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20 must-watch marine entrepreneurs

Norway’s startup scene is thriving. Will eco-friendly hull cleaning, lasers that kill sea lice or underwater drones be the next big thing?

Sponsor content from DNB & DNX STUDIO
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September 12, 2018

Bergen bills itself as the aquaculture capital of the world, so it should come as no surprise that the city is teeming with entrepreneurs involved in this corner of the seafood industry.

“This is the only place where I’ve stumbled across a group of 30 students meeting on a late Wednesday night to discuss seafood and innovation,” says German biotech researcher Georg Baunach on a sunny summer day in Bergen.

Baunach is the co-founder of Hatch, which describes itself as the world’s first accelerator program dedicated to disruptive aquaculture startups.

In the spring of 2018, eight teams of entrepreneurs travelled from the US, Indonesia and India to Hatch’s Bergen headquarters where they received three months of intensive business development training.

c5f2dd945d2dd27afc8c80defb4ce6c8 Hatch co-founder Georg Baunach. Photo: DNX

The ecosystem for maritime innovation is fantastic in Norway, and Bergen in particular,” Baunach adds. “Some of the biggest sea farming and aquaculture companies, and clusters of young talent, are based right here.”

Norway is a leading maritime nation. While it is widely believed that oil exports will continue to decline in the years ahead, observers claim other opportunities are on the horizon- and they have the data to back it up. Estimates from research group Sintef, for example, suggest that—despite contractions in the oil market—wealth creation will grow 40% over the next 30 years.

NORWAY'S OCEAN ECONOMY

In Norway, the maritime industry accounts for roughly one-quarter of domestic wealth creation, which is projected to grow 40% by 2050.

According to a report from Menon Economics commissioned by Norway’s Ministry of Trade, Industry & Fisheries, approximately 200,000 domestic jobs are linked to the maritime arena.

The pillars of Norway’s ocean economy- oil and gas, shipping and seafood—generated NOK 495 billion ($121.1 million) in combined wealth in 2016. Last year alone, seafood exports reached a record NOK 94.5 billion.

Creating environmental plastic

Only one Norwegian company participated in Hatch’s most recent accelerator program: AlgaePro.

As the name suggests, the company is interested in the industrial production of algae. According to Sintef, production on the Norwegian coast is poised to top 20 million tons by 2050 and generate wealth to the tune of NOK 40 billion each year.

CEO Fredrik Schmidt Fotland says his accelerator experience was “enlightening”.

The company focused on making progress in the pursuit of its primary goal- establishing a pilot plant that’s the size of five soccer fields and carries a NOK 200 million price tag. In terms of research, other areas of focus include healthy food, eco-friendly fish feed and plastics that can dissolve, when exposed to water, in no more than a week.

AlgaePro is one of 20 startups we selected to shed light on the state of innovation in key segments of the maritime industry.

For many, the ability to adapt quickly and pivot with relative ease is essential for long-term survival- no sector is spared when dramatic technological upheavals and disruptive business models take root.

While startups are on the rise, large, established companies still account for much of the innovation and wealth creation in maritime. That said, the rules of the game are changing.

ee65ca45df42d3297e83b4920d917eb1 WiSubs is a two-time winner of the “Spotlight on New Technologies Award” at OTC, the largest oil & gas exhibition in the world. Photo: DNX

From oil to sustainability

In recent years, a growing number of individuals impacted by the oil market downturn are using proceeds from severance packages to break into new businesses. Companies like WiSub, an established provider of services to the Norwegian oil and gas sector, have diversified.

WiSub’s founders knew that updating underwater power cables that have deteriorated can be an extremely expensive endeavor. To reduce the cost, they developed a technology that enables the wireless, high-speed transfer of data via microwave technology and induction underwater.

bff552f9bd99200bfd0ed765df1b5253 For the past ten years, Tor Østervold has been working on a method of collecting the highly contaminated water that’s left behind when ships are cleaned. Photo: EcoSubsea

Sustainability is central at EcoSubsea, an award-winning startup from Hordaland. For ships, clean hulls reduce fuel consumption and prevent corrosion. Founder Tor Østervold spent ten years developing an environmentally-friendly hull cleaning solution that collects and cleans the waste that’s created when ships are cleaned. The company succeeded with a system that is making waves at home and abroad.

