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  • Daniel Kleinman

Seaworthy Collective’s Roadmap for a Regenerative Blue Economy

Updated: Jan 10, 2021

Since launching Seaworthy Collective in September of 2020, the evolution of our ambitions, thinking, and community has accelerated with each passing month. We’ve continued to bring together thought-leading mentors and strategic collaborators to build up our community’s resources and expertise, while providing regular events for inspiration, empowerment, and education for ocean innovation and entrepreneurship. While building this community, we’ve also been fortunate to find other communities that share and expand on our vision for the oceans.

In my deep dive into Seaworthy’s mission before we launched in September, I touched on the systemic failures of the current infrastructure for ocean innovation. I highlighted how the current innovation pipeline primarily serves the defense and fossil fuel industries, which has been driven by declining public funding for the ocean sciences. As a result, this pipeline is also failing to catalyze solutions for the most urgent issues facing the oceans that stem from anthropogenic impact: ocean warming, acidification, overfishing, sea level rise, plasticization, pollution, lack of regulation and enforcement, and more. Furthermore, I recognized that sustainability for the oceans, whether through recycling plastics or still depleting the minimal remaining global fish stocks, was only an incremental step towards mitigating, rather than solving, these problems. I realized that we needed to adopt a stronger, tangible, solutions-based focus in actually addressing them.

NSF investments in core ocean science (blue) and infrastructure (orange) since 2000, shown in 2014 inflation-adjusted dollars. Total funding for OCE is shown in green. Projections for fiscal years 2015-2019 (lighter colors). Data from Sea Change: 2015-2025 Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences, December 2014.

This realization introduced me to the concept of a regenerative blue economy. A regenerative blue economy means investing in radical innovations and alternatives to current practices that avert depletion and do not require mitigation whatsoever. It means turning to aquaculture and plant-based seafood alternatives instead of continuing archaic, destructive and bycatch-producing fishing practices like bottom trawling. Additionally, a regenerative blue economy focuses on the development of biodegradable plastic alternatives instead of creating and recycling plastics. I also found a broader community focused on growing the regenerative economy; The Global Regeneration CoLab, who we are proud to call one of our strategic collaborators. Before we launched, the regenerative economy was something I had only scratched the surface on. However, there is still a broader philosophical and economic impact that governs the future Seaworthy Collective seeks to create for the oceans and beyond through a regenerative blue economy.

A Cultural Context for Systemic Obstacles

As the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, hyper-individualism is a critical cultural hindrance that is deeply embedded in society, in America and on a broader global scale. Individualism in a general sense involves “the elevation of individual interests above those of the collective” (Britannica). In regards to the pandemic, the prevalence of this culture has been exposed through noncompliance of mask wearing and social distancing for individual preference above the interests of slowing the virus’ spread and prioritizing public health. However, this same pattern is evident in the way we approach business and impact; individual interests of personal or financial success – whether for founders or for individual businesses themselves, outweigh serving the interests of the greater good.

Applied to the oceans and its innovation pipeline, this same underlying theme drives the larger systemic failures for the lacking infrastructure to support innovation for the solutions needed to address the ocean’s most urgent problems. To put it simply, prioritizing innovation for lucrative opportunities for exploitation and profit have outweighed innovation for collective benefit for a healthy, sustainable ocean. However, as the pandemic and changing climate have evidenced, our interaction with nature and overall priorities must shift away from an individualistic model and usher in a collectivist model if we have any hope of turning the tide on the detrimental impacts of human activity on the oceans.

Mapping the Blue Economy - Innovation funding is concentrated in the defense & energy sectors.

When Seaworthy Collective was launched, my intention was to empower a collective effort to solve the large-scale problems facing the oceans. However, it is equally important that we facilitate ocean innovation and entrepreneurship for collective benefit. When we talk about making the oceans more interdisciplinary and inclusive, it isn’t just bringing new people with different cultural or professional backgrounds into the ocean innovation and entrepreneurship landscape, but equally about creating tangible benefit and opportunity for a diverse collective of terrestrial and ocean stakeholders.

Seaworthy Collective’s Vision for a Regenerative Blue Economy

All of this leads to an introduction to the regenerative economy, and specifically Seaworthy’s vision for a regenerative blue economy. The first point that usually is raised on this concept is comparing it to the circular economy. Although the circular economy has similar merits, it’s still an individualistic products and services focused economy. No single product or service will solve the large-scale problems facing the oceans. Meanwhile, the regenerative economy has a broader collectivist focus on building interdependent systems and ecosystems. Applied to the ocean space, this can be understood as building systems of solutions that have benefits for each other, broader ocean health, and the blue economy. Seaworthy Collective has identified six key areas for solutions called Opportunities for Sea Change that together will help build a regenerative blue economy as collective systems of solutions.

