Oct 20, 2022 - Energy & Environment

New ocean tech fund makes waves

Illustration of a money ball inside a clam.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Propeller, a fund that invests in companies tackling climate change via ocean solutions, unveiled its first $100 million venture fund on Thursday.

Why it matters: This is the first major blue economy venture fund, and it could help catalyze other players in the climate tech world to look to the sea for new opportunities.

  • Blue climate solutions refer to utilizing ocean ecosystems to reduce the severity of climate change and its impacts.

The big picture: The new fund, led by Brian Halligan, co-founder and executive chairperson of HubSpot, will have a multiyear partnership with the prominent Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

  • Ocean research and innovation have mainly been funded by the government and philanthropic donors. These include prominent names in the tech world, including the Schmidt Ocean Institute and Salesforce's Marc Benioff.

Context: The oceans cover more than 70% of the planet, and have absorbed about 40% of the human-generated CO2 put into the atmosphere. They also take in more than 90% of the excess heat from greenhouse gases.

  • Climate change threatens ocean health, with marine heat waves damaging tropical coral reefs and ocean acidification posing a danger to shellfish.

Zoom in: The Woods Hole partnership involves undisclosed multiyear funding as well as access to emerging research, intellectual property and advanced types of machinery such as the group’s ships and robotic submersibles.

  • According to Peter de Menocal, president and director of Woods Hole, the Propeller partnership will provide the organization with "risk capital" to support scientists' biggest ideas.
  • One likely focus: enhancing the ocean's ability to take up extra carbon.
  • De Menocal said it is important to be able to measure and verify any additional oceanic carbon uptake and to know more about how ecosystems will respond.

Between the lines: Halligan envisions growing ocean-climate startups into unicorns — the tech-world term for companies with a billion-dollar valuation. But the ocean-focused investor calls them "narwhals."

  • According to Halligan and Julie Pullen, chief scientist and partner at Propeller, companies that may be ripe for investment include those in the ocean carbon space, including ventures that are trying to solve carbon reduction measurement and verification.
  • The fund also aims to invest in ocean organics, which seek to use microbes for energy sources and other applications.

What’s next: "I think we're going to have a wave of capital and a wave of talent moving into the industry over the next couple of years," Halligan told Axios.

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