A pandemic-delayed weeklong event to celebrate and foster a Blue Economy, which encompasses ocean-related industries, launched Tuesday morning.
With mostly free in-person and virtual events, workshops, seminars, investor panel discussions and more, the All Blue Week offerings will last through Saturday.
The concept focuses on tapping into the region’s existing strengths to enhance a sustainable ocean-driven economy.
The packed week of events marks the real-life reveal of years of planning on the part of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s (UNCW) Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE).
“So much is happening,” said Diane Durance, director of UNCW’s All Blue Week and former CIE director. “And yet, there was no way to really put a spotlight on it. So when we had this opportunity to kind of carve out All Blue Week, we really went for it. We said, ‘This will make it visible.’”
The blue economy encompasses five silos that were sectioned off during pre-pandemic sector strategy sessions, Durance said. The idea itself arose out of “a big community brainstorming around what our region could really use,” she said. Also, it grew from Durance’s experience at the CIE, where she was repeatedly approached by business owners and entrepreneurs interested in growing some aspect of the blue economy.
The five blue sectors include: blue tech, which includes marine engineering, robotics and data analytics; marine biotechnology (for instance, incorporating ocean products for pharmaceutical use); sustainable seafood; coastal resiliency (erosion-, storm- and flooding-related ventures); hospitality, recreation and tourism.
Durance said she realized there was a need to connect blue players with one another and raise awareness of their presence in the community. The coalition wants to show the region all of the existing blue economy’s strengths , she said, “but we also want to build the collaboration that can be leveraged to benefit everyone.”
For example, the CIE was eyeing an Economic Development Administration grant for a maker’s space for marine technologies, but realized it wasn’t eligible unless it could prove there was “strong collaboration among partners.”
“So by doing this All Blue Week and having everybody involved and engaged in it, I think it's really going to build those relationships,” Durance said.
Of all the sectors, Durance said blue tech has the most room for improvement, as UNCW doesn’t have an engineering school. There’s opportunity in this sector for the development of harnessing wave and offshore wind energy, converting vessels to electric power and more.
More than a dozen events are planned this week. Futurist Deborah Westphal delivered the keynote address Tuesday morning and will host a workshop in the afternoon, beginning at 2 p.m.
A sunset cruise is planned Wednesday afternoon at the Blockade Runner marina.
Explore Fort Caswell’s living shorelines during a guided walk-through Wednesday, led by the N.C. Coastal Federation. Grab a drink and learn about “what’s brewing in science” at Waterline Brewery on Tuesday evening.
Cape Fear Collective is leading “Hack for a Blue Economy” Saturday, a virtual hackathon to promote the use of data to support using ocean resources sustainably. UNCW’s Center for Marine Science will host one-hour tours Saturday of its shellfish research hatcheries.
For additional details about these events and dozens more, check out All Blue Week’s itinerary