Ocean Tech Hub to highlight blue economy’s range in grant applications

Updated on Nov. 6 at 11:14 a.m.

PRESIDENT JOE Biden looks on as Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington during a news conference in August. The Biden administration is designating 31 “tech hubs” in 32 states and Puerto Rico to help spur innovation and create jobs in the specific industries that are concentrated in these areas. / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO / CAROLYN KASTER
PRESIDENT JOE Biden looks on as Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington during a news conference in August. The Biden administration is designating 31 “tech hubs” in 32 states and Puerto Rico to help spur innovation and create jobs in the specific industries that are concentrated in these areas. / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO / CAROLYN KASTER

PROVIDENCE – As blue economy leaders in Rhode Island and Massachusetts compete for up to $75 million in federal grant funding, members of the Ocean Tech Hub consortium name undersea technology, research capabilities and and climate initiates among the areas they’ll emphasize.

On Oct. 23, the Biden administration announced the Ocean Tech Hub as one of 31 Regional Innovation and Technology Hubs throughout the U.S. The consortium, led by R.I. Commerce Corp., includes several higher education institutions, blue tech companies and economic entities from Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.

Now, the hub has until Feb. 29 to make its case for a financial award of up to $70 million. And to start off, the consortium has a $347,000 Strategy Development Grant, said R.I. Commerce spokesperson Matt Touchette, which will support a Regional Innovation Officer position, market analysis and other preparation efforts.

The Ocean Tech Hub was one of just 11 organizations to receive a tech hub designation and strategy development grant, Touchette said, out of almost 400 applicants.

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In competing for tech hub funding, Christian Cowan, executive director at consortium member 401 Tech Bridge, said the group will define the blue economy as “the sustainable use of the ocean and our water assets to create a resilient economy and good paying jobs.”

Cowan, who also heads the University of Rhode Island Research Foundation, said he sees undersea technology and the application of artificial intelligence as vital to this effort.

“The implication there is that there are both commercial and military applications for very intelligent seafloor mapping,” Cowan said, “and undersea applications that also relate to offshore wind and fisheries.”

Cowan also spoke of the funding as an opportunity that “will further our knowledge of the ocean and further our ability to combat climate change and sea level rise.” 

Bethany Jenkins, interim vice president for research and economic development at URI, called the designation “a strong endorsement of the Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts region’s plan to supercharge our blue tech ecosystem and become global leaders in this area over the next decade.

“Importantly, it opens the door for us to compete for significant funding, and universities are an essential and required component of this implementation opportunity,” she continued.

Vice President of Innovation Initiatives Lisa Carnevale was not immediately available to discuss Commerce’s plans for the hub.

R.I. Secretary of Commerce Elizabeth Tanner said in a statement that the consortium has “much work ahead for us as this is merely the onset of our efforts towards bolstering American innovation.

“As we move forward with our next steps, our resolve for sustained collaboration and leadership only amplifies,” Tanner said. “Together, we will advance the fields of technology and innovation, aligning with President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, contributing to a future of opportunity and economic growth.”

Brian Clark, a spokesperson for Brown University, declined to comment on the university’s behalf, stating that Brown “will defer to the project leaders” such as R.I. Commerce and the state.

“Brown will be one partner on this, but it’s not a Brown-led initiative where we are the lead,” Clark said.

But in a statement, Brown University President Christina H. Paxson said, “with a growing research focus on ocean engineering, science and technology, Brown is excited to collaborate with partners to support the commercialization of new discoveries, the creation of new jobs locally and the strength of the state’s blue economy.”

(SUBS 11TH paragraph to clarify Carnevale’s availability.)

(Updates: Corrects University of Rhode Island Research Foundation to Christian Cowan)

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at Voghel@PBN.com.

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