BlueTech Week 2017 aims to bring together industry, academia and government in sunny southern California. Now in its ninth year, the annual event has grown to encompass seven events in five days, scheduled for November 6-10, 2017. MTR caught up with Michael Jones, president of The Maritime Alliance (TMA), to discuss ‘what’s new’ at this year’s event.
How has BlueTech Week evolved over the years, and in what ways has it stayed the same?
The basic concepts are the same – to “Promote BlueTech & Blue Jobs”, foster collaboration and international outreach. But there have been amazing developments over the years. As examples, we have grown from two events over two days to seven events over five days of BlueTech Week 2017 with a theme of “Smart Ocean, Smart Water.” Attendance over the week has expanded from probably 100 in the first year to an expected 450 across the multiple events this year. Second, we became a membership organization in late 2013 and over the last four years have added over 80 corporate members starting in San Diego and increasingly across the U.S. and international with members in Brazil, Canada, Italy, Mexico, Norway, South Africa and the U.K., which means more members participate from around the world. Third, two years ago in 2015 we added a BlueTech Cluster Convening and had eight clusters from five countries participate sharing best practices and exploring ways to collaborate. For the third annual Cluster Convening this year, we expect 17-18 clusters and clusters-in-formation related to ocean and water technologies from at least eight countries and nine U.S. states to participate in the “by invitation” day. Fourth, there is not enough financing available to innovative SMEs, so last year we launched a BlueTech PitchFest day, which returns in 2017 with more presenting companies and more investors and channel partners expected. And finally, while TMA is best known for our ocean tech work, we are a cluster that covers both fresh and salt water. This year, for the first time, we are running multiple tracks for ocean and water technology providers and users – our member companies sell across both domains – including a dedicated water track with six panels. We will also have water clusters with us for the first time.
What makes BlueTech Week stand out from other conferences dedicated to the ocean science and marine technology communities?
TMA is a networking organization and everything that takes place during BlueTech Week relates to creating relationships between clusters and companies. BlueTech Week is not a trade show – there are great trade shows around the world that put technology and service companies in front of buyers. Our mission statement is “Promoting Sustainable, Science-Based Ocean & Water Industries” and our tag line is “Promoting BlueTech & Blue Jobs”, so everything we do is designed to promote those goals. We create an intimate, networking environment with high level attendees from academia, industry and policy that results in academic and channel partnerships, funding opportunities, technology partnerships, workforce development and more during BlueTech Week. We like to say, “the right people, the right place, the right setting, the right time”…and San Diego is always a great place to visit, especially when it is winter in northern Europe.
Looking at the busy year that The Maritime Alliance has had so far, what are one or two highlights you most excited about?
Let me mention three. First, we have a growing number of examples of partnerships among TMA members internationally and with companies of our cluster partners – collaboration works. Second, our engagement with educational institutions and workforce development is critical. We care about developing the technical staff needed by our member companies and to inspire the entrepreneurial leaders of tomorrow. As two examples, we have recently begun working with the San Diego Unified School District – one of the largest school districts the U.S. – to create a Blue Economy Academy and workforce pathway…and, with some grant funding organized by one of our educational partners, we will launch a Blue Jobs website with career videos to inform and excite youth (and their parents) about the broad array of jobs in the fast-growing Blue Economy. And third, we are very excited to be working with a growing number of clusters and clusters in formation around the world to create win-win situations across the Triple Helix (academia, industry and policy makers) that will result in more Blue Job growth in sustainable, science-based ocean and water industries.
Please provide an update on The Maritime Alliance’s efforts to engage with other similar clusters around the globe, as well as a look at plans for the next 12-18 months ahead.
In January 2017, TMA helped launch the BlueTech Cluster Alliance (BTCA), which is an association of nine of the leading BlueTech clusters in the world committed to collaborate. Most of us already have a history of working together and we are looking at ways to expand that collaboration. We have different sources of funding, we have different legal forms, we have different paths to the development of our various clusters…but we all want to promote sustainable, science-based ocean industries that create good-paying Blue Jobs while addressing the world’s biggest challenges: food, water, energy, medicine, real estate, etc. As we like to say, it is our (collective) companies that are developing the technology and services to allow us understand the problems in the ocean…and it will be our companies that will help us solve them, which we can only do together. BTCA clusters are already active in locations around the world and now we are developing a more formalized cluster building capacity to help organize clusters in regions in Africa, Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
As Prof. Michael Porter wrote in his seminal article “Clusters and the New Economics of Competition” in the Harvard Business Review Nov-Dec 1998: Today’s economic map of the world is dominated by what I call clusters: critical masses—in one place—of unusual competitive success in particular fields. The time has come for Blue Economy and BlueTech clusters to be recognized for their importance and we are working hard to raise their profile globally.
As examples, TMA co-organized a cluster event as part of the first ever UN Ocean conference in June 2017; we will promote clusters at the Our Ocean conference in Malta in October; BlueTech Week 2017 will focus on cluster collaboration; we are working with The Economist as its “World Ocean Summit” in Mexico in March 2018 will focus on Blue Economy Clusters for the first time; clusters will be active and visible at Oceanology Intl. in London in March 2018; and the effort will continue far beyond 2018.