 organizations nationally (with only 4 in climate and 2 in Florida) who won the prize to build strategic partnerships to support the launch, growth, and scale of STEM/R&D-focused small businesses across the country, with a focus on inclusive ecosystem development. This supported 2 of the 6 Seaworthy startups that participated in our startup programs this year - who you can meet at our startup showcase next month! (Get your tickets here)
Our Impact-filled Summer
While delivering on Stage 1 of our SBA grant this summer and filling up our rolling cohort in the Founder Mentorship Program, we achieved a number of crucial milestones. With our new startup program in full swing, we were able to include a greater focus on setting up our startups for SBIR grants, while seeing founders in our program navigate the challenges of validation across various industry sectors. We continued to receive great feedback from founders like Johanan Dujon of Algas Organics on the support we were able to provide in partnership with Impact Stars.
At the same time, we had a chance to start updating our social impact metrics for this year, and discovered some of our previous calculations greatly underestimated our impact to date! (Turns out I never took a statistics class). We're now thrilled to be able to report that we've now supported 56 BlueTech founders to date!
Most notably, the MAJORITY (57%) of founders we've supported to date have identified as either female, BIPOC, or LGBTQIA - ensuring Seaworthy's pipeline of talent and ideas for the global ocean and climate impact ecosytem is both diverse and representative of our community as well as an equitable future for the industry.
Meanwhile, past Seaworthy startups have also been making leaps; with a prime example being Kind Designs (formerly The Addition Company) with Founder and CEO Anya Freeman from Cohort 1 (2021) - who have gone from concept to production of their 3D-printed seawalls in just 2 years!
Climate Week NYC & Seaworthy's Major Announcements
Last week, we had the chance to attend our second NYC Climate Week, and finally connected in person with 30+ fellow global ocean entrepreneur support organizations and ecosystem builders in the 1000 Ocean Startups Coalition, we're still incredibly inspired, humbled, and grateful. The week felt like the culmination of the now 3 years of work behind Seaworthy Collective.
Seaworthy Collective started the week co-hosting a BlueTech community building, networking, and startup pitch event with 1000 Ocean Startups Coalition, The Ocean Opportunity Lab, and ARKHAUS. It was an action-packed evening featuring pitches from ocean impact startups from all over the world, including Veer.Voyage, Healthy Oceans Seafood Company, WSENSE, The Great Bubble Barrier®, and ARKHAUS. We couldn't ask for a better way to celebrate ocean innovators and co-host our first-ever event in NYC and for Climate Week!
On Thursday, our Startup Programs Director, Tamara Kahn, and I headed to the The Explorers Club for the formal 1000 Ocean Startups Coalition members convening; where we finally had the chance to put faces to names to so many fellow ocean innovation ecosystem builders from around the world. We have so much respect and appreciation for the incredible work being done by our fellow coalition members, and to be among everyone "doing the work", it was both an honor and an exciting opportunity to grow our potential for collaboration.
We also had the chance to share the story of Kind Designs and Anya Freeman, and how we were able to impact their journey from being the first to believe in them to closing a $5M seed round. Across both events, we were excited to finally share some major announcements below.
Seaworthy Collective wins SBA Growth Accelerator Fund Stage 2; launching partnerships with Catalist & Miami Dade College
Seaworthy won its third federal grant in Stage 2 of the Small Business Administration (SBA) Growth Accelerator Fund Competition (GAFC). This brings our total support from the SBA to $200,000 for 2023! We were one of 35 organizations nationally (with only 3 in climate and 2 in Florida) who won the prize with our focus on developing the infrastructure for effective collaboration with our new partners at Catalist, and drive intentional inclusion by working with the most diverse institution in the country with Miami-Dade College.
In the week since the SBA announced Seaworthy winning Stage 2 of the GAFC, we've already conducted our first joint event with Miami-Dade College, participating in their inaugural Changemaker Week with a workshop supporting over 50 students to "think like a Seaworthy Founder" and prototype their own ocean impact startup.
