401 Tech Bridge, MassChallenge start first cohort in blue accelerator program

PORTSMOUTH A group of sixteen startups and fellows covering more than 10 areas of the blue economy embarked on an eight-week MassChallenge and 401 Tech Bridge’s Blue Tech Accelerator and Fellowship Program this week.

Rhode Island’s blue economy is currently valued at more than $5.2 billion and growing, said Christian Cowan, executive director of 401 Tech Bridge.

To foster this growth, the accelerator program, which held its orientation on Tuesday, will guide its first cohort through a boot camp, cohort meet-ups, networking opportunities, workshops and office hours with experts in the sector.

The state’s startup ecosystem “has grown tremendously in the last seven years,” Cowan said, and the accelerator will provide companies with mentorship and exposure in the burgeoning industry.

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The program also serves as “an opportunity for companies to provide products and materials that can really help the industry here grow,” said Mary Johnson, manager of 401 Tech Bridge, “so they can be part of other solutions that are being developed” in areas such as commercial, boating, undersea and offshore wind applications.

The cohort includes 12 startups and four earlier-stage fellows from blue focus areas such as modeling and simulation, undersea/unmanned vehicles and oceanographic research. More than 150 innovators applied to participate in the first cohort.

Four of the 16 participants hail from Rhode Island, and one from Massachusetts. Other members of the cohort come from around the country, Canada, Switzerland and Singapore.

The program draws its funding from a $724,674 U.S. Economic Development Administration grant awarded to 401 Tech Bridge in the spring. The Portsmouth-based organization modeled the accelerator after programming established by its partner, MassChallenge.

Among the inaugural cohort is Current Lab, a Newport-based oceanography startup that maps currents and other ocean data to aid in navigation.

Current Lab aims “to make ocean data as usable and easy as your common weather forecast you get on the news or on your phone,” said founder Kevin Rosa. Rosa, an oceanographer, said he applied for the program to gain a better understanding of the business aspects of expanding his technology.

Rosa’s technology has already made a splash among the sailing community, and he hopes to expand to work with universities, the government, the Coast Guard’s search and rescue teams and other markets using ocean data. Over the summer, Rosa connected with the U.S. Olympic sailing team to map currents in Japan’s Sagami Bay.

The other Rhode Island fellows are Jaia Robotics LLC and Bamcore Composites, both of of Newport; and Canapitsit Customs of Bristol.

The strong local presence within the cohort highlights emerging talent in Rhode Island’s blue economy, Johnson said.

The program shows that “there are opportunities not just to work for Facebook or one of the big tech companies,” Johnson said, “but to develop a product or technology that can have a real benefit to the customers, and also help create businesses that create great jobs for Rhode Islanders.”

Jacquelyn Voghel is an PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.