A Keynote, An Ocean Cluster, and the Blue Economy

SUM is excited to announce Berta Danielsdottir as one of our Keynote speakers for the conference this year. She is the CEO of the Iceland Ocean Cluster (and our first international Keynote!), and is joining us in collaboration with the New England Ocean Cluster which is opening this year. The Ocean Cluster is an incubator and connector, focused around entrepreneurship in the blue economy.

If you want to learn more about the Iceland Ocean Cluster, check out their portfolio page at the end of this post.

The rest of this post is by our friends at NEOC, giving us a background on when this idea of bringing the Ocean Cluster model to Maine began, and their journey to get here.

Enter NEOC:

Maine’s relationship with Iceland is much deeper than it seems on the surface. The economic opportunities that exist as a result of this deepening exchange are noteworthy. In 2012 under contract to the Maine Port Authority Patrick Arnold traveled to Iceland to pitch Icelandic steamship Line Eimskip on coming to Portland Maine. Two years later after Eimskip had started calling on Maine with its ships – Patrick, John Henshaw, Larus Isfeld and Dana Eidsness traveled to Iceland for Eimskip’s 100 year anniversary and found something unique. They found a model. They saw something in the Icelanders that was exceptional. Fisheries were sustainably managed. The fillets were meticulously handled and sold with higher levels of automation, and the waste streams were further processed into value added products worth three times that of what was sold as food. This is full utilization. It is the essence of a circular economy, It is a far more exciting Blue Economy and it is something that every corner of the globe should be doing. They found a concentration of all this happening at the Iceland Ocean Cluster House in Reykjavik.

Thor Sigfusson, founder of the Iceland Ocean Cluster and it’s Cluster “Hús”, explained that the model relies on a for profit focus and creative collisions that happen from a curated environment of diverse professionals all willing to collaborate while believing their collaborations will lead to higher revenue generation as well as spin offs and startup companies that make sustainable use of byproducts or optimize business being done in, on our around the Ocean. Thor said the coffee on the inside of the walls had to be better than the coffee on the outside, people needed to be attracted to the place and want to come work or visit there.

Upon return Dana and Janine Cary of MITC asked Maine Technology Institute if they would fly Thor to Maine to present on his model and it’s success. MTI held an event in Brunswick with 100 people and Thor presented on how collaboration can lead a resource economy up the product pyramid to higher and higher margins, creating higher paying jobs. Following the presentation a round table lunch was conducted to discuss with Thor how his model could work in Maine. Each panelists discussed ways to convert it to a non profit, bring it under the state, put it in an institution, etc. Patrick mentioned that, “we just paid this gentlemen to tell us the secret and he said it should be a for profit company. I think there needs to be a for profit company doing this.”

Following the meeting Thor approached Patrick and said, “Patrick, this is simple you and I can just sign a paper and start the company together.” Patrick remarked later that this felt a little bit like Tom Brady offering to start a football team.

Years of foundation laying have taken place since this initial partnership in 2014. Years of Maine companies traveling together to Iceland, of new product development with member companies, new business development in Ocean related business lines, member companies engaging in new ways of developing sustainable business. There have also been many attempts at finding a home for the Cluster House in Portland. This year, the New England Ocean Cluster House (the Hús) will open at 68 Commercial Street at the former site of the Portland Science Museum on Maine Wharf.

To continue the growth of the Iceland Ocean Cluster business model Thor hired food processing innovation veteran Berta Danielsdottir, to be the CEO of the Iceland Ocean Cluster. She’ll share how the movement is maturing in Iceland, how the cluster’s convening model helps to accelerate the connections that more efficiently lead to spin offs, and the importance of a culture that is open to the collaborative successes of a rising tide.

To learn more about the Iceland Ocean Cluster and the work they are doing.