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Jun 26, 2024

You’re Invited to the Second Annual Ocean Innovation Conference

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

This article was contributed by Lydia Thomas, UNCW CIE Program Manager.
Preserving, protecting, and restoring our waters are tasks for many lifetimes, and sometimes the effort can seem overwhelming. But as long as we stay connected with all of the many, many blessings that water provides, and continue to keep that love in the forefront of our minds and hearts, as long as we remind ourselves to hope, then our stories will help connect others to water and encourage them to do what they can to help care for this beautiful Blue Marble world.
― Wallace J. Nichols, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do
The UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), in partnership with the Alliance for the Blue Economy (“All Blue”)volunteers, invites anyone and everyone interested in ocean sustainability, innovation, and change to attend the second annual Ocean Innovation Conference to learn, explore, and vision solutions for our ocean and waterways. The conference will be held Tuesday, September 17th, 2024, from 8:00AM – 5:00PM at the UNCW Burney Center. 
Attend this conference to explore how those in Southeast North Carolina and others are embracing the opportunity to protect our ocean. We will reflect on current ocean trends and challenges, grow the local economy and improve livelihoods by protecting the ocean and increasing innovation. Throughout the day, there will be discussions of our blue ecosystem in the region, advancements in ocean-based innovation and technology, opportunities for investment in these innovations, and endeavors to preserve the precious resources of our oceans.
Conversations will touch on our region's efforts to build our blue ecosystem, policy and infrastructure challenges and opportunities, new ocean-related innovation and technology and how to fund these innovations. You'll have a chance to meet startup founders, nonprofits, and support organizations firsthand at the Innovation Fair.
Heather McWhorter, Director of CIE, and I began planning this conference in January of 2024 by convening a core set of All Blue: Troy Alphin, CIE Scientist-in-Residence; 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 2023, and discussed what format and content could make the most impact in our community. The 2023 Ocean Innovation Conference was SOLD OUT at 300 people!
So, this year, we took what you loved and added even more...
What’s New in 2024?

  • More Innovation Fair participants – so you can meet more innovators
  • More time to ask panelists questions – ask and explore each of the topics
  • More networking time – meet new people and potential new partners
  • More seats – we want to maximize our impact!
  • More days – second optional day for a deep-dive into Coastal Resiliency! (space is limited)
Featured Keynotes 
We are delighted to announce TWO amazing keynote speakers:
Susan Casey, Author of New York Times bestseller’s Voices in the Ocean, The Wave, and The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Shark. 
Susan Casey is also the former editor in chief of O, The Oprah Magazine. She is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist whose work has been featured in the Best American Science and Nature Writing, Best American Sports Writing, and Best American Magazine Writing anthologies; and has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and Outside.
Mark Huang, Founder and Venture Partner at SeaAhead, Inc
SeaAhead was formed to bring together entrepreneurs, investors, industry leaders, and stakeholders. In just a few years, the company has grown into an open-innovation ecosystem that produces scalable commercial solutions to modern-day challenges.
New Panel Topics
In addition to the keynotes, thought-provoking moderated panels will be held throughout the day. Panels will include:
  1. Building a North Carolina Blue Hub - Moderated by John Hardin, PhD, Executive Director at Office of Science, Technology & Innovation, North Carolina Department of Commerce
  2. Getting it Right - Policy and Infrastructure - Moderated by Jenny Biddle, PhD, UNCW Associate Professor of Environmental Policy
  3. Startup Innovations in Sustainability - Moderated by Thom Ruhe, President and CEO, NC IDEA
  4. Funding Ocean Innovations - Moderated by Randall Johnson, Executive Director, Southeastern Office, North Carolina Biotechnology Center
We are so excited to invite you to the 2024 Ocean Innovation Conference for MORE networking, learning, and innovating around ocean solutions. We hope you join us on September 17th at the UNCW Burney Center, and on September 18th at the UNCW Center for Marine Science. 
Thank you to the 2024 Ocean Innovation Conference Sponsors who understand the importance of connecting entrepreneurship, community, and the blue economy: NC Ecotech Prospective Engine, NC Biotechnology CenterCape Fear Community College Small Business CenterCity of WilmingtonNC IDEA Foundation, NOAA SeagrantUNCW Research and InnovationNC SeaGrant and Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI)Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC), UNCW Center for Marine Science, and UNCW Research Community in International Trade & Exchange (RCITE) and the Pope Foundation.
Keep checking out our website for updates on the additional second day, lightning talks given by startup founders, and the innovation fair. If you’re all in, get the early-bird discount and register here!
Registration Link:
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, ECM, 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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