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  • Daniel Kleinman

Reflecting on Seaworthy Collective’s First Year and Evolving Vision

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

This week marks one year since Seaworthy Collective was launched, when we held our first of now twenty expert panels. As soon as I put pen to paper on Seaworthy in March 2019, I recognized that the vision for it was much bigger than anything I could accomplish on my own. What has transpired since September 2020 has already exceeded all my initial ambitions. Over twenty early-career professionals, including graduate and undergraduate student volunteers, in addition to numerous mentors and eventual advisors, have helped us make that vision reality and develop it into something even greater. As we’ve just passed the halfway point of our inaugural venture studio cohort, I’m excited to share our most refined vision yet – featuring three pillars for each entity of our hybrid model – toward the end of this article.

Many lessons have been learned along the way, and critical moments and milestones have shaped the evolution of our vision. If you’ve been following along with this journey as a member of our community, sharing our vision and passion for making real ocean and climate impact (aka Sea Change), thank you. It’s our collective belief in what we can accomplish together that has gotten us to where we are today and set us up for where we’re going next.

Seaworthy Collective's first in-person event in May 2021 with hosted our friends at PADL

Whether you’re new to our community or a seasoned Sea Change Maker, this first anniversary of our launch is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the journey to this point. As things have accelerated with Seaworthy, it’s become more difficult to have these moments to reflect on our progress, celebrate the wins, and acknowledge where we can improve. This is part of the challenge of a founder’s journey, but I’m determined to make time for this as we settle into a new phase with our inaugural cohort. That said, please enjoy our first year in review, which includes some fun insights on my “jadedness” that I haven’t shared previously.

Reconnecting with Our Roots + An Expanded Perspective on the Ocean Innovation Ecosystem

In August 2020, leading up to our launch, I wrote a deep dive into our mission sharing how Seaworthy sought to address “the systemic failures obstructing the necessary innovations to save our blue planet.” This desire to take on these systemic failures originated from my experiences in industry: working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and seeing limited public funding limit my professional opportunities; witnessing the defense industry’s grip on ocean innovation while working at Bluefin Robotics that was acquired by a defense contractor within six months of my starting there; and seeing leading researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography whom I aspired to work with one day frequent my lab while I was working for the navy in San Diego. Most recently, my last year as a master’s student at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS) opened my eyes to the social constructs limiting many aspiring marine science students to siloed focuses in the public sector and academia; meanwhile, my colleagues in mechanical engineering largely focused on aerospace or defense applications when it came to their aspirations.

All these experiences, combined with my background in design and systems thinking, underscored larger systemic barriers that have kept so many potential changemakers from being able to follow their passions and/or drive change for the largest problems facing our ocean and planet. A lack of public funding for ocean and climate impact innovation, along with a duopoly on ocean innovation by the defense and fossil fuel industries, combined with siloed notions of what a marine science degree should lead to and rarely challenged beliefs that an ocean specialization or PhD is necessary to contribute in the space, have altogether made ocean innovation an extremely exclusionary field.

The Ocean 100 Study characterizing the top 100 corporations making up 60% of the Blue Economy. The top 2 sectors were fossil fuels and defense, making up 61 of the top 100.

The cherry on top of the pile of chips on my shoulder (something that I haven’t shared before): I was rejected by UCSD and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography three years in a row before I finally had the opportunity to launch Seaworthy and pursue my master’s in Miami. That was with years of experience under my belt designing and operating autonomous underwater vehicles and having already worked at a leading oceanographic research institution. Now just imagine how hard it is for someone trying to break into the field without relevant experience!

Side note: I want to say thank you to UCSD, as this was some great fuel to drive change, and I couldn’t be prouder representing my roots in South Florida + #MiamiTech.

So how has Seaworthy Collective worked to disrupt entrenched interests that don’t serve our planet and siloed focuses that perpetuate complacency instead of impact? Simply put, by creating accessible opportunities and driving radical collaboration. This has enabled us to build community and credibility in parallel.

Building, Pivoting, and Launching Virtually

In February 2020, a month before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, I attended the AGU Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego – an event that brought together the ocean science community I most identified with. At this point, I had spent most of my career on the outside looking in, as a result of the scarcity of opportunities to be a part of anything remotely close to solving the biggest problems facing the ocean. I showed up sleep deprived and heavily caffeinated, as I had spent the weekend prior getting Seaworthy’s website and social media up and running and printing business cards. Long story short, all I was looking for was one yes – one stakeholder in the community I identified with to tell me this could be something they saw value in. I walked away with multiple, including an exciting opportunity for funding our startups on day one (shoutout to Carrie & Jennifer at the DOE).

