The blue economy and associated blue tech innovations represent an emerging opportunity for impact and resilience in Africa. At the recent Africa Climate Week in Nairobi, the Catalyst Fund hosted a vibrant "Deep Blue Horizons: Exploring BlueTech Opportunities in Africa" breakout session during our Africa Climate Tech Festival, that convened key actors in this burgeoning space. Speakers from FSD Africa, GIZ, VUA, BFA Global and Sote Hub who discussed challenges, trends, and opportunities around blue economy startups.
The session emphasized that while momentum is clearly building, the blue tech sector in Africa is still nascent. Major players like FSD Africa see a need for more innovation and have invested in accelerator programs like TECA to cultivate solutions. However, many startups face difficulties accessing financing to scale up and traverse the "valley of death" between early funding rounds. As Juliet Munro of FSD Africa noted, creative financing models beyond traditional grants are needed. Likewise Olaf Seidel of GIZ noted that it is critical that early pipeline is developed, so that brilliant ideas and solutions can become fundable.
Collaboration is another imperative according to the speakers. Events like the Blue Economy Summit organized by Sote Hub foster connections between startups, governments, development partners, and more. Openness to partnerships allows models tailored to blue startups to emerge, as different actors translate their offerings to suit this space. For instance, banks can enable digital services while startups bring aggregated data to help small aquaculture farmers access working capital loans.
Being intentional about diversity and inclusion is vital too, according to viewpoints shared. Innovations can sometimes exclude women who provide significant blue economy labor. Startups like RegisTree are working to economically empower female workers to rectify this. Programs need to proactively close such gender gaps.
Speakers emphasized that while technology should enable solutions, it must provide real value for users and not add unnecessary complexity. For instance, pay-as-you-go models and SMS services are often better fits than sophisticated apps. As Titus Nyandoro of VUA noted, solutions should integrate seamlessly into existing workflows. Carol Kariuki of Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) added that “digital helpers” can aid adoption.
There was enthusiasm expressed about the possibilities from all sides. However, realizing the potential of blue tech will require effort from many kinds of players. The Catalyst Fund team intends to play an enabling role through our thesis and investments. Our Sustainable Livelihoods thesis aligns closely with the opportunities in fisheries, aquaculture, and more outlined in this session. The fund hopes to back founders developing appropriately designed solutions that empower vulnerable populations with more resilient incomes and jobs.
In terms of pipeline generation and spurring innovation in this area, the Africa Blue Wave is a visionary, African-led initiative designed to sculpt a nature-positive and resilient future by 2030. It champions the fusion of cutting-edge tech innovations with the ancient wisdom of Africa’s maritime heritage, fostering an environment where both nature and society flourish in harmony. This exciting initiative, made possible through funding from FSD Africa and the Canadian Government, in partnership with IUCN and Mission Inclusion builds on TECA’s (Triggering Exponential Climate Action) expertise in fostering blue innovation over the last year through a successful pilot wave supported by FSD Africa. The Africa Blue Wave will support high-potential individuals who demonstrate a passion for addressing climate issues in Africa’s blue economy. It will be implemented by TECA, an initiative of BFA Global, with support from OceanHub Africa, and is currently looking for potential fellows.
It will be exciting to see the innovative models and partnerships that continue to emerge as this space matures. If actors coalesce around providing flexible financing, nurturing startups, centering communities, and harnessing technology thoughtfully, the ensuing wave of sustainable blue innovation could uplift millions across Africa.