A new Blue Pipeline Venture Studio will connect marine business entrepreneurs with the technology, contacts and finances they need to grow. The goal is to deliver jobs, investment and opportunities across Alaska.

“The state’s ocean economy really just includes anything that takes place on the water, most prominently the seafood industry. It also includes marine recreation, maritime research, waterborne transportation and more.”

Garrett Evridge, previously a well-known fisheries economists with the former McDowell Group, is the new research director for the Venture Studio.

 “There is significant opportunity to grow the Alaskan ocean economy. And that growth might come from refinement of existing industries, getting more value out of salmon, for example, or support for new industries like growing seaweeds, or just to generally be prepared for those opportunities that aren’t even on the radar. Like what’s going to happen in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. It’s part of growing a culture that can embrace that change and identify those opportunities.”

The nonprofit Venture Studio is an arm of an Ocean Cluster started in 2017 by the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association.

Last fall, the group received a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration plus matching funds that will pump $1.2 million into Alaska’s ocean economy.

Evridge says many people have great business ideas but they don’t have the time or know where to start. The studio will serve as a matchmaker to connect them with capital and expertise connections to get off the ground.

“Some of the first things we would do is just focus on all of the previous research that is available. And then also really just try to identify the roadblocks of why has this specific industry not grown —  is it successful in other areas? What are some of the constraints? And really try to put together some market research on this specific topic.

Over 50 Ocean Clusters, led by Iceland, are operating around the world. Evridge says lots can be learned by looking at other places and industries.

“It’s often the case where individuals with an idea or even an existing industry literally don’t have time to pursue a new idea or to consider a different way of doing things. So that’s, that’s exciting to me. And one reason that I came aboard at the cluster is really just the opportunity to focus on what have other industries learned that applicable to us.  Like the fruit industry -, there are some pretty strong parallels with seafood processing. And it might sound surprising, but with the picking and identification and inspection of apples, there are applications in the agriculture realm that that are relevant to us. But also, just being able to focus on this topic in a way that so many other entrepreneurs or existing stakeholders don’t have the opportunity to do.”

Seafood Auction

Four early stage businesses in Seward were the first to engage in a Blue Pipeline Incubator in 2019.

Evridge said his team will focus for most of this year in developing a robust Venture Studio and being a resource for Alaskans with a proactive vision.

“It’s difficult to carve out that time to think about what the industry will look like in 30 years. And that’s one thing that I find quite interesting.  What can we do now to position us for success? We have a lot of challenges and opportunities that we know are headed our way, like climate change and ocean acidification. What’s our plan for those? That’s another element that I look forward to focusing on.   What does this all look like in 30 years?”