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Maritime Accelerator Creates a Blue-green and Sustainable Future

Update on the Port's COVID-19 response Learn more.

April 17, 2020

A company with a platform to provide data and insights on ocean health; a maker of technology that extracts contaminants from soil, sediments, and ground water; and a health care provider for mariners are among a group of 11 Seattle startups innovating to transform the maritime industry.

The startups are part of the Maritime Blue Innovation Accelerator, a partnership between Washington Maritime Blue, the Port of Seattle, and WeWork Labs to help maritime companies innovate and grow sustainably, and build a thriving maritime economy for generations to come. Funded by the Port of Seattle and a grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce, the maritime accelerator was housed and supported by WeWork Labs in Seattle. Through the Maritime Accelerator program, startups received access to Washington Maritime Blue industry and ocean leaders and worked alongside WeWork Labs’ global network of mentors and advisors. WeWork facilitated seminars and workshops to help the startups navigate challenges and obstacles. 

Fisherman at Fishermen's Terminal

The program faced unexpected challenges in response to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic. All programming was moved online, and the community evolved as WeWork developed new best practices on how to engage the entrepreneur community. Earlier this month, startups participating in the four-month program shared their innovative solutions in a Virtual Showcase facilitated through a socially distanced Zoom meeting. An in-person showcase will be planned in the future.

Elizabeth Scallon, WeWork Labs
Elizabeth Scallon

We sat down with Elizabeth Scallon, head of WeWork Labs, US West, who helped nurture the 11 startups in the accelerator program to talk about the significance of bringing innovation into the maritime industry, how the format of the program supports innovation, and the role of sustainability in the future of maritime.

Q: After months of hard work, what were you most excited to see during the Virtual Showcase?

A: Our founders and entrepreneurs give me inspiration during this challenging time, with their hyper focus on impact. We choose our future to be one of sustainability, that protects our oceans and our mariners, and creates equity in the maritime industry, and these startups are leading the charge. It’s exciting to see the impact of these startups in the maritime industry and hear their amazing stories.

Q: What is unique about the Maritime Accelerator program?

A: The Maritime Accelerator program has been a great partnership between the Port of Seattle and Washington state government, that keeps the needs of the startups at the center. The partnership is really unique and the selection of the startups in the cohort was really intentional. We took the cohort and looked at it through multiple lenses. We were looking at more than financial backability — this was mission focused and we looked at social impact and scalability, and startups who are creating sustainability for our oceans. There’s a real need in the maritime industry as the economic engine for the region, a beloved treasure for the citizens of the state, and a key pillar of our community.

Pure Watercraft outboard motor
Image credit: Pure Watercraft: Electric Outboard Motors

Q: What was WeWork’s goal in running the maritime accelerator?

A: The Maritime Accelerator Program utilizes the entrepreneurial culture that Seattle has cultivated to invigorate a cherished industry. The maritime industry contributes to a thriving economy and is an economic engine for region, but there is so much untapped opportunity. Through the Maritime Accelerator Program, we wanted to highlight that need and galvanize around the innovation community to help develop innovative solutions and help protect our oceans for future generations. The tech sector hasn’t previously thought about maritime as an investment opportunity, and here we were able to connect three diverse groups: government, maritime, and the innovation community with the purpose of helping our startups. It’s a cross-sector collaborative endeavor to empower innovators to help us create the future.

Q: How does the accelerator lend itself to innovation?

A: Startup founders participating in the accelerator worked closely with maritime industry experts to connect and gain valuable insight into the industry. Through the program, startup founders were able to establish a clear understanding of their business model, and gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a founder or an entrepreneur. They connected with industry experts, other founders, the WeWork team, and participated in seminars and workshops and informal Slack channels, to piece together gaps in knowledge and help propel them to the next stage of their business. It’s been fun to watch that transformation. Some founders felt like they were on their own in an industry that’s neglected and through this process gained a level of thoughtfulness and excitement for themselves, maritime, and what they are doing.

Q: Why is the focus on sustainability so important in the maritime industry?

A: We’re able to see the effects of what’s going on in the ocean right now, and through pollutants we are seeing in the soil. The effects are huge. Washington is a blue-green state. We really cherish our environment, and we are concerned with how do we preserve our environment or make sure we have environmental remediation. The accelerator uses innovation to look toward a more sustainable future for the maritime industry.

We’re kicking off a series this month featuring each of the 11 startups participating in the maritime accelerator. In this series, we ask each start up about their company, their experience in the cohort, and their vision for the future of maritime, one of the region’s oldest industries in Washington state.

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