What Do Collective Systems of Solutions for a Regenerative Blue Economy Look Like?

Our strategic collaborators Regenerative Resource Co. and the Climate Foundation provide great examples through their work, along with offering their expertise as part of our network!

Regenerative Resources Co. offers companies independently verified carbon sequestration through mangrove afforestation, the most efficient and highest capacity terrestrial ecology on the planet for sequestering carbon. Mangroves sequester carbon fifty times more efficiently than tropical forests, and provide habitat for hundreds of species of fish, migratory birds, amphibians, and other wildlife. The value they provide in ecological services is estimated at $100,000 per acre.

Regenerative Resources Co. combines solutions for coastal resilience and carbon sequestration through mangroves to create blue economy opportunity zones for sustainable food sources and further carbon sequestration through mariculture, as well as aquaculture.

Meanwhile, The Climate Foundation specializes in Marine Permaculture™ - restoring natural ocean circulation and life in the oceans, while mitigating climate change and offering food and economic security to millions of people who rely on the ocean for their livelihoods, through a system of solutions centered around growing seaweed.

With a lightweight flexible design, Marine Permaculture (MP) can be deployed offshore, growing seaweed, attracting and feeding fish, and providing sustainable harvests and ecosystem services traditionally provided by kelp forests. Importantly, they pay for themselves through seafood and seaweed monetization, while drawing down carbon to the deep ocean, where it can stay for millennia. Seaweed also absorbs excess nutrients in water and balances an acidic ocean pH. Seaweed’s ability to grow faster than any other plant on earth also provides substantial carbon offset potential.

Marine Permaculture can be deployed near the coast or further offshore to effectively cool the local waters, safely increase biomass; slow or stop coral bleaching; grow, regenerate and sustainably cultivate seaweed; and create habitat that sustains wild fish populations. MP arrays can pay for themselves through sustainable seaweed and seafood production, return high gains to the larger community through ecosystem services, and address ocean acidification and climate change.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Plastic debris cleanup can occur while tending to aquaculture and mariculture in either of these systems, and technologies for water quality monitoring and surveying potential expansion sites are also critical to continuing to scale these efforts. When designing these systems inclusively and collectively, their potential positive impact can scale even faster.

How Seaworthy Collective Will Develop Systems of Solutions for Ocean Regeneration

Up until this point, we’ve identified incubators as the primary vehicle to empowering our community of Sea Change Maker startups. However, as we have explored our best path forward in 2021, we’re evolving with a model that better fit our bottom-up approach to developing regenerative systems of solutions, while still leading into an incubator or accelerator;

a venture studio.

The following information on venture studios are excerpts from multiple articles written by a number of leading venture studios and entrepreneurial publications, with their source links following each excerpt.

“A venture studio is an organization that co-creates startups by building the initial team, providing strategic direction, and attracting capital for the startup to reach product-market fit.” (Applico)

“The resources of the venture studio are focused on creating startups from the ground up, meaning that there is a lot of time, effort, and dedication focused on working on a project for a certain period of time. The venture studio builds several different startup companies in rapid succession, meaning that they are often working on multiple prototypes at the same time. The venture studio has the infrastructure in place that lends itself to an efficient company-building machine. The venture studio often pools its manpower, technical tools, and skills to build several projects in a year, reusing infrastructure in an efficient manner.” (High Alpha)

“Since 2009, there has been a 5,000% growth in the venture studio model. There were 80 studios in 2013, the number grew to over 200+ with new ones coming out by the week. Experts forecast the total number of startup studios to double in the next 5 years by 2023.” (Draper Goren Holm)

“Venture studios effectively combine the disruptiveness of a startup with the necessary stability of a team and resources to build companies that require decade long roadmaps before profitability and deft maneuvering of public and private opportunities. The old model isn’t built for deeply researched science and tech innovation. When we talk about building startups, we are really talking about building sustainable innovations and disrupting traditional ways of doing things. The venture studio model isn’t necessarily the best model for startup creation, but it’s certainly the model we need most right now.” (VentureBeat)

“When comparing a venture studio vs incubator, a key distinction is that venture studios tend to build companies from the ground up. The venture studio acts truly as a “co-founder” in the business. Alternatively, incubators are just a support platform to help new companies to develop by providing services such as management training or office space, but they don’t help with day-to-day business operations. Whether companies should use a startup incubator vs. accelerator depends largely on the stage of growth of the company and the industry.