Catalyzing I & E for the Sea in Miami, South Florida, and Beyond
Bridging Miami and South Florida’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I & E) Ecosystem, Oceanographic Research Institutions, and Marine Industries to Build a Regenerative Blue Economy for Local, Regional, & International Stakeholders
The future for the South Florida blue economy is encompassed by both urgency and opportunity; while South Florida faces significant impacts of a changing climate and rising seas, it’s also uniquely positioned to lead regenerative ocean innovation. Regenerative approaches go beyond sustainability, focusing on solving problems at their root cause, rather than sustainably mitigating them. For example, creating biodegradable plastic alternatives to get plastic out of the supply chain altogether instead of recycling plastic, or focusing on aquaculture instead of trying to fish sustainably from dwindling wild populations.
While much has changed in both the global landscape and local economic landscapes since the pandemic began, the foundations for South Florida to drive the regenerative blue economy have existed for quite some time. Meanwhile, South Florida has recently had an exciting influx of talent and capital, along with a heightened global awareness of the interdependent relationship between the natural world and the economy. Altogether, there is no better time to embrace the ocean of opportunity around us than now.
Florida’s Key Foundations for Ocean Innovation
The foundations of the Florida’s blue economy have been detailed at length in multiple publications from the Florida Ocean Alliance (FOA). FOA divided Florida’s ocean industries into five subgroups: ocean tourism, ocean transportation, marine industries, ocean recreation, and living resources. Of these five subgroups, ocean tourism overwhelmingly made up the vast majority of Florida’s blue economy at over $24.6 billion dollars, which was 66% of the total Florida blue economy (FOA, 2020) .
Figure 1 - Florida Blue Economy Sectors by Florida Ocean Alliance, 2020
What is notably absent from this list are the fossil fuel and defense industries, which combined represent more than half of the top 100 corporations that make up the majority of the global blue economy. The Ocean 100 study mapped out the global distribution of these major blue economy players below (Duke & Stockholm Universities, 2021) . When comparing to existing blue economy hubs (AKA clusters) in cities such as Boston and San Diego, the historic equation for them have brought together an oceanographic research institution, one or more universities, and naval and/or fossil fuel industry funding. Due to minimal public funding for ocean science, these private sources of funding have led to an increasing monopolization of ocean innovation to serve these interests (National Research Council, 2015) .
Figure 2 - Ocean 100 - Top 100 Corporations Making Up the Top 60% of the Blue Economy, Duke & Stockholm Universities, 2021
South Florida’s Unique Ecosystem for Building a Regenerative Blue Economy Cluster Beyond Industry Silos
While having minimal involvement in two of the largest industries in the overall blue economy may sound like a missed opportunity for the Florida blue economy, it has actually created an even larger opportunity for the future as a result. While the defense and fossil fuel industries may have historically had merit, it’s obvious that continued exploitation and militarization are not going to address the mounting impacts of climate change and ocean degradation. Moving forward, South Florida is uniquely positioned to facilitate radical innovation to build solutions for overfishing, plastic pollution, sea level rise, carbon sequestration, clean energy, and ocean science, by not having to serve the entrenched industry siloes that have limited the focuses of other ocean innovation clusters.
Beyond that, many of the elements of the old equation for blue economy clusters are still applicable in South Florida, beyond antiquated funding sources. South Florida has a significant concentration of maritime research between University of Miami, Florida International University, Florida Atlantic University, and Nova Southeastern University, and their respective oceanographic research institutions; Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, SeaTech and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, Institute of Environment and Aquarius Reef Base, and the Guy Harvey Research Institute. Altogether, there is not an overarching industry focus within the work of these institutions, which have stayed true to their missions of furthering ocean and atmospheric science. Florida Sea Grant produced a great visual (pictured on the following page) mapping out both coasts of South Florida’s oceanographic research institutions.
We have the opportunity to lead building the next version of the model for regenerative blue economy clusters. By activating South Florida’s universities and oceanographic research institutions along with its growing entrepreneurial ecosystem, we can start building solutions focused on regenerating our ocean instead of exploiting it. The remainder of this document provides an overview of the landscape for South Florida ocean I & E as well as guidance for building this community and aligning the resources to support it on varying levels; locally in our oceanographic universities, regionally for Miami and South Florida as a whole, and internationally through collaboration with neighboring Caribbean island nations and beyond.
