Just months after opening, the cavernous COVE (Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship) building in Dartmouth is feeling lived in, with residents gathering over screens and sharing pizza. But there is room for more innovators and the newest are invited to take their ideas to COVE’s Start-Up Yard incubator.
Managed by Innovacorp, Start-Up Yard has been established to help early-stage OceanTech companies commercialize their technologies and reach a global market.
The acceleration programs, space and services, funding, equipment, and mentoring are designed to help startups grow quickly, said Shelley Hessian, executive director of Start-Up Yard, as she sat in a meeting room overlooking Halifax Harbour.
“You can contact us at any point, whether you’re at the idea, proof-of-concept, prototype, or in-market stage,” Hessian said, referring to innovators who may not yet have imagined that their idea could become a business. “We’d be happy to discuss your ideas, progress, and future direction and how we can help.”
Located in what was once the Canadian Coast Guard facility on Halifax Harbour, COVE is becoming home to ocean technology businesses, groups from post-secondary institutions, researchers, and marine-based and service businesses. It’s all designed to create a network of collaboration and mutual advancement. The young companies in Start-Up Yard benefit by having access to so much help and expertise.
Hessian said the Yard now has two cohorts up and running with 13 ventures involved. They include Ashored Innovations, which is developing intelligent buoy systems that provide ropeless fishing solutions, SEDNA, which is creating a traceability system for seafood producers and distributors, and Marecomms, which is building wireless digital communications for use over long distances under water.
There have been early successes — some participants have gained funding and a few are involved with other groups, such as Creative Destruction Lab-Atlantic.
Hessian said the COVE facility itself, which offers 915 metres of deep-water wharves, is a boon. The access to Halifax Harbour allows for real time testing and swift progress. In other marine innovation hubs, it can take many months to win approval from harbor authorities to test a prototype in the water, Hessian said.
“It’s a huge advantage to be able to go outside and test,” she added.
Yard ventures needing assistance on the water can also approach COVE residents LeeWay Marine and Dominion Diving. COVE is also home to Precise Design Engineering Solutions, which offers innovators help with prototype design and production.
Other groups with a COVE presence include diverse bodies such as Nova Scotia Boatbuilders’ Association and Kraken Robotics.
Hessian said that several Start-Up Yard companies were to attend the Oceanology International Americas conference in San Diego this month, where they are deepening their understanding of the sector, including of potential competitors and partners.
COVE and Start-Up Yard are just part of this region’s approach to competing in an increasingly important global sector. Nova Scotia is already home to more than 300 companies in ocean-related businesses, including 60 innovators of new high-tech products and services, according to a report issued by Nova Scotia Business Inc.
These numbers will likely be boosted by the Ocean Supercluster, a partnership between the federal government and four Atlantic Provinces that will spend up to $360 million on marine innovation R&D over the next five years.
The Ocean Supercluster is one of five superclusters of specialized innovation across Canada that will share $950 million in federal funding over five years. It’s intended that the ocean supercluster will allow innovators to work with established companies on developing products for ocean-related industries.
Hessian said COVE will soon be welcoming several new post-secondary institutions, including Nova Scotia Community College’s Oceans Research Team and Dalhousie’s Ocean Tracking Network.
“We’re here to help commercialize ocean technology, help early stage startups and connect them to the ocean community,” she said. “We’re open for business … and happy to talk to anyone, even if all they have is an idea.”
Carol Moreira is a principal of Entrevestor, which provides news and data on Atlantic Canadian startups.