This grant will also support a fellowship program that Seaworthy and MDC will co-develop, as well as a platform with Catalist for mapping and navigating Seaworthy's ecosystem to make it even more accessible to current and aspiring founders alike.
Seaworthy Collective Announces Partnership With Salesforce
Salesforce has been committed to advancing climate justice and nature restoration and supporting Entrepreneurial Support Organizations (ESOs) empowering underrepresented ecopreneurs with philanthropic investments. Salesforce’s donation provides scholarships for at least 20 entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds to access Seaworthy’s catalytic startup programs. Learn more about Salesforce's commitment to Seaworthy and other ESOs here!
As our first major corporate partner, Salesforce is setting the standard for partners to come - investing deeply into developing an equitable and inclusive ocean innovation ecosystem. We could not be prouder to call Salesforce a partner, and further build on their support with community events and many more new opportunities to come!
Salesforce's support has directly enabled 4 startups and at least 4 founders to go through Seaworthy's startup programs this year!
In case you missed it, our Startup Showcase is less than a month away! Join us in celebrating these amazing announcements with us as well as the incredible work being done by BlueTech startup founders who Seaworthy Collective has been mentoring and supporting throughout 2023. Seaworthy’s latest cohort of startups are addressing critical challenges in ocean and climate impact, including solutions for pollution, greenhouse gas reduction and removal, as well as coastal resilience and adaptation, with direct applications for Miami and beyond.
Otherwise, this month we just submitted our final federal grant of the year with NOAA with some more new and exciting partners, and already have some ambitious plans in the works for 2024!
Final Thoughts & Gratitude
Part of the beauty of our journey as a startup is that it parallels many of the same challenges of the founders we serve. This enables us to double down on our leading values of authenticity and empathy in the work that we do, and drive even greater results with the lessons learned in the successes we've finally started to compile this year.
For Seaworthy, this wouldn't be possible without our team, board, advisors, and volunteers. Our board chair Christina Thirkell has stuck with us since the earliest days and has been an integral part of getting us to this point. Tamara Kahn has done an incredible job double timing as a new mom and our startup programs director this year, and Neesha Mirchandani and Impact Stars have been critical partners to enabling our success. Brittany Small and Angela Betancourt have each helped in ensuring our community programs continued to thrive after our initial challenges starting the year, and we're so excited to take them to the next level with our new partners in tow. The rest of our board including Ubah Bulale, Chris Daniels, Sirena Andras, and Scarlett Lanzas have supported from helping to grow our local community efforts in Miami to growing and updating our brand and strategy.
Our advisors have also been core to this year's evolution, with their years of advice coming to fruition. From early believers including Carolyn and Chris Groobey, Selar Henderson, Ann Carpenter, Stephen Cain, Vincent Arena, Peter Coughlan, and Dr. Mark Abbott, to local leaders including Andrew Quarrie, Laura McFarlane, Melissa Krinzman, James Irvine, and Katherine Koenig - we could not have gotten here without your valuable input and support. We've also had incredibly meaningful contributions from over 25 volunteers over the past 3 years across so many facets of our progress this year and leading up to it - and we wouldn't be here without any of them! Finally, our startups would not have achieved their successes without the support of our network and community, including hundreds of mentors, collaborators, investors, and strategic partners. We're so grateful for all of you!
While things have begun turning the corner, we still have a long way to go. We continue to seek out partners to help sustain our impactful work. If you're interested in exploring partnership opportunities in support of Seaworthy, learn more about opportunities to partner with us here.
Collectively, there's no doubt we can drive forward the scale of solutions needed to reverse climate change and marine degradation - which starts with making this ecosystem accessible and inclusive. Representing our community on the global stage at New York Climate Week and kicking off these historic partnerships were giant leaps forward towards meaningful connections, collaborations, and impact - together with actors of all kinds. This is our sea change in action. Onwards and forwards! 🌊🌊