Marine innovation hub names executive and board

A one-time skeptic has taken the reins as acting chief executive of the region’s marine innovation hub, the Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies (COAST).

Craig Norris, chief executive of Community Marine Concepts, which operates the Victoria International Marina, has been named the organization’s first chief executive, with a ­mandate to secure the next stage of ­funding and find the hub a home.

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Norris said the group, which also named its initial 15-member board Wednesday, hopes to land some operational investment for its activities from industry and other sources, after being funded so far by government.

The goal is also to establish a physical location for the marine innovation hub, providing not only a home base but amenities such as research facilities and manufacturing and creative space for what could grow into a large marine industry.

The plan is to develop new companies focused on the water and create as many as 1,000 new jobs.

The hub will support businesses in commercializing products and services, developing new technologies and growing into new markets.

Its goals over the next decade include enhancing 50 established Canadian companies and developing another 50 startups, along with a nationwide venture fund with $250 million in assets under management to support the ocean tech economy.

Norris said he loved the idea of COAST, but wondered if it would ever find funding. Ottawa’s commitment and a willingness to invest in the “blue economy” turned him around, however.

He said coming from the international travel sector, which has been depressed by the pandemic, he relishes the chance to focus on something positive.

Norris said the board they have put together represents all facets of the marine world, from entrepreneurs to industry and government representatives and everything in between.

“There was a lot of interest both locally and internationally on the board — they are interested to see what the west coast of Canada is doing,” he said. “There seems to be an expectation we should be leaders in the ocean community or a huge threat to anyone else because we are a massive country with the biggest coastline, but we’re not.”

Norris said that is something the hub hopes to change.

The organization has taken an inventory of the industry and identified about 100 members. Norris said the real number is likely double that and he hopes as the organization takes root they can expand.

The board includes president Ken Armour, a retired public servant, vice-president David Fissel with ASL Environmental Sciences, treasurer Emilie de Rosenroll of the South Island Prosperity Partnership and secretary Lisa Helps, Victoria’s mayor.

The directors are Jamie ­Marshall from B.C. Ferries, Michael Whalley or Babcock Canada, Alex Rueben of the Association of British Columbia Marine Industries, Donald Grant from the Ocean Startup ­Project, Julie Angus of Open Ocean Robotics, Kate Moran of Ocean Networks Canada, Justin ­Manley of Just Innovation, ­Gordon Planes, chief of the T’Sou-ke First Nation, Anthony Utley of Raven Marine, Rick Rasmussen from UC-Berkeley and Melody Pardoe from Canada’s Ocean Supercluster.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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