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With EDA Support, Washington State Gives a Green Light to the Blue Economy

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The combined ports of Seattle and Tacoma are the fifth largest seaport in the United States. Approximately five percent of North America’s marine cargo transits the two ports.

As home to the fifth largest seaport in the United States and a maritime industry valued at $38 billion, Washington state may not seem like a place that needs additional resources to support maritime-directed economic development. But four-year-old Seattle-based nonprofit Washington Maritime Blue is helping fill a very specific gap in the region’s economic landscape.

“In downtown Seattle you can throw a rock and hit 30 incubators,” explains Joshua Berger, CEO of Washington Maritime Blue. “But none of them have a focus on the ocean or blue economy.”

The term blue economy — a concept describing the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth — originated at the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. In 2017, a $500,000 grant from EDA’s Regional Innovative Strategies Program, now known as Build to Scale, helped kickstart what became Washington Maritime Blue. The nonprofit is focused on helping Washington assert itself as a global leader in the blue economy.

One of Washington Maritime Blue’s major initiatives is supporting the growth of cutting-edge maritime-focused companies through a startup accelerator program. In 2019, Washington Maritime Blue welcomed its first group of nearly a dozen early-stage marine-focused enterprises. Graduates of the accelerator include Pure Watercraft, a manufacturer of lithium ion-powered boat motors that – less than 12 months after completing the Maritime Blue program – secured $38 million in Series A funding. Another accelerator graduate, ecoSpears, was recently contracted to remove persistent toxins from waterways in Sweden using its innovative clean water technology. Companies that have completed the accelerator currently employ nearly 100 people in high paying jobs, with that number continuing to grow.

In addition to the usual benefits of an accelerator, such as development assistance and business space, the program also offers entrepreneurs robust mentorship through Washington Maritime Blue’s network of 120 partner companies and public agencies that include Siemens, TOTE Maritime, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and the Washington State Ferry System, among others.

According to Berger, however, it’s the networking and idea sharing among the startups themselves that make Washington Maritime Blue’s accelerator stand out. “What I think is really unique and special about our program is the relationships they build with one another. That’s become a really important value and culture set with our program.”

Support for maritime startups is just one of several initiatives Washington Maritime Blue is spearheading to grow Washington’s blue economy. However, the two cohorts of Maritime Blue’s accelerator have been so successful that the organization recently debuted a longer-term, more in-depth incubator in Tacoma, 30 miles south of Seattle. That initiative is benefitting from a further $600,000 in EDA grant funding and is expected to create up to 110 additional jobs and unlock an estimated $100 million in capital and innovation investment.

EDA’s Build to Scale (B2S) program furthers technology-based economic development initiatives that accelerate high quality job growth, create economic opportunities, and support the future of the next generation of industry leading companies. Learn more about Build to Scale at the B2S section of eda.gov.

Tags: Innovation & Entrepreneurship

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