The Port of Seattle and non-profit strategic alliance Washington Maritime Blue continue efforts to merge the region’s longstanding maritime heritage with the modern innovation economy as they launched a new startup accelerator cohort last month.
The maritime accelerator program first launched at the beginning of 2020 in partnership with WeWork Labs, the co-working company’s startup incubator. Participating startups get access to mentors and advisors, as well as a chance to attend workshops that help guide entrepreneurs through challenges and obstacles.
Entering the second year, WeWork is no longer participating in the accelerator and Maritime Blue has stepped in to facilitate mentorship and programming. The Port of Seattle plans to provide a new physical space for the accelerator, and other ventures, with its new Maritime Innovation Center at Fishermen’s Terminal, one of the Port’s properties near Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Construction on the project is expected to start this year.
The blue economy: Maritime Blue was founded in 2018. It’s part of a strategy laid out by the Washington Department of Commerce and Gov. Inslee’s Maritime Innovation Advisory Council to grow the region’s “blue economy,” a movement for the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth.
Two of Maritime Blue’s major initiatives are modeled after those in the tech industry. These include Blue Capital, aimed at supporting early-stage investments in maritime, and the Maritime Blue Innovation Accelerator.
“I could not be more excited about this because it’s an extension of the basic value system of the state of Washington,” Inslee said at the launch last year, pointing to other local innovation across industries such as retail, gaming, life sciences, and agriculture.
The Second Wave cohort: During a Jan. 27 virtual launch event, Innovation Accelerator Program Director Josh Carter spoke about the shift to a virtual accelerator format.
In preparing for the second cohort, organizers focused less on geographic location and more on the stage of a company. More than 100 startups applied, and 11 participants were ultimately picked.
“By widening the aperture and showing them what’s here, we allow our accelerator to be showcased across the globe,” Carter said.
Five out of the 11 participating companies are based in Washington state. The other startups are from across the U.S. and one is from Montreal.
During his welcome remarks, Port of Seattle Commission President Fred Fellman described how the accelerator’s reach fit into the Port’s “vision of a globally competitive maritime industry anchored here in Puget Sound.”
The 4-month intensive program will conclude with a virtual demo day in May. Unlike some accelerators, Maritime Blue takes no equity from participating companies.
“This cohort demonstrates that maritime innovation is vast — it ranges from pollution remediation, carbon offset, efficient supply chains and manufacturing,” said Elizabeth Scallon, a former WeWork Labs leader and advisory committee member for Washington Maritime Blue.
Here’s a look at the 11 startups chosen for the accelerator:
- Allosense (San Antonio, Texas) — Asset tracking for commercial and military applications using cellular, satellite and mesh technologies to streamline logistics, supply and material management.
- Canscan (Montreal) — Automatically inspects shipping containers passing through a terminal with its AI driven system by using existing cameras and infrastructure.
- Future Sight AR (Houston, Texas) — Augmented reality for engineering, procurement, and construction companies.
- Lockstep (Sheridan, Wyo.) — A fintech platform that provides low-cost supply chain financing, with incentives for sustainable shipping, to suppliers.
- Marine Construction Technologies (Seattle, Wash.) — A University of Washington spinout co-founded by Per Reinhall, the co-founder of Vicis, that is commercializing a method for installing pilings with 80-to-90% less noise for marine construction and environmental purposes.
- Mariner Credential Service (Arlington, Va.) — A digital platform that helps professional mariners navigate the complex U.S. Coast Guard credentialing process and securely store documentation.
- OpenTug (Seattle, Wash.) — A marine freight and logistics marketplace connecting shipping customers and service providers that is currently in beta.
- Pacific Mobility Group (Bainbridge Island, Wash.) — Includes land and marine transportation companies that provide mobility services, electric vehicle conversions, deliveries and transit infrastructure.
- Puget Buoy (Seattle, Wash.) — A startup developing and testing new designs for fishing gear to reduce lost gear and its environmental impacts including whale entanglements.
- Silverback Marine (Seattle, Wash.) — A boat building and design company developing a custom boat design tool, building commercial support vessels and manufacturing autonomous watercraft platforms.
- Virgil Software (Washington, D.C.) — Risk-assessment software to verify seafood supply chains, legal sourcing and traceability requirements.
What’s next: Maritime Blue Chair Joshua Berger told Mekhato that the program has seen an increase in interest from investors since launching last year. But connections between the Pacific Northwest tech and maritime communities are still novel.
Commissioner Fellman said he’s enthusiastic about the problem-solving possibilities of tech for the public benefit, especially through publicly-funded programs.
“We have to be able to have commerce and killer whales in the same waterway,” he said.
A second tech-inspired program will launch this year with a bigger emphasis on geography, specifically the South Puget Sound region. Maritime Blue, in partnership with the City and Port of Tacoma, have soft-launched the Tacoma Maritime Innovation Incubator.
Based out of the Center for Urban Waters, the new incubator will focus on creating jobs in the Tacoma area, with an emphasis on port operations, shipping and logistics. The program will host three to four companies at a time for 12-to-18 months, rather than the faster pace of the 4-month accelerator.
Together, the Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma are the fourth-largest cargo port in North America, driving $12.4 billion of economic activity in Washington State, according to the Northwest Seaport Alliance.