Figure 3 - Distribution of Oceanographic Research Institutions in South Florida, Florida Sea Grant Participating Institutions
Baseline Study of University of Miami RSMAS Ocean I & E Resources and Programs
I’ve applied my background in design and systems thinking as a University Innovation Fellow to understand the landscape and dynamics for I & E within oceanographic academics as a graduate student working towards my Masters of Professional Science in Exploration Science at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS). With the obvious disclaimer that the academic experience is much different than what it was pre-COVID, there are still plenty of programs and resources to paint close to a full picture of the current state of I & E at RSMAS. To first get a baseline of the existing resources for innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Miami, I referenced the landscape canvas of UM’s last cohort of University Innovation Fellows from 2017. Their total resource distribution findings are listed in the table below.
Notable resources within the university were primarily identified in the discover and learn sections of the survey. The discover section included I & E events such as TEDx Coconut Grove, Design Thinking Miami, Canes Summit for Leadership, Diversity, and Social Change, and TEDxUMiami. Meanwhile in the learn section, other university events highlighted included UHack, UM Shark Tank College Day, and the UM Business Plan Competition. Beyond that, the experiment, pursue, and spin out sections highlighted business school programs, services within The Launch Pad at UM, and local entrepreneurial ecosystem resources beyond the university. All of these resources buoyed a variety of I & E courses primarily housed within the business and engineering schools.
I also received insights on more recent interdisciplinary university initiatives for sustainable business and ocean innovation after speaking with Dr. David Kelly, the Co-chair of the Sustainable Business Research Cluster and Academic Director of the Master of Science in Sustainable Business at the University of Miami Herbert Business School. Dr. Kelly highlighted a number of courses and initiatives that have existed to bridge RSMAS with the Business School. Interdisciplinary courses offered spanned hurricane risk and natural disasters, economics of natural resources and the environment, climate and society, as well as environmental law. Meanwhile events with maritime industry included a conference on ocean business with Gulf Stream Yachts’ CEO and a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) Summit. Beyond that, Dr. Kelly mentioned ULink as an additional tool for facilitating interdisciplinary research through catalytic grant funding.
While the existing programs and events highlighted above have provided various chances for students to engage with both innovation and entrepreneurship as well as maritime and sustainable business, more opportunities remain to embed I & E further within RSMAS. As highlighted in the University of Miami’s Roadmap for Our New Century, one of the key initiatives within the university’s mission driven research priority is interdisciplinary inquiry that “support teams of scholars from multiple disciplines in collaborative, problem-based inquiry to address the complex challenges of society.” RSMAS professor Dr. Ben Kirtman is quoted for this specific priority, stating “interaction among scholars across disciplines motivates and drives research in new ways, pushing us to focus on how information is used to support decisions.” However, this same approach applies beyond research; facilitating innovation and entrepreneurship can be equally supported by similar cross-discipline initiatives. On a university level, UM has the opportunity to bring the resources together to build the model for interdisciplinary ocean I & E that can be implemented across other oceanographic research universities as we build a collaborative ecosystem for ocean innovation and entrepreneurship for South Florida and beyond.
Figure 4 - University of Miami Roadmap to Our New Century Landing Page, Featuring RSMAS Field Researchers
Systemic Barriers in Academia Plus Opportunities for Interdisciplinary and Interuniversity Collaboration
As I highlighted earlier in the Ocean 100 study, the large corporations primarily in the fossil fuel and defense industries impose systemic barriers for ocean innovation. However, academia has its own systemic barriers that are not as visible to those outside of the classroom. To get a sense of these barriers, one just has to look at the landscape of opportunities for marine science students. Unity College found that “33 percent of people in these (marine science) jobs worked for government organizations; 31 percent of people worked in “professional, scientific, or technical” capacities; and, 14 percent worked as educators at a college or university.” (Unity College, 2018) . Additionally, the article stated “The field is very competitive and the number of marine scientists exceeds, and is expected to continue outpacing, the number of jobs available.”
The surplus of individuals with marine science degrees has resulted in a shortage of the number and diversity of professional opportunities altogether. However, those limitations are perpetuated by the system itself; students only see the opportunities that continue to be reinforced by the unchallenged notions of what a marine science degree should lead to. As degreed marine scientists continue outpacing available opportunities, the need for new opportunities and new approaches to the field continues to grow with it. Innovation and entrepreneurship not only offer avenues to make progress against this disparity, but offer faster paths to solutions than from public organizations that are challenged by shortages of funding and bureaucratic inefficiencies.
On both institutional and individual student levels, there are a number of opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, as well as an opportunity for a cultural shift away from the aforementioned siloed approaches to the field. It starts with creating dedicated space, programming, and resources at RSMAS for students to recognize that innovation and entrepreneurship is an available path to them. Events for inclusion in I & E that can further this can include bringing in founders, having design sprints and hackathons, and dedicated interdisciplinary spaces such as makerspaces. Additionally, an entrepreneur in residence could be an asset for many students seeking out mentorship to become a startup founder.
