Ocean Tuesday starts conversation on innovation
Picture crustacean DNA that allows crabs the ability to grow a new leg. That chemical makeup, in an innovator’s hands, becomes a product to seal up a human puncture wound.
Imagine a band-aid made of it.
Alaska has lots of crab, but getting from raw seafood byproducts to a marketable commodity will take a new infrastructure. A blue economy movement now in its Alaska infancy is involved in engaging all the human resources necessary to help such innovations evolve.
Joel Cladouhos, program director for the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, conducted a workshop July 25 at the Alaska Communications Business Technology Center in Anchorage as part of Startup Week to get the conversation started on how to turn ocean products into wealth.
“That’s our mission: to transition from an extractive economy to a diversified economy based on sustainable resources from the ocean,” Cladouhos said.
The Ocean Tuesday event allowed almost 100 people to connect via a video conferencing tool called Zoom, bringing together a variety of public members, academics, business leaders and policy makers from Anchorage, Bethel, Kodiak, Valdez, Homer, Fairbanks, Petersburg and Juneau to talk about barriers and opportunities in the sustainable development of Alaska’s vast ocean resources by launching an Alaska Ocean Cluster.
Like an Icelandic Ocean Cluster and the New England Ocean Cluster, an Alaska one would bring together innovators, investors and others for capitalization projects.
Ocean Tuesday — an event Cladouhos would like to see occur each week — was a chance to start the community conversation.
One of Cladouhos’ featured speakers, also appearing via Zoom, was Patrick Arnold, an entrepreneur in Portland, Maine, who founded the New England Ocean Cluster or NEOC. The for-profit business model is based off a similar operation in Reykjavik, Iceland, where they have figured out how to generate value from more than 80 percent of a fish.
“After two years, we’re still in the nascent stage,” Arnold told the Alaskans July 25.
But already, one of the development teams at the NEOC came up with an innovative way to use lobster shells in the human healing process similar to the band-aid example above.
“Much of the crustacean shell waste in the United States contains valuable proteins, and yet the majority of waste goes to landfills or composting operations,” Arnold said, describing a status-quo situation those on the Zoom conference knew well.
“In Alaska you have crab. Keep it in Alaska,” Arnold advised.
Arnold gave encouragement to form working groups, approach new partners who currently process the waste or toss it out, and introduce the concept of changing how things are done.
“It helps to have a cultural shift. You have to show the benefits in a variety of outcomes,” Arnold said. “The strongest way to get cultural change is to show incremental examples of success.”
Iceland’s “infrastructure” started with a 40-foot shipping container, Arnold said. “And now they are producing 22 million metric tons and selling it for millions of dollars.”
Another presenter at the workshop was Dianne Tilton, the executive director of the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education in Beals, Maine. DEI conducts mariculture research that aids commercial shellfish farming and other marine-based entrepreneurship.
Tilton’s overview showed a critical partnership piece provided through public university research.
“Maine has recognized and put significant investments into building up their R&D (research and development) into the ocean economy,” Cladouhos said. “They are partnering with the private sector to help solve problems.”
Finding those opportunities is the stage Alaska is at now, he added.
The July 25 event had breakout groups in each of the Alaska towns to discuss challenges and opportunities for capturing more value from Alaska’s ocean resources by starting an ocean initiative.
The Anchorage conversation was led by Rachael Miller, Hickel Professor of Strategic Leadership and Entrepreneurship at Alaska Pacific University. The group included Britteny Cioni-Haywood, division director of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, Nigel Sharp, the Global Entrepreneur in Resident at the University Alaska Anchorage and UAA Business Enterprise Institute leaders as well as members of the general public.
The Anchorage group noted barriers presented in an economy dominated by the oil industry. A solution would be to seek what common interests the oil industry shares with an ocean-focused effort. Alaska also lacks a K-12 curriculum that would lay a foundation for next-generation understanding of ocean resources.
There’s also a lack of a common space to let the conversation convene, Miller said. A solution would be to invite Launch Alaska to become the convener or incubator for economic ideas. It would also require leadership from the new UAA Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Sharp, who may be able to help find capital and markets.
Around the state, other groups identified isolation from business centers and high energy costs as barriers. But opportunities were presented in the expertise of each community, such as Kodiak’s Seafood and Marine Science Center and Valdez’ ocean monitoring program, put in place after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
As an organization, the AOCI comes under the umbrella of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, which has a long history of identifying and supporting economic development, noted Executive Director Karen Gillis.
The workshop laid some foundation for a step to forming the ocean cluster. But in addition to ideas, it requires economic sector voices, Cladouhos said. He’s looking at emerging sectors such as ocean technology, marine biotechnology and renewable energy. And he’s looking at the existing sectors like coastal tourism and marine transportation.
“Oceans are the unifying theme to this amalgamation of sectors doing business in Alaska,” Cladouhos said.
A cooperative cluster of those sectors, like Maine’s and Iceland’s, would help speed along economic successes.
Cladouhos calculates Alaska is woefully behind other coastal countries and states in utilizing the wasted tonnage from seafood. One company moved from Juneau to Seattle to develop a value-added shell product.
One clear step ahead is to continue “Ocean Tuesday.” It would take place weekly at a place as yet to be decided, and would involve a hybrid of virtual and physical platforms.
“This would start a collaborative statewide conversation,” Cladouhos said. “We have many differences from Iceland and Maine. We have to find a way to collaborate across this large state. This morning was a perfect example of a platform that would allow us to do that. That’s really what excites me.”
Naomi Klouda can be reached at email@example.com.