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Iceland Trip Offers Insights into Maritime Innovation

October 30, 2019

Last month Port of Seattle Executive Director Steve Metruck and I made a quick visit to Iceland to see their Ocean Cluster House. Seeing this maritime innovation center was extremely beneficial as we work to develop a similar facility at Fishermen’s Terminal. It was also great to meet leaders running the Cluster House as well as some of the entrepreneurs working on new maritime products and ideas.

Iceland’s Ocean House caught our attention because it is a world leader in seafood innovation. The Ocean Cluster’s founder Thor Sigfusson has played a central role in helping Iceland’s cod fishing industry face related challenges of declining stocks and overfishing. By getting entrepreneurs to make new products from fish, Ocean House has supported exciting new business ventures (ex. Collagen infused soda) while helping the country’s traditional industry diversify.

Port of Reykjavik Ice House Coworking Space building exterior at dusk
Port of Reykjavik Ocean Cluster House

Walking through the Ocean House was very illuminating. As our Port of Seattle team works to design our own maritime innovation center at Fishermen’s Terminal, it is helpful to see how these facilities are laid out to support industry collaboration, entrepreneurship, research, and commercialization. The Ocean House featured a purposeful mix of individual offices, common areas for networking, and conference rooms for special meetings, etc. The facility is energized by its layout and the people inside. Little, yet important, rules like coffee can only be served in common areas promote collaboration and the center’s cooperative culture.

Spending time with Thor Sigfusson was super helpful. Early on he worked with the Port of Reykjavík to develop the building into a maritime incubator. He outlined how the Port was instrumental to the initial success of Ocean House and he introduced us to Port leaders during the trip. Thor also highlighted how the House brings talented people together around maritime problems. This isn’t just entrepreneurs or startup dreamers — there are many established companies that participate in the Ocean House. For these established firms the facility provides them an outlet to share industry problems and opportunities with a wider audience.

Typical Ice House Office
Typical office space for rent in the Ocean Cluster House. Many of these spaces are rented by startup companies that are a part of the "Ocean Economy."

While Steve and I had to deal with some jet lag the trip was worthwhile. We learned about the passion and energy it takes to operate a successful maritime innovation center. We also have great new allies at the Ocean House who can help us get successfully started in our own facility. These fact-finding trips are informing our own plans at Fishermen’s Terminal and helping us frame how our own innovation center can help sustain the region’s maritime industry.

Icehouse Founder and President Thor Sigfusson (left), Port of Seattle Executive Director Steve Metric (middle) and Port of Seattle Managing Director of Economic Development Dave McFadden (right) at the Port of Reykjavik
Ocean House Founder and President Thor Sigfusson (left), Port of Seattle Managing Director of Economic Development Dave McFadden (middle), and Port of Seattle Executive Director Steve Metruck (right) at the Port of Reykjavik.


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