Figure 5 - Innovation Space Design from Stanford d.school - courtesy of Fast Company
Beyond that, interuniversity collaboration is a much larger opportunity. Individually, each oceanographic institution has relatively small marine science student populations with a finite number of opportunities. There is no doubt with the scale of problems in climate change, overfishing, plastic pollution, and more, collaboration between leading institutions is inevitable to have the capacity to build solutions for them. The spectrum of shared opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship between the combined talent pools of South Florida’s marine research institutions can develop resources that are altogether much more than the sum of its parts. The Marine Research Hub was a local government-initiated effort to catalyze this collaboration, and Seaworthy Collective is working to further those efforts through its own innovation and community activation initiatives.
Seizing Miami and Greater South Florida’s Moment to Serve Our Region’s Needs
With the pandemic driving a move to remote work, the tech ecosystem is South Florida is finally seeing significant momentum and there’s no reason for it to be limited to developing location agnostic solutions. For the new capital and talent coming to town, it’s important to ensure that we’re serving the community as much as we are building it up. As we shape the verticals that will define Miami and South Florida tech, it’s important for them to reflect and work towards solving the biggest problems facing the region. That inclusivity by design is critical not only for leveraging the previously referenced abundance of local university resources, but in driving innovation and entrepreneurship for developing regional economies as well as impact.
With increasing rates of sea level rise and tropical storm activity, Miami is projected to see significant impacts within the decade (Strauss, n.d.) , with long-term projections putting Miami underwater by 2100 (Lakritz, 2019) . Miami has been referred to as “the poster child for a major city in big trouble,” with rising seas expected to cause floods, contaminated drinking water, and major damage to property and infrastructure. Miami is also already seeing the social impacts of climate gentrification disproportionately affect people of color in communities like Little Haiti (Santiago, 2020) .
Figure 6 - 5 ft sea level rise impacts estimate, courtesy of The Verge
Meanwhile, our natural capital to combat climate change and severe weather has also been suffering. Last fall in Biscayne Bay, we saw a mass marine life die-off event from years of unchecked wastewater mismanagement, pollution, and warming waters (Staletovich, 2020) . Mangroves, which are one of nature’s primary forms of coastal resilience and most efficient carbon sequestering plants, are also threatened with population decline (USGS, 2019) . Similarly, South Florida’s coral reefs, which are also critical to coastal resilience and hotspots for biodiversity, have been reduced to less than 10% of their historical cover (The Nature Conservancy, n.d.) . Our once colorful and lively ecosystem that has historically driven ecotourism has largely deteriorated into muted tones of white and brown, with less abundant marine life.
With all of this in mind, climate change and ocean degradation must be a priority for the growing regional tech ecosystem. So how do we integrate this into the evolving priorities of the new South Florida tech ecosystem? The science of ecosystem building isn’t exact, but cross-pollination of communities is a major part of the foundation. As mentioned previously, interdisciplinarity is a key piece of the puzzle at university levels. However, it’s equally important for the tech ecosystem to have that ingrained in its development as well. As Miami becomes a hotbed for cryptocurrency, e-commerce, and more, these regional interests can’t be left out of the picture.
Making the Regional Case for Blue Tech
How do we make blue tech a part of the conversation for the quickly evolving South Florida tech ecosystem? Seaworthy Collective is leading the charge by building an ocean startup community and venture studio, as well as a mentor and collaborator network to support them. Seaworthy Collective is also partnering with existing incubators and accelerators to create additional programs to serve the ocean innovation space. Altogether, Seaworthy Collective is fostering the interdisciplinary community to be able to drive the inclusion of ocean innovation in cross-pollination with the larger Miami and South Florida tech communities.
Although Seaworthy Collective is seeing success in garnering community support from city and county levels, it takes a diversity of stakeholders to drive blue tech ecosystem growth. Beyond local universities, leveraging the ports connected with marine shipping, tourism, and seafood industries are critical pieces of the equation to mobilize resources and capital for a regional blue economy. Public-private partnerships ultimately will buoy building the overall blue “cluster” in South Florida, encompassing capacity and economic development.
