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Ocean Innovation Africa highlights opportunities for African ocean economy

Leaders in sustainable development of the ocean economy gathered in Cape Town last month at Ocean Innovation Africa, Africa’s blue economy summit.

The hybrid event occurred live and online, with talks, exhibitions, and networking sessions on the latest in innovative technology, policy and financing for sustainable and equitable growth of ocean industries in Africa. Ocean Innovation Africa has gone from strength to strength since the inaugural event two years ago. This year saw over 100 ocean-impact exhibitors, 70 expert speakers, and 650 delegates directly involved in the African ocean economy coming together to collaborate on ensuring its sustainable growth.

Ocean Innovation Africa is a UN Ocean Decade-endorsed event; organised by OceanHub Africa, a Cape Town based accelerator of African ocean-impact startups, and Catalyze Events, an expert in business events in Africa and overseas promotion of African businesses.

“We believe that innovations based in science, technology and entrepreneurship will provide the leverage to catalyse blue growth in Africa at the pace and scale necessary to address both the current oceans crisis and the socio-economic needs of coastal communities,” says Alexis Grosskopf, CEO of OceanHub Africa.

Both the City of Cape Town and the V&A Waterfront have been firm supporters of Ocean Innovation Africa and of the South African blue economy. As one of Africa’s tech hubs, at the intersection of three oceans, with its advanced maritime infrastructure and well-established research communities, the city of Cape Town is ideally poised to become the hub of the African blue economy and the V&A Waterfront provided the ideal meeting point for the in-person event.

The summit was hosted at The Avenue Conference centre at the V&A, the upper floor of which opens out into the open ocean exhibit of the Two Oceans Aquarium. This formed a scenic backdrop for one-to-one meetings at the summit, as well as for the 48-hour Ocean Hackathon® held there.

In addition to the conference, Ocean Innovation Africa hosted the first African Chapter of the international Ocean Hackathon®, where teams of marine scientists and data students worked for two days straight on data-based solutions to ocean challenges. The winners of the African chapter worked on a challenge from Soso Care, a Nigerian startup that offers low-cost health insurance in return for recyclable waste collected in underserved communities. Prizes for the Cape Town hackers were sponsored by Société Générale, a French investment bank that puts sustainable development at the heart of its activities, and CLS Southern Africa, who use satellite technology for advanced marine surveys.

To ensure that the summit meets its objective of showcasing African ocean-impact innovations, both to inspire more entrepreneurs and to highlight opportunities for investors, African startups receive free exhibitor space and opportunity to pitch at the event.

The French Embassy in South Africa showed their support for the initiative by sponsoring cash prizes for the best African startups, with first prize of R15,000 going to NovFeed Tanzania, who recycle organic waste to produce alternative fish feed. Aside from the chance to exhibit and pitch to an international audience of key investors, the event also fosters the entrepreneurial support ecosystems that provide these startups with the tools they need to develop their businesses.

The event counted on the participation of numerous experts and mentors to advise some of the startups on show. Dassault Systèmes, a supporter of Ocean Innovation Africa since the first edition, facilitated a session where some of the world’s leading ocean business experts provided their insights and advice to the current cohort of OceanHub Africa startups.

Charlotte de Boisguilbert, open innovation lab specialist at Dassault’s 3D Experience Lab, was joined by the likes of Louise Heaps from WWF International, Kendra MacDonald of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, and Mark Spalding from The Ocean Foundation on the experts panel.

Key to supporting the adoption of sustainable innovations is industry support and, in fact, the organisers of Ocean Innovation Africa believe that the transition to sustainable ocean practices will be industry-led. Along with the hundreds of ocean-impact startups that took part in the event, numerous corporate leaders from key maritime industries were present to highlight how they incorporate sustainability in their practices as well as how industry can work with other stakeholder groups to accelerate adoption of these practices across the board.

The feature discussion at the event saw blue economy, innovation, and research leaders from Africa Launch Ventures, IOC-UNESCO, The Nature Conservancy, CORDIO East Africa, and the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance discuss innovations to enable African blue economy growth.

Along with industry-focused discussions on fishing, seaweed, shipping, ports, ocean sports, coastal tourism and plastics, Ocean Innovation Africa also featured expert panels on ocean-based solutions to climate change, ocean data, the blue economy of small island developing states, and collaborative frameworks for innovation.

The panels convened leaders in business, innovation, finance, research, and policy from each field, providing a holistic perspective on the challenges, opportunities, and solutions for sustainable development, as well as ensuring that the businesses and authorities capable of implementing the necessary changes took part in the talks.

Alexis Grosskopf, CEO of OceanHub Africa, insists that “people are rising faster than the sea level”, a phrase he coined during the first edition of the event in 2019, and that current leanings of private investors towards impact-investment is creating opportunities for African innovators to develop scalable for-profit, sustainable solutions, paving the way to healthy oceans and thriving coastal economies.

Rex Bowden, CEO of Catalyze events is confident that the event will be able to return in full to in-person for next year’s edition and recommends that interested parties get in touch as early as possible to book their place and get involved.

For more details, take a look at the event website, and the Twitter (@OceanInnovatio1), LinkedIn (@Ocean Innovation Africa) or Facebook (@OceanInnov) pages.

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