One month later, I accepted the offer from the University of Miami RSMAS to pursue my master’s degree in Exploration Science, with the intention of launching Seaworthy in Miami. Little did I know that the following week, the pandemic would change everything. I had worked so hard to achieve clarity in regards to my career direction, and I had to press reset on years of planning for finally having the opportunity to pursue my greatest passions in ocean impact, innovation and entrepreneurship, and mentorship. Nonetheless, by May the dust had settled and I was able to recommit to my pre-pandemic intentions knowing things would have to evolve much differently than I initially envisioned.

That same month I took another critical leap of faith – which led me to find the first person who shared my vision and wanted to help make this dream become reality. After putting out a request for help on a RSMAS listserv, I received two replies. Only one actually showed up to our first virtual meeting: Giuliana Vomero, who became Seaworthy Crew Member #1 and our Community Relations Director. She was halfway across the world, in Uruguay, which was just the beginning of leaning into building our team virtually. Soon, it stretched far beyond Miami, from Singapore to California and Canada.

After starting my master’s studies at RSMAS last August, I finally had the chance to reconnect with the ocean science community that I’d long been an outsider to. With a global team behind me, it was time to see what we could accomplish by bringing together industry experts and making them accessible to anyone willing to jump on Zoom for an hour. Seaworthy’s first official panel event on September 17th, 2020, featured Jeff Kaeli, from Armada Robotics and The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Ian Tomcho, from National Geographic / Lindblad Expeditions, discussing ocean innovation for scientific discovery. With over thirty attendees, we quickly realized we were onto something. People were excited to build community – even virtually.

The ad for Seaworthy's first panel event, now a series of over 20 in the past year.

The first year of the pandemic was a curveball that leveled the playing field and created opportunities for innovation and disruption alike. Never before had so many people had so much time to explore their passions and reconnect to what they really value. We provided the forum for current and aspiring ocean innovators and entrepreneurs to learn, explore, and empower themselves to become part of a community of people who are creating tangible change and exemplifying what following your passion for saving the oceans and planet can look like. It has been truly fulfilling helping others see a bright future in ocean and climate impact through uncertain times.

Realizing and Executing Our Vision + Helping Miami Seize Its Opportunity for Sea Change

Kicking off 2021, I outlined Seaworthy’s Roadmap to a Regenerative Blue Economy, charting the pathway to activating our community. I introduced the concept of a venture studio for facilitating the development of regenerative systems of solutions that would help build startup pipelines for incubators, accelerators, and local-scale regenerative blue economies. With this model, we could intentionally curate high-impact startups, whether they were co-created ventures or crowdsourced existing startups.

Shifting the big-picture focus to Miami, in March we opened applications for our first cohort in our Opportunities for Sea Change (O4SC). The O4SC encompasses six verticals in which current and aspiring founders can grow or develop a startup with Seaworthy through our venture studio program. Altogether, we received over 150 applicants for our inaugural program!

Seaworthy's Opportunities for Sea Change - 6 different verticals that combined help build systems of solutions for a regenerative blue economy.

At the same time, MiamiTech had its “moment” that has since turned into a movement. Just as Mayor Suarez famously retweeted “How Can I Help?” in December, Seaworthy was putting the final touches on its roadmap. That April, I sat down with Mayor Suarez for a Cafecito Talk as we wrapped up applications for our inaugural venture studio and announced our first of now multiple investing partners.

What followed was a flurry of events that proved that everything we’d built virtually translated into real life, establishing Seaworthy as a leading MiamiTech startup building the South Florida BlueTech & ClimateTech ecosystem. Between providing the keynote speech at Tech Beach’s Earth Day event, hosting our first in-person event with Miami-Dade County Chief Bay Officer Irela Bague and City of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, and pitching in front of 150+ people and a panel of esteemed judges at the Wyncubator Pitch Competition, we burst onto the Miami Tech scene! We also co-hosted the end of conference mixer with CoMotion Miami in June, before finally launching our inaugural cohort in July.

Spring and Summer notable events (from left to right) - Cafecito Talk with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Wyncubator Pitch Competition, CoMotion Miami BlueTech & Marine Mobility Mixer

When we announced our Opportunities for Sea Change for Miami in March, I reflected on the MiamiTech moment (now movement). These critical insights have become even more relevant as we’ve progressed:

“A moment like this not only offers the chance to look forward to the future we can build, but also an opportunity to look inward at the problems we need to solve for the community that we, as South Florida innovators and entrepreneurs, serve.

“Moving forward, we must approach problems proactively instead of reactively . . . the next crisis to hit South Florida has actually been happening all along: climate change and ocean degradation.