A formal definition for maritime/blue clusters is: “geographic concentrations of related maritime industries that share common markets and operate near to one another through multiple networks. These clusters can play a vital role in advancing ocean sustainable development by combining innovation, competitiveness-productivity-profit and environmental impact” (Humphrey, 2018) . David Hume of the Liquid Grid mapped out the state of Maritime Clusters in North America below, with existing incubators, accelerators, and innovation centers indicated by the black dots.
Figure 7 - North American Blue Cluster Distribution by David Hume of Liquid Grid
As Miami seeks to become the “Capital of Capital,” an emerging focus of investment priority must be impact and ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investment. A growing contingent of investors are seeking to find ways to invest in sustainable initiatives tackling climate change and improving the environment. As Miami continues to lure out of state investors, it should also aim to be the capital of “doing well and doing good,” which serves to strengthen its pitch and reinforce efforts to combat the looming impacts of climate change on the city.
AltaSea at Port of Los Angeles provides a great model for this, describing themselves as “a unique public-private ocean institute that joins together the best and brightest in exploration, science, business and education. The emphasis on creating public-private collaborations sets the organization apart. It is from these intersections that innovation is born, and from innovation comes groundbreaking impact.” Miami can do this and more.
Building Collective International Ocean Innovation; From Neighboring Island Nations to Latin America & Beyond
While the ocean spans 71% of the planet, blue clusters seemingly limit collaboration regionally. However, Miami’s unique position as a blue economy that doesn’t serve entrenched private interests as well as a gateway to Latin America and beyond presents a global reach for a global ocean. Our Caribbean island neighbors also share in the need to solve many of the same problems that affect and threaten our coastline and waters. Rather than continue to reinforce siloed efforts, building these international collaborations for innovation are key to maximizing the resources to solve our borderless problems.
Seaworthy Collective is working to partner with Blue Action Lab, based in the Bahamas, to start building these international collaborative efforts. Blue Action Lab (BAL) provides place-based economic development to empower low-lying and coastal islands around the world to take advantage of the emerging blue and climate-resilient economies. Beyond that, the BAL leverages other country’s policies to enable pathways beyond some of the time and resource consuming roadblocks that exist with archaic legislation and permitting processes in the US. Rather than waiting months if not years to be able to start testing technologies or new techniques for aquaculture, we can leverage their resources to help accelerate the development of solutions that would be held back otherwise. Thus, we can use innovation to drive policy rather than waiting for policy to drive innovation.
On the global stage, North America is noticeably behind other countries ocean innovation ecosystems. Europe has more than double the amount of ocean startups of North and South America combined. According to NOAA Fisheries, “The United States is a minor aquaculture producer, ranked 17th in 2017 on a global scale—but it is the leading global importer of fish and fishery products. By weight, approximately 90 percent of the seafood we eat comes from abroad, over half of it from aquaculture. Driven by imports, the U.S. seafood trade deficit has grown to $16.8 billion in 2017.” (NOAA Fisheries, 2020) . Meanwhile, the U.S. is also generating more plastic waste than any other country in the world (Jones, Hurdle, & Chandrashekhar, 2020) . As demonstrated below in the global ocean startup distribution map from Katapult Ocean’s 2020 Blue World Perspective, we need to leverage all the help we can get to catch up with other leading countries in this space, and amend our unsustainable practices.
Figure 8 - Global Ocean Startup Distribution Map by Katapult Ocean, 2020 Blue World Perspective
Altogether, Miami’s unique opportunity to lead the development of a local regenerative blue economy, a regional regenerative blue cluster, and hemispheric collaboration can lead a sea change for catalyzing collective innovation to take on ocean degradation and climate change. Seaworthy Collective is building up the local and regional blue tech ecosystem, developing the programs to serve the ecosystem, and driving the development of solutions to make the most of this opportunity addressing the greatest problems facing Miami, South Florida, and our global ocean.
Short Term Quick Wins
Quick wins provide small, yet tangible steps in building momentum towards larger goals. On each of the levels previously identified (local university, regional, and international), I’ve provided 4 quick, achievable wins for each level below.
