The African Angel Academy in partnership with OceanHub Africa, and sponsored by GIZ Make-IT Africa, presented a Masterclass on Blue Tech and the sustainable blue economy. What do these terms mean, and what are the investment opportunities out there for aspiring blue angels?
As the old adage goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. The ocean economy annually generates around 2.5 trillion USD. Furthermore, the ocean in critical for all of us as it captures 90% of greenhouse gasses, produces oxygen, feeds us, and influences all ecosystems in the earth. If we do not take care of the ocean, which freely provides these functions, we will lose these benefits. This can lead to both ecological and economic disaster.
“The ocean is a common good – it belongs to nobody and everybody at the same time.” – Alexis Grosskopf, founder of OceanHub Africa
The United Nations defines a blue economy as any economic activity that arises from the ocean, such as fishing, tourism, and wave energy. They differentiate between a blue economy and a sustainable blue economy, the latter of which is marked by resilience, ecological protection, and equity.
Blue tech seeks to create a sustainable blue economy through innovation. It is a growing field globally and Africa, as evidenced by OceanHub Africa’s work: startups in the blue tech space use innovative technology, systems, and/or services to directly or indirectly tackle social and environmental threats related to the ocean. The blue tech sector is on closer inspection much broader than it appears, as it includes everything from startups working on producing bioplastic (or reducing waste flowing into the ocean), replacing marine protein sources with alternatives in the food and agritech spaces, marine data gathering and analytics, to shipping and logistics, alternative energy solutions, marine infrastructure, to ocean sport, tourism and activities.
The sector is so vast, that globally “blue angel” groups which specifically invest in startups playing in the sustainable blue economy space are emerging to take advantage of these opportunities. One of these is the Sea Ahead Blue Angel network based in the US which with 50 members had made 22 angel investments in the blue tech sector by the end of 2022.
With 38 of Africa’s 54 countries making up part of our coastline, as well as the larger entrepreneurial ecosystems and investment hubs having coastal areas, there is an opportunity for African angels to look at sourcing and making investments into the blue tech sector and for African blue angel groups to emerge.
Some of the startups that Ocean Hub Africa. has supported are working on providing innovative solutions to the blue economy. In the diagram below, we provide examples of threats, how they can be reframed as commercial opportunities, and startups which have used blue tech to provide innovative solutions. For further information on each startup, check out their respective websites: SeaH4, Inseco, and Abalobi.
The United Nations lists the four largest blue economy sectors as decarbonising marine transportation, marine solutions to protect ecosystems, marine renewable energy, and aquaculture, and estimates that the value of their opportunities total over 3 trillion USD. But how can angels be part of this?
Firstly, angels need to make sure that the startups they are investing in have the right buy-in from local and national stakeholders, especially if they need regulatory approval. Alexis Grosskopf recommends that blue tech startups need to garner support from local authorities – such as municipalities – to gain legitimacy and traction. Startups can then more easily approach larger institutions, VC and impact investors for further funding. Angels should therefore evaluate blue tech ventures through this lens, so they can gauge whether an innovation is scalable and has local support to help it gain traction. Take a look at the United Nations’ guidelines on financing the sustainable blue economy to see how institutions evaluate blue economy ventures.
Alexandra Fraser, founder of Viridian and lead facilitator of the African Angel Academy, further recommends that angels tap into a network of technical experts, such as engineers to legal consultants especially when looking at blue tech ventures. This is to ensure that the blue tech startup you are evaluating is scientifically sound and meets the needs of customers, as without this expertise the venture may not succeed. Additionally, she encourages leveraging spaces and programmes such as OceanHub Africa to find entrepreneurs or further support them in the blue economy.
Here are some hubs and links which blue angels may be interested in:
- OceanHub Africa
- Aqua Spark
- Ocean Innovation
- Fish 2.0
- Sustainable Ocean Alliance
- Blue Tech Cluster Alliance
- Ocean Innovation Africa
Becoming a blue angel means boosting your portfolio with innovative and sustainable solutions to modern problems and you may already have a few blue tech businesses in your portfolio already. The opportunities in the blue economy are as vast as the ocean, so get on board early!
 Turning the Tide: How to Finance a Sustainable Ocean Recovery. United Nations. https://www.unepfi.org/publications/turning-the-tide/
 What is the Great Blue Wall Initiative? World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2023/04/oceans-great-blue-wall-initiative/
 4 Ways to Invest in the Blue Economy. Morgan and Stanley. Available: https://www.morganstanley.com/ideas/blue-economy-investing-ocean-priorities
 Startups. OceanHub Africa. https://www.oceanhub.africa/startups/