Of all the companies on our list of maritime startups Blueye Robotics stands apart. This is because everyday consumers are the target market for the company’s underwater drone, which can be operated by amateurs and professionals alike. The company was founded by engineers Erik Dyrkoren and Christine Spiten; investor Erik Haugane, and Roger Skjeltne and Martin Ludvigsen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Today, it earns tens of millions of NOK from drone sales across the globe.

Platforms that are not platforms

New business models and technologies—like artificial intelligence, big data, predicative analytics and robotization—are reshaping the oil and gas industry.

ab097adf36e67e9275db0bc9cae07d02 Xeneta chief Patrick Berglund is the architect of a platform that improves transparency and efficiency in the freight markets. Photo: Xeneta

Arundo Analytics is among the most successful Norwegian startups when it comes to fundraising. The company develops tools for analytics and data platforms utilized by producers, but is involved in other markets as well. In 2017, it secured NOK 193 million, which helped fund a foray into new areas like maritime shipping, among others.

Xeneta is all about analytics as well. The company describes itself as a benchmarking platform for freight rates. Its goal is to make pricing more transparent across the supply chain. Many of the investors who participated in Xeneta’s most recent round of funding, in which it raised NOK 100 million, sought the company out independently.

Maindeck is another newcomer that has taken aim at antiquated industry practices. It’s claim to fame is a tool that makes drydocking less painful for shipowners and yards.

0f5b257e4dff7f7ce94bb88b8ffe394b OptoScale offers precise scales for fish measurement, which has earned them the support of seafood giant Salmar. Photo: OptoScale

Salmon, big data and fish appetites

Norwegian seafood is big business with exports totaling NOK 94.5 billion in 2017 alone. Seafood is one of the focal points of efforts to identify cross-sector synergies within the ocean economy. Like peers from other sectors, an increasing number of seafood entrepreneurs are making waves with artificial intelligence, automation and big data.

Using lasers and advanced algorithms, OptoScale can measure the weight of fish with uncanny precision. When biomass measurements are more accurate, producers are able to get better prices. One of three finalists at the Aqua Nor 2017 conference in Trondheim, today the company has close ties to SalMar, one of the largest producers of farmed salmon in the world.

Aquabyte is a startup that uses machine learning to calculate how much feed fish need. Precision is important since feed makes up roughly 48% of production costs. Founder Bryton Shangis is from Silicon Valley but sourced much of his team, and a significant amount of resources, from Norway.

ca7924e3c0de1615633d91401e101286 Aquabyte founder Bryton Shang raised NOK 27.6m in funding for his company within the first nine months. Photo: Aquabyte

CageEye has taken aim at the feeding space as well. The company’s technology— which follows seven years of development and 30 years of research—uses sonar technology to monitor fish cages and measure the appetite of the stock.

Catching salmon lice with surgical lasers

The seafood industry stands to save as much as NOK 15 billion each year if researchers discover an effective way to combat sealice. Karoline Sjødal Olsen of startup Blue Lice is exploring ways to prevent breakouts before they occur.

“Our method attracts and captures the lice in a unique kind of trap,” she explains. “It is currently being tested in partnership with Bremnes Seashore in Rogaland, and we expect to see positive results over the summer months.”

Stingray Marine Solutions is taking aim at the same enemy. Their method uses machine learning and cameras to identify the lice and shoot them with lasers that, originally, were intended for use in surgery. Founder Espen Beck spent many years in the oil and gas industry before setting sail to focus on his own projects. After three years of research, and NOK 32 million, positive results remained elusive until 2013. Today, Beck’s technology is used by 20 fisheries across Norway.

Some companies believe artificial intelligence and ultrasound are the best weapons. Seasmart is taking the fight below the surface with surveillance drones that monitor salmon cages. Sealab Ocean Group, which is based in Trondheim, is developing advanced underwater cameras that can count lice in real time.

f08631203dabd1d240229900f839c7a9 Connect LNG developed a floating dock system that's used to fuel LNG-powered ships. Photo: Connect LNG

Cleaner energy and wave power

When it comes to power, natural gas is touted as cheaper and more sustainable than other fossil fuel options. Connect LNG, which began as a student project at the NTNU, has developed a system that makes fueling possible in places previously deemed unfeasible.