University (specifically UM RSMAS) level:
· Establish an entrepreneur-in-residence or founder talk series at RSMAS
· Have dedicated entrepreneurship resources supported by The Launch Pad
· Increase collaboration with business and engineering schools for events beyond classes and research - Example: Host a hackathon / design sprint for ocean solutions
· Interuniversity I & E events – bringing in FIU for any of these events in collaboration
· Including blue tech and the overall blue economy leaders in the conversation for the quickly evolving future of Miami / South Florida tech
· Connecting the ports with the evolving tech scene
· Initiating the development of a South Florida Regenerative Blue Cluster
· Dedicating funds towards regenerative blue economy initiatives to help build ecosystem
· Connecting with nearby island nation leaders and institutions (Blue Action Lab, Cape Eleuthera Institute, etc.) for facilitating collaboration
· Creating synergy around mutual problems we’re trying to solve
· Creating shared resources for the space
· Using foreign policy to help drive innovation abroad along with policy changes domestically
Longer-Term Audacious Goals (Seaworthy Collective)
Although much of the longer-term goals are seemingly policy dependent, there’s an important paradigm shift that Seaworthy Collective and I have embraced; rather than waiting to let policy drive innovation, the urgency of the problems we need to solve necessitate innovation having to drive policy. Thus, we are taking a number of critical steps to catalyze building the Regenerative Blue Tech ecosystem for Miami, South Florida, and beyond. I’ve provided Seaworthy Collective’s major next steps below:
Building and activating a pipeline of talent and the resources to support them:
· Seaworthy Collective has received over 100 applications for current and aspiring entrepreneurs looking to co-found a regenerative ocean startup. This summer we will begin building teams and eventually ventures to be incubated later in the year.
· Seaworthy Collective’s network features over 50 total individual mentors and strategic collaborator organizations, all lending their expertise, network, and resources to our community.
Bringing together the capital to support the pipeline and overall ecosystem:
· Ahead of Earth Day, Seaworthy Collective announced that it is partnering with Logos Capital to raise a $30 million-dollar Regenerative Blue Economy Fund, investing in the startups Seaworthy is co-creating as well as the overall Blue Tech ecosystem we’re building in South Florida and beyond.
Seaworthy Collective’s Audacious Goals:
· Grow & develop over 3000 co-created & crowdsourced regenerative ocean impact ventures by the end of the ocean decade in 2030.
· With our scalable model, we see scaling to build pipelines in additional cities with regenerative blue economy potential within and outside of South Florida, starting in 2023.
Happy Earth Day from Seaworthy Collective - Empowering Sea Change for Our Blue Planet!
Seaworthy Collective Founder & CEO
Works Cited (In order of appearance):
1. Florida Ocean Alliance. (2020). Securing Florida’s Blue Economy
2. Virdin, J., Vegh, T., Jouffray, J., Blasiak, R., Mason, S., Österblom, H., . . . Werner, N. (2021, January 01). The Ocean 100: Transnational corporations in the ocean economy. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/3/eabc8041
3. National Research Council. (2015). 2015–2025 Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://www.nap.edu/resource/21655/decadal-survey-summary-final.pdf
4. Unity College. (2018, June 18). What can you do with a marine biology degree? Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://unity.edu/environmental-careers/what-can-you-do-with-a-marine-biology-degree/#:~:text=Similar%20to%20jobs%20in%20the,is%20considered%20%E2%80%9Caverage%E2%80%9D%20growth
5. Strauss, B. (n.d.). Surging seas sea level rise analysis. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://sealevel.climatecentral.org/news/floria-and-the-rising-sea
6. Lakritz, T. (2019, September 10). These 11 Sinking cities could disappear by 2100. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/09/11-sinking-cities-that-could-soon-be-underwater/
7. Santiago, E. (2020, February 10). Weathering the Storm: CLIMATE gentrification in Miami's Little Haiti: The pursuit: University of Michigan School of Public Health: Climate Change: Climate GENTRIFICATION: MIAMI. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://sph.umich.edu/pursuit/2020posts/weathering-the-storm-climate-gentrification-in-miami.html
8. Staletovich, J. (2020, August 25). 'Decades of WARNING Signs' preceded Biscayne Bay fish kill. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://wusfnews.wusf.usf.edu/environment/2020-08-23/decades-of-warning-signs-preceded-biscayne-bay-fish-kill
9. USGS. (2019, August 14). Rising Sea Levels Could Accelerate Florida Bay Mangrove Loss. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://www.usgs.gov/news/rising-sea-levels-could-accelerate-florida-bay-mangrove-loss
10. The Nature Conservancy. (n.d.). Florida's spectacular coral reef system. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/florida/stories-in-florida/floridas-spectacular-coral-reef-system/
11. Humphrey, K. (2018). Blue Economy Barbados, Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy, via The Ocean Foundation
12. NOAA Fisheries. (2020, June 19). U.S. Aquaculture. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/aquaculture/us-aquaculture
13. Jones, N., Hurdle, J., & Chandrashekhar, V. (2020, November 2). U.S. is a larger source of plastic pollution than previously Thought, report finds. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://e360.yale.edu/digest/u-s-is-a-larger-source-of-plastic-pollution-than-previously-thought-report-finds