By Peter Moreira

The astonishing thing about the oceans ecosystem in Halifax is how quickly it established an international reach.

Five years ago, this interlocking group of organizations and programs didn’t exist, but today its client companies include ventures from Israel, Ireland, Denmark, and the U.S., as well as fast-growing regionally based names like ReelData and Marecomms. And the pandemic has not slowed the introduction of new facilities and the enhancement of programs.

“Innovacorp's been working with ocean tech start-ups for several years, so we’ve watched closely the sector’s evolution over time,” said Shelley Hessian, Executive Director at the Start-Up Yard at COVE. “We've seen more start-ups working to solve global challenges – more and stronger founders thinking bolder, more meaningful collaborations among community partners, industry, and start-ups, more financing and other support for companies.”

Atlantic Canada’s ambition to become a global leader in ocean technology got a sizeable boost in 2017 when the federal government approved its bid to host Canada’s Ocean Supercluster. One of five national innovation superclusters, COS has a mission to encourage inclusion, sustainability and innovation in the country’s ocean economy. Most of the projects it has funded are based in Atlantic Canada, including such Halifax initiatives as the $3.2 million Port Integration and Enhancement of Data project led by Bluenode.

In Halifax, the ecosystem really got off the ground that same year when the provincial government opened the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship, or COVE, in Dartmouth. Based on a former Coast Guard site, COVE is a multi-faceted facility for ocean industries, housing businesses of all sizes. In 2018, Innovacorp opened its Start-Up Yard incubation base for early-stage companies, offering them mentorship, curriculum and facilities at a site beside the harbour, which makes a handy testing ground.

Innovacorp, the Nova Scotia early-stage VC agency, offers several programs that provide entrepreneurs with mentorship and grant money. Its Blue Ocean Challenge helps entrepreneurs with young ventures based overseas immigrate to Nova Scotia, and its Accelerate Ocean Tech program provides winners with $25,000 in grant money and mentorship.

In the last few years, several organizations have cropped up to add to the ocean-focused ecosystem. The Ocean Supercluster wanted to do more to generate maritime industry startups, so it launched the Ocean Startup Project.

Headed by Don Grant, this program got started in 2020, and the pandemic did not dampen demand for it. The program attracted 158 applications (including many from outside the region) and accepted 14 early-stage startups – 40 percent more than it had anticipated. Half were Atlantic Canadian, and all received $25,000 in development capital.

This year, the Ocean Startup Project is expanding, aiming for more companies and awarding participants more development capital. To support ventures at various stages of development, it will award funding in three streams: Oceanshot (up to $200,000), Growth (up to $100,000) and Idea (up to $25,000).

The Startup Project is also helping with curriculum on two other programs affiliated with Dalhousie University that have kicked off in the last few years – Lab2Market and Creative Destruction Lab Oceans.

CDL is an international innovation support organization that grew out of University of Toronto. It is designed to bring in successful business people to mentor and invest in young companies. The program began a general stream through Dal three years ago, gradually taking in more and more oceantech companies from the region and abroad. In 2020, CDL launched its Oceans stream, again attracting companies from around the globe. Its first cohort recently wrapped up.

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