The Blue Invest platform, set up with financial support from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), will provide a range of support for blue economy small companies and entrepreneurs, helping their projects to develop more rapidly into fully commercial offerings. Daniela Cedola, accelerator director for PwC in Luxembourg, which will manage the Blue Invest platform, outlined the opportunities for those with strong blue economy business ideas.
Daniela Cedola: The Blue Invest platform aims to improve the flow of private investment to blue growth sectors, in particular by helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to improve their investment readiness.
A number of services and activities will be implemented, including the creation of a community of interest (involving the organisation of 12 events in the next three years), provision of investment-readiness coaching services to selected SMEs (application based), creation of a financial instrument funded by the European Union and private investors that will be targeted at the blue economy sector, and scouting and identification of projects and SMEs which can be prepared for raising of investment in the market.
The platform will also support the annual European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) grants application process for innovative blue-economy SMEs and start-ups. A panel of investors will act as the jury for grant applications, and applicants will be directed to coaching services available via the Blue Invest platform.
The 2019 EMFF call for proposals will open in the second half of this year. The next Blue Invest Day, the Blue Invest platform’s annual high-level event, is planned for early 2020. The first call for applications for Blue Invest’s investment-readiness services will open autumn 2019.
Daniela Cedola: In Europe, resources to support research and development are generally more available than resources for commercialisation. There is a funding gap of €3 million to €15 million, which in many cases corresponds to the phase when SMEs are trying to move beyond prototyping.
To enable more business ventures to develop, a few ingredients are necessary, including entrepreneurial education and skills, funding, market awareness, support mechanisms such as incubators, accelerators and coaching, and an improvement in the ability of SMEs to raise funds from investors.
Through the Blue Invest platform, we want to promote two specific ideas: 1. access to real investors and business opportunities for SMEs; 2. increase the professionalism of entrepreneurs in the blue-economy sector. Many highly talented researchers fail to make the jump to commercial success because of lack of entrepreneurial skills. We need closer cooperation with the market, more rigorous follow-up on technologies and better understanding of realistic market opportunities.
Daniela Cedola: The Blue Invest platform is very much aligned to the need for Europe to remain competitive globally and to achieve decarbonisation and circular economy goals. For this, the platform should in particular benefit subsectors with more innovative technologies – these require constant injections of capital for the evolution of research, and need incentives and coaching to reduce time to market and reduce failure rates.
Emerging sectors that stand out include the blue bioeconomy, blue digitalisation and blue robotics, which have horizontal applications across the blue economy. SMEs in some subsectors such as marine biotechnology, deep-sea engineering and offshore renewable energy are also technology intensive and could benefit from support to transfer research into the market. Finally, there is also high potential for technologies that will increase the sustainability and decarbonisation of ports, shipbuilding and other more traditional sectors of the maritime economy.
Daniela Cedola: There is indeed a lack of awareness about the sector among many investors, in particular venture capitalists. The economy of the sea is widely associated with fishing, shipping and offshore wind. Investments usually have a longer payback period than in other sectors and a significant volume of investment flows are directed towards emerging subsectors in concept or pilot phases.
Blue Invest strongly emphasises conveying to investors the business opportunities in the sector. To raise awareness, we will establish a community to secure the engagement of relevant ecosystem stakeholders. Annual Blue Invest events in Brussels will mobilise stakeholders on an annual basis, and will be complemented by regional events in European maritime hubs. We will also make available a permanent matching facility in our online community: investors will be able to search for and contact relevant SMEs and innovative projects, and vice-versa. This will hopefully increase investor awareness and investment deals in the sector.