Investment Opportunities in Washington’s Blue Economy

Days after Washington Governor Jay Inslee celebrated the start of work on the state’s first hybrid-electric ferry, a study released by Washington Maritime Blue identifies investment opportunities. The highest growth sectors in the blue economy include technology solutions for water transportation, shipping, science and other ocean systems.

The blue economy is the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved jobs and ocean-ecosystem health.
The capital landscape study follows up on the January 2019 release of Washington State’s Strategy for the Blue Economy by Inslee’s Maritime Innovation Advisory Committee. Washington Maritime Blue emerged from this strategy as an independent industry cluster alliance to promote growth in the state’s blue economy.
The new study, completed by Next Street and partner firm TILT Investments for the Washington Maritime Blue alliance, researched potential funding structures to provide investment capital to support growth of the maritime sector throughout Washington state.
Washington’s powerful technology hub –especially for cloud computing–alongside significant maritime and advanced manufacturing industry clusters in the Puget Sound region, offer a uniquely attractive environment for potential investors. State and local partners, including the Port of Seattle, have funded a Maritime Innovation Center and business accelerator to develop start-ups and small-to-medium-size maritime technology companies, with the goal to facilitate access to capital.
The study presents frameworks and strategies to fill gaps from a variety of investment sources, including public and private capital.

Key findings include:

  • Highest-growth sectors in the blue economy are those focused on technological solutions and those related to water transportation and shipping.
  • People of color and women each represent less than 10 percent of small and medium-size business ownership in Washington’s maritime economy, a severe under-representation that may be driven by lack of access to capital.
  • A strong blue economy industry cluster organization–such as Washington Maritime Blue–can help drive investment into the sector and identify priority investments.
  • Compared to other industries, few equity providers are focused on maritime–they are either not knowledgeable or interested because of government regulations and concern about scaling and exit potential.

To connect investors to these opportunities the study identified action items that will accelerate the growth of the blue economy. They include:

  • Pilot a Maritime Blue Accelerator to assist small and medium-size businesses and start-ups with mentorship and other support services, including access to funders.
  • Identify potential target investors and share a Capital Suppliers Asset Map of debt, equity and grant sources for start-ups, early-stage, growing and mature small and medium-size businesses.
  • Develop strategies to support increased investment in Washington’s maritime economy, including identifying philanthropic partners who can help lower or remove risk from investments.
  • Better understand the causes of under-representation of women and people of color in Washington’s blue economy and create mitigation strategies.
  • Build a playbook for corporate partnerships with small and medium-size businesses in the maritime economy to stimulate innovation and growth while supporting emerging businesses.

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