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4 things we learnt at the World Ocean Summit 2023

We recently attended the World Ocean Summit hosted by The Economist in Lisbon, Portugal. This is what we learnt.

The World Ocean Summit is an annual global event bringing together the widest cross-section of the ocean community from business and finance to governments, national and international policy-makers, civil society and academia.


The summit is designed to inspire bold thinking and new partnerships, and to trigger effective action to develop a sustainable ocean economy. It aims to change the way business is done in the ocean.


Laurie Foulon, one of our Yachting Ventures scouts & advisors recently attended the event in Lisbon. So, what did we learn?


1. Funding for early stage startups is limited


Although the ocean is the largest ecosystem on the planet, investment opportunities and startups in the space are still relatively unconsidered by traditional investors. It was clear throughout the World Ocean Summit that whilst conversations and ideas around the Blue Economy are booming, there is huge scope to direct more capital into the space and expand the pool of existing players in VC and private equity.


It was suggested that the institutional capital currently available is too large for early-stage startups. This means that founders instead need to rely on raising finance from angel investors to get their projects off the ground, which can be a hard and time-consuming process for those without extensive HNWI networks to tap into.


Attracting more private sector finance and early-stage funds, and encouraging them to look at investment opportunities in the Blue Economy will be a key driver to further accelerating the growth of the industry. We recently published an article on the Top 5 Investors in the Blue Economy, and you can read it here.


2. We need a new way of measuring success & impact


Markus Muller (managing director and global head of chief investment office at Deutsche Bank), suggested that we need a new, nature-compliant economic model. During a fascinating panel titled “Scaling private-sector blue finance”, Markus suggested that startups have a key role to play in disrupting the existing economic model - which currently focuses purely on ROI whilst failing to consider key environmental impact. Instead of layering on top of the current system, perhaps we need a new way to measure and model economic growth, other than in pure GDP terms?


What if performance and KPIs were measures of success alongside one’s investment in an impact fund? What if each employee and manager on the planet were assigned ESG KPI’s and assessed on that basis?


Whilst direct capital ROI will always be important for investors, environmental impact will play an increasingly important role and may also affect a startups ability to scale. The most scalable startups of tomorrow must be able to adapt to evolving international regulations in the context of a revolution of the energy sector.


3. Startups need the right environment & support to succeed


As a startup founder and innovator, your sense of purpose is linked partly to your ability to bring a project to life. Building something that both makes the world a better place and is a product or service that people need and want, has an unparalleled sense of fulfilment and is what drives entrepreneurs to innovate over and over again.


Environment is key and connecting with like-minded individuals in order to find the right support will make or break your efforts as a founder. During a panel about the Ocean Changemakers Challenge, Virginie de Visscher (senior director of business development at Destination Canada) stressed the importance of connecting across industries to accelerate change, “...a spark happens from stepping outside of one's comfort zone, and when we bring different sectors together. Find a mentor that is from a different background, sector or nationality.”


At Yachting Ventures, our goal is to build a global community of startup support for the leisure marine & yachting industries. As part of that effort, we're actively engaging with our own ecosystem but also with other ocean industries (including commercial shipping & the blue economy) to connect ideas and people, and deliver true impact for the startups in our network.


4. Data sharing is crucial


The importance of data sharing, management, interpretation and ownership was a key topic and the headline theme of a few sessions during the World Ocean Summit. In a session entitled “How ocean science can benefit from a new approach to ocean data”, a valuable point was shared by Kendra Macdonald from Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, “Leveraging data and sharing it between startups and the scientific community is key.”


The session went on to highlight the importance of data communication. This is the simple yet powerful tool of storytelling as a means to translate key scientific findings into bite-sized and digestible visuals. Data needs to be interpreted and easily understood for us to be able to act on it and make decisions based on insights. We need to bring together the science community, investors, innovators and decision-makers in order to collaborate and truly leverage the benefits of data sharing and analytics.


Data is also a crucial component for investors - who generally ascertain potential investment opportunities on data and statistics around market size. As an industry, we all need to come together to ensure that data is transparent, accurate and easily accessible.


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