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Maryland ‘blue technology’ group searches for its sea legs at inaugural event

The Chesapeake Bay, shown in this 2019 photo, is a tremendous asset for “blue tech” industries, advocates say. (AP File Photo/Brian Witte)

What do companies focused on technology related to oceans and waterways need to thrive in Maryland?

That was the key question on the minds of over 100 entrepreneurs, innovators, academics and investors who came together Tuesday to discuss how Maryland can become the mid-Atlantic’s hub for so-called “blue technology,” a relatively new industry sector that is currently taking off in Seattle, Boston and Silicon Valley.

The gathering was the inaugural event of BlueTechMD, a consortium, established last month, of companies, nonprofits and academic institutions that share the goal of boosting Maryland’s blue tech footprint.

“Are we a 501(c)3? A lobbying group? A B corp?” Claire Broido Johnson asked of the group gathered for the event, who were invited to share their thoughts on what the future of BlueTechMD might entail.

Johnson, managing director of the Maryland Momentum Fund and a leader in the blue technology movement in Maryland, was joined by Mark Huang, a longtime friend and the founder of SeaAhead, a blue technology group based in Boston that has worked to build out the industry there, similarly to what BlueTechMD is trying to do in Maryland.

BlueTechMD is aiming to be roughly SeaAhead’s equivalent in Maryland, Johnson said; the organization has had great success in Boston, creating an angel investment group, launching the BlueSwell incubator for new ocean-focused companies and more. But she pointed out that certain parts of SeaAhead’s model won’t necessarily need to be replicated in Maryland; Johnson doesn’t feel there is need for more incubators in Maryland, for example.

She also noted out that the consortium does not currently have any funds or a budget to fund projects (the event was paid for by several sponsors, including Northrop Grumman).

Several speakers and attendees said that the most notable element of the event was its ability to bring together people from different blue tech fields — such as offshore wind, aquaculture, and maritime technologies. They felt that BlueTechMD could prove most useful by connecting companies together, connecting mentors with mentees and connecting workers to job opportunities in blue tech.

A special emphasis was placed on offshore wind in Maryland, a growing sector expected to employ thousands of people in the state in the coming years.

In addition to forming connections between existing businesses, Johnson also said she hopes BlueTechMD will attract early-stage blue tech companies to either launch in or relocate to the state.

“I would like this organization to be something that jump-starts a lot of companies and businesses,” she said.

The event also featured entrepreneurs and investors discussing the current state of blue tech in Maryland, including what companies are leading the state’s blue tech industry and, broadly, what makes Maryland a strong contender for a mid-Atlantic blue tech industry hub, from its proximity to the Chesapeake Bay to its strong research institutions.

It concluded with speakers encouraging the audience to spread the word about BlueTechMD.

“Tell a friend what you’ve seen today. Tell your kids. Tell your dog,” said Johnson.