Many forms of renewable energy are promising but remain prohibitively expensive. Wave power, for instance, has five times the energy potential of solar power, but harnessing it effectively can be costly and challenging. Startups like Ocean Energy intend to solve these problems with a buoy-based solution that makes wave power plants possible. Meanwhile, Hydrowave/Havkraft is working on ways to power fish farms with the same source of energy.

Elsewhere, Fjord Maritime is developing various kinds of hardware, software and sensors that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption in the aquaculture segment. The goal is to reduce the use of diesel in favor of alternative fuel sources like hydrogen or solar/wind power.

20 MUST-WATCH STARTUPS

  • AlgaePro
  • WiSub
  • EcoSubsea
  • Arundo Analytics
  • Xeneta
  • Maindeck
  • Blueye Robotic
  • OptoScale
  • AquaByte
  • CageEye
  • Blue Lice
  • Stingray Marine Solutions
  • Seasmart
  • Sealab Ocean
  • Connect LNG
  • Ocean Energy
  • Hydrowave/Havkraft
  • Flord Maritime
  • Wavefoil
  • The Flying Foil

Founders Eirik Bøckmann and Audun Yrke are behind Wavefoil, a company that is developing specialized foils that are mounted on the bows of ships to harness the energy of waves, which can reduce fuel consumption. The concept has been around for 160 years but the technology needed to make it work remains elusive.

Meanwhile, Flying Foil, a subsidiary of NTNU’s Institute for Marine Technology, is developing technology that reduces the water resistance of high-speed vessels by as much as 50%--thereby significantly lowering CO2 emissions and fuel costs. Electric vessels can achieve reductions of up to 80%, researchers say.

The importance of community

Hatch is backed by the likes of DNB, the world’s largest shipping and offshore industry lender.

“Competence within new technologies, sustainable development and comprehensive financial solutions make us a key strategic partner to our customers,” says Katrine Trovik, the head of DNB’s corporate division in Southern and Western Norway.

“That is why it is so important to us to support new initiatives and be closely involved with innovation and development through the communities within aquaculture.”

Kristin Holth, the head of DNB’s Ocean Industries unit, is a strong proponent of close relationships between coastal businesses in Norway and international interests abroad.

“The value of our domestic focus on technology and sustainability is huge when it comes to making waves internationally,” she said.

Holth is scheduled to speak at the "Havet" ocean summit in Oslo on 16 October 2018. For more information about the conference click here or on the button at the bottom of this page .

Selecting which startups to showcase

Identifying the most promising, unique startups in the maritime arena wasn’t easy. We started by soliciting suggestions from industry insiders. This left us with a list of 50 candidates. Of these, we narrowed down the total to 20 contenders that really stood out, both to us and our compatriots.

We opted to focus on companies that are pursuing technological solutions that have international potential. While the list is divided by industry, several entrants transcend such specific categorization.

Most of the startups that we explored have managed to raise capital—whether it be a few million NOK or tens of millions—and have produced some form of a product prototype, or plans for a pilot facility. Some have finalized a product for sale, others have not.

The selection process accounted for the fact that product timelines can vary significantly across different industries. For example, commercializing technology can happen quickly for a software development company whereas innovation within ship design or biopharmaceutical companies can require ten years of research and testing alone.

The following individuals and organizations offered suggestions for our list of notable maritime startups:

  • Bergen Teknologioverføring/Maritime Bergen
  • Hatch Aquaculture Accelerator
  • GCENode - Sørlandet
  • Åkp/Blue Maritime Cluster
  • NTNU TTO
  • Sintef TTO
  • DNB
  • NCE Seafood Innovation Cluster
  • Torger Reve - professor ved BI
  • Birgit Liodden - direktør for bærekraft ved Oslo Business Region
  • Maritime Clean Tech klynge

Many of our industry partners, including those listed above, are planning to attend the "Havet" ocean conference in Norway next month. If you'd like to preview the program, or register to attend, click on the button below.

This article is a part of a series entitled "The Ocean". These stories were produced by DNX Studio, an affiliate of IntraFish Media and its publisher, NHST Global Publications, on behalf of advertisers.