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UCSD management school and Scripps Oceanography look to help new ‘blue tech’ businesses get started

Scripps Institution of Oceanography
The Scripps Institution of Oceanography is teaming with the UC San Diego Rady School of Management on a new program to help emerging San Diego “blue tech” ideas become reality.
(Courtesy)

A new program designed to connect San Diego innovation with resources aimed at solving ocean challenges is gearing up to take applications in the spring.

StartBlue, a joint endeavor between UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is an “accelerator program” meant to provide support to researchers looking to bring their product to market, according to Karen Jensen, one of the program’s managers and an entrepreneurship advocate at the Rady School of Management.

StartBlue focuses on researchers who have identified a solution to an ocean challenge and are at the early stage of taking their idea to the “blue tech” market.

The blue tech economy is “huge in San Diego,” Jensen said, creating technology “focused on water,” which locally means the ocean.

“We’re looking for researchers who want to do more than just lab research, who want to make something that can come out to the market that can impact the community, whether it be people who are looking to utilize the ocean to create opportunities in sustainable seaweed production, ocean measurement tools … anything that comes from or impacts the waters,” Jensen said.

The StartBlue program, slated to begin in fall 2021, involves a series of workshops covering customer development, marketing, incorporation, legal issues, patenting, working with investors — “a little bit of everything,” Jensen said.

She said the program is a great opportunity to “bring the business expertise of Rady together with the science and innovation expertise at Scripps and hopefully build something wonderful for the community.”

The lessons are delivered step by step to help participants “be ready to launch their start-up and get to the next milestone,” Jensen said.

StartBlue is intended for early-stage start-ups. Those that have incorporated or are further along “may not get as much out of the program as somebody who is brand-new,” Jensen said.

Along with “hands-on instruction” such as site visits “to see what’s going on in the community,” Jensen said StartBlue also contains a mentoring component. “It’s all-encompassing, from start to finish,” she said.

Though StartBlue doesn’t offer course credit, it functions like a class, Jensen said. Over the course of eight months, “instructors lead [participants] through activities like how to talk to customers, working through all these steps so they have a solid business plan and can launch at the conclusion of the program.”

“Instructors act as coaches,” Jensen said. Each company is matched with a mentor for regular meetings and is connected to “resources throughout the community that can help them start to build relationships.”

Mentors and workshop leaders are a mix of industry experts, “people who already have experience in building something that has an impact on the ocean [or] are entrepreneurs in blue tech,” Jensen said. “There are also attorneys, marketing professionals, anybody who has experience working with or for a start-up [and] who has been through the weeds and can really relay that wisdom.”

StartBlue is intended as a steppingstone as researchers go from forming a company to other programs Rady offers, though it can stand alone, she said.

The program is free for participants, funded by an award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and a match gift by philanthropic supporters. “We’re very excited to get this funding; it’s very competitive,” Jensen said.

When StartBlue begins accepting applications in the spring, 10 spots will be open, limited to San Diego-based applicants.

Those interested in the StartBlue program can email Jensen at khjensen@ucsd.edu.