Ocean-loving entrepreneurs Nick Chiarelli and Tim Silverwood are out to find the best businesses committed to protecting our oceans, and to raise Australia’s profile in the eco-tech sector while they’re at it.
Chiarelli and Silverwood are the co-founders of the Ocean Impact Organisation. Founded in February this year, the organisation was intended to be an accelerator program, helping founders build and scale businesses that have a positive impact on the ocean.
But, of course, COVID-19 came along, and temporarily blew those plans off course.
Instead, they created Ocean Impact Pitchfest 2020, as a way to showcase and celebrate some of the businesses already out there. And, doing it remotely means applicants can come from all over Australia, and beyond.
“Pitchfest was an idea that we had to spin up out of coronavirus,” Chiarelli tells SmartCompany.
“We look at it as a way to adapt to the virtual circumstances that we’re facing, and for us to spend a little bit more time ecosystem building and generating awareness about what it is that we’re here to do.”
Sure, it’s a competition. But, it’s also about discovering who’s out there working on what, showcasing some of the tech being built, and to start building an ocean-tech community.
In particular, Chiarelli wants to highlight the investment opportunities here, in order to “really shine a light on this as being a space that’s worthy of the time and attention of various stakeholders in Australia”, he says.
He’s talking about the government, corporate partners, investors and more, who have the financial clout to “get this space moving as something Australia can get behind”.
The pitchfest winner will nab a $15,000 cash prize, as well as a ‘support package’ valued at $50,000 that includes access to legal, accounting and branding services and mentoring. There is also mentoring available to two runners up, plus more services and support available to seven finalists.
Applications for the pitchfest are open now until October 5.
Chiarelli and Silverwood are looking for startups that can show they’re making “tangible positive impact” in one of six areas of ocean health, Silverwood explains.
They’re looking for tech focused on ocean health in general — that is, preventing pollution or removing plastics from the ocean.
But they’re also looking for startups helping make improvements to fishing practices and aquaculture, and looking for efficiencies in the maritime and shipping sectors.
The founders are also keen for ideas in ocean energy, something Silverwood says is “a really exciting one for Australia”.
And, there are also opportunities in the leisure and tourism industries, he adds. For example, using augmented or virtual reality technology to improve ocean literacy.
Finally, there’s a whole ‘new frontiers’ category, for “the really wild ideas out there”, Silverwood says.
He’s talking about offshore aquaculture, floating cities and underwater research labs, he says, “and all those really exciting ideas where unbridled enthusiasm can emanate from these visionary startup founders and disruptors of the future”.
An eco-nomic opportunity
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, major players in Australia’s tech sector have been vocal about the role startups could play in economic recovery.
Chiarelli and Silverwood think environment-focused tech and the ‘blue economy’ should be considered as an important part of that too.
“We’re definitely preceding as though it should and it will,” Chiarelli says.
“The basic premise behind any business, from day one, is to solve problems for people,” he adds.
And we’ve let environmental problems get so big that we now have no choice but to address them.
“There are great opportunities to address them,” Chiarelli explains.
“There are significant economic gains to be made by addressing environmental problems.”
And Australia is well placed to be a leader in this kind of technology. It’s what these founders are banking on.
“Our organisation is really underpinned by this idea that Australia could and should be a world leader in creating commercialised ocean solutions,” Silverwood explains.
“It’s not that we don’t have the abundance of ocean and coastline, or the people who are passionately trying to create better ways of doing things,” he adds.
“There just hasn’t been this focus on the innovation piece, and that commercialisation of brilliant science and understanding.”
If nothing else, Australia’s waters — and a certain reef in particular — are world-famous. That means the potential visibility of work being done to protect it is huge.
“The Great Barrier Reef, and all the opportunities that exist there will certainly be a focus for us,” Silverwood says.
“This is something I feel very strongly about.”
For him, as both an ocean conservationist and an avid surfer, this is where things get personal.
“Throughout my youth and younger years I could walk around the world with my surfboard and hold my head high as an Australian,” he explains.
“We had a historical precedent of being an ocean-faring and ocean-loving nation that cared for its great ocean resources.
“But in recent years, that’s just fallen off a cliff.
“We’ve become something of a laughing stock and a shame to the global ocean conservation community,” he adds.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect figure of the prize money. It has been edited with the correct number.