Case Study

Ocean Exchange

How the power of community is propelling breakthrough solutions for a sustainable Blue Economy

One of the key questions driving Schmidt Marine’s efforts is how do we stimulate and enable groups to explore more good ideas?  We need all the ideas we can get as we tackle the myriad challenges facing the oceans, from how to fish more sustainably to how to reduce the nutrient pollution that leads to dead zones and countless other coastal water declines. That’s why one of our main focus areas at Schmidt Marine is helping to build a marine technology ecosystem that spurs creativity and creates the right environment for ideas to grow into real, scalable ocean conservation solutions.

We were drawn to Ocean Exchange because for more than a decade they have been successfully working toward that same vision, creating a community to showcase good ideas and provide support. Founded in 2011, the organization was created to support the generation and adoption of community-driven solutions in renewable energy, sustainable food production, waste reduction, and water conservation. They recognized a growing need for a more organized effort toward addressing some of today’s most pressing environmental issues, and are now a place where college students and early-stage entrepreneurs can present their ideas, get feedback and publicity, and gain early validation of their work. Those who participate with “solutions inspiring action” benefit from monetary awards, awareness building, and network development. Since its founding, the organization has awarded $2 million in non-dilutive awards to start-ups as seed funding through their annual event, which brings together entrepreneurs, researchers, and companies from around the world to collaborate and share their ideas with funders and advisors.

Each year, a diverse panel of judges look for innovative and globally scalable solutions with working prototypes that can leap across industries, economies, and cultures. Winning ideas are typically those that meet the organization’s growth-minded criteria for feasibility and ease of implementation as well as breadth of application. Following a call for solutions, selected applicants are invited to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to present their work at an annual event each fall. Finalists pitch their ideas in front of a live audience, competing for $100,000 cash awards. At the same event, 10 university finalists pitch for the collegiate awards of up to $25,000. The audience represents a cross-section of global experts from industry, government, conservation, research, and academia, most of which act as delegates whose vote determines the winners.

Support from Schmidt Marine and multiple other funders is allowing Ocean Exchange to expand its awards to include two new topic areas: urban and coastal water, and transportation hubs, with an emphasis on ports. These two new areas complement and have important strategic overlaps with the organization’s other awards, the Neptune and Orcelle, with their emphasis on ocean, coastline, and ocean transportation. The additional award areas will help attract innovators whose start-ups fit in multiple areas, giving them the ability to qualify for more than one award.