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Aug 28, 2023

Love the Ocean?

Sponsored Content provided by Heather McWhorter - Director, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

If you love the ocean and are a thought leader, innovator, changemaker, or a curious and caring community member, I invite you to attend first ever Ocean Innovation Conference on September 19 at UNCW’s Burney Center. 
Organized by the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) in partnership with the Alliance for the Blue Economy (“All Blue”) volunteers, this conference was created to bring together people to learn about problems and think about solutions to help our ocean and waterways, contributing to our region’s blue economy
The Ocean Innovation Conference isn’t about taking from the ocean. The day is about collaborating with, helping the ocean and our waterways, because they are at the center of who we are. The Ocean Innovation Conference is about a designing path for our region’s economy to a robust, innovative, sustainable future for all. 
CIE Program Manager Cheryl Young and I began planning this conference in January by convening core set of All Blue who were the “Content Committee”: Troy Alphin, CIE Scientist-in-Residence; Susan Bales, Bales Innovation Group; Diane Durance, Michigan Capital Network Association; Richard Keary, Global ETF Advisors and CIE Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Blue Finance; Matt Lettrich, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); and Frank Lopez, Extension Director at NC Seagrant & Water Resources Institute. We considered successes and feedback from the All Blue Week 2021, and discussed what format and content could make the most impact in our community. This is what we came up with. It has taken 8 months to develop it and I’m excited for everyone to come be a part of the conversation!
Ocean Innovation Conference
Tuesday, September 19 8AM-3:30PM @ Burney Center
Webpage/Registration -
Opening: Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, author of Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, and More Connected, and Better at What You Do. As a marine biologist, Dr. Nichols (also known as J) has conducted research on a variety of subjects including ocean ecology, animal migration, marine conservation, and cognitive science. His most recent attention has been on understanding the neuroscience of the human-water connection. This work turned into an international “Blue Mind” movement, an emerging field of research and health and wellness practice.
Afternoon: Jake Kheel, author of “Waking the Sleeping Giant: Unlocking the Hidden Power of Business to Save Our Planet” and Vice President of Grupo Puntacana Foundation in the Dominican Republic will share information about the Dominican Coral Innovation Hub and discuss the role of the private sector in marine conservation. Jake is a sustainability innovator, thought-leader, and award-winning documentary filmmaker.
Throughout the day, there will be four thought-provoking, moderated panels that will build upon each other. 

1. Sparking Regional Blue Innovation | Moderator: Sara LawrenceRTI International

Southeast North Carolina has the natural resources available to establish the area as a thriving blue economy hub. What are the next steps? 

2. Ocean Innovation Technology | Moderator: Ken Halanych, UNCW Center for Marine Science 

What’s new in ocean tech? Robotics, Drones, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), Sensors. These are just a few of the innovative technologies used in our ocean applications, from offshore wind to aquaculture, today.
3. Innovations in Sustainability | Moderator: Brian Silliman, Duke University
Hear perspectives from this panel about living shorelines, ecosystem cultivation, ecosystem mimicry and how they advance sustainability. A sustainable blue economy is vital for coastal regions.
4. Innovation Investment Forum | Moderator: Krista Covey, First Flight Venture Center 
Designing a collaborative regional strategy to grow research capacity and fuel business ventures in marine robotics, aquaculture, marine biotechnology, and areas impacting coastal resiliency is critical. What resources exist, what resources are needed, and how are successful startups leveraging investments to grow?
During the panels you will also hear more about the recently awarded NSF North Carolina Ecosystem Technology Prospective Engine grant and the work that has been initiated with partners.
Throughout the day, an Innovation Expo with innovative companies and programs showcasing the work that they do and what they offer will be available for additional connections. 
I can’t wait to see the connections that result from the conference. I can’t wait to see the ocean and waterway solutions designed by our region’s entrepreneurs. It’s going to be the beginning of something wonderful.
Register now, you don’t want to miss this first ever event!
Thank you to the Ocean Innovation Conference sponsors who understand the importance of connecting entrepreneurship, community, and the blue economy: NC IDEANC SeaGrantCity of WilmingtonUNCW Center for Marine ScienceBlue Mind CoworkingCape Fear Community College Small Business Center, and the Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC).
If you would like to be part of the year-round conversation, also check out All Blue 201 on December 5 to learn about more ways to be involved. 
Connect with CIE
To learn more about CIE and our services, programs, and events, follow us on social media: InstagramFacebookTwitterLinkedInTikTok, or YouTube. CIE’s website is
Feedback or thoughts? Please comment below or connect with me!
Heather McWhorter, MS, PE, is the director of the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. CIE is a resource for high-impact start-ups and the early-stage business community to help diversify the local economy with innovative solutions. For more information, visit

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