Hacking for the Environment: Oceans and Hacking for Oceans, transformative courses hosted this past spring by the University of California-San Diego and the University of California-Santa Cruz, respectively, are the most recent installment in an international series of classes making waves in higher education.

Conceived by Steve Blank, creator of the Lean Startup movement, and (retired) Army Colonels Joe Felter and Peter Newell, the model blends business acumen with academic prestige–guiding students through scientific and market research to build solutions to marine problems.

While many potentially world-changing ideas emerge from academic research, the lack of a more in-depth industry and business knowledge prevents them from becoming a reality–a problem that can afford no more time when it comes to climate change’s impact on our oceans.

The inaugural Hacking for Oceans and Hacking for the Environment: Oceans cohorts consisted of 50 students grouped in teams of four, all of whom partnered with ocean-focused mentors and sponsors like the Oceanic Society and NOAA. The 10-week program required groups to identify and research a problem using Lean Startup tools and processes. They engaged in extensive fieldwork, interviewing hundreds of stakeholders (for example, learning from line fishermen and fish market owners to address bycatch waste). This approach allowed them to better understand industry processes, challenges, limitations and missed opportunities, and more efficiently focus their plan for bringing it to life. The result was some seriously promising, long-term solutions. Among them was UCSD’s “Fresh or Fishy,” an anomaly detection and supply chain tracking of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; and UCSC’s “Blue Waltz Bio,” which created a more efficient way for ecological genetists to access and make use of eDNA data.

Other projects included low-cost flooding sensors to protect coastal communities, kelp forest restoration, more advanced navigation for arctic freight amid the polar ice caps’ changing topography, and financial infrastructures to aid local fisheries.

To learn more about the program, visit www.commonmission.us.

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