Acceler8 summit: The role of VC in the ocean industries

Ellen Amalie Vold, Acting Director of Communications at Argentum, was the moderator of the panel debate. Photo: Gunnbjörg Gunnarsdottir

During the Acceler8 Game Changers summit in Bergen last week, Argentum hosted a panel on the role of venture capital in the ocean industries. The investor summit was held for the first time and showcased some of the most exciting startups in Norway.

“The areas with the largest potential in the ocean industries depend on what we look at, whether it is growth or financial potential. By growing them a little bit larger, existing companies have the largest financial potential. But we find the growth potential in the emerging ocean industries,” Anders Milde Gjendemsjø, Associate Partner at McKinsey & Co in Bergen said.

He pointed to ocean farming as one of the emerging industries with the greatest prospects, with a growing supply side and possibilities for exporting practices to other fish species than salmon.

Gjendemsjø participated in the panel together with Lotte Skolem, Director Product & Technology at Aker BioMarine, a Norwegian krill-harvesting company; Birgit Marie Liodden, Founder and CEO at The Ocean Opportunity Lab (TOOL); and Ingrid Kylstad, COO at Katapult Ocean.

Kylstad echoed Gjendemsjø’s point around ocean farming having the potential of becoming a much larger industry than it is today.

“It is also encouraging to see that subsea engineers within the oil and gas industry manage to reapply their expertise to other types of ocean industries, creating exciting new innovation,” Kylstad said.

More collaboration needed

One of the challenges in Norway according to the panel is that we suffer from a “small city syndrome” because we have tendency to compete against each other rather than collaborate.

“We need to tear down the walls between ocean and land industries. We should look to the Sunnmøre cluster for inspiration, where they manage to do this and work together. In a small country like ours, we should be able to cross-collaborate between regions,” Birgit Liodden said.

A comparative advantage for Norway, according to the panel, is the flat structure that make it easier for e.g engineers to communicate with corporate, and for corporate to communicate with the company’s important stakeholders.

“We benefit from a solid safety mindset, where everyone is used to thinking for themselves and raise concerns if they find critical failures. That is a great asset when working in capital-intensive industries like ours are,” Skolem said.

“And since we are small, it makes it much easier to get people onboard and pull together,” Kylstad added.

The role of VC

When talking about the role of venture capital, Kylstad pointed to a new report from Katapult Ocean, her company, showing that 25 percent of European ocean startups are Norwegian.

“Actually, I expected more of the ocean impact startups to hail from Norway. I think we all can agree that this share should be higher,” she said.

Gjendemsjø in McKinsey see a two-fold challenge for ocean startups in Norway. Firstly, they need to create a business plan that VCs are interested in. Secondly, there is a lack of competent VC capital in Norway, even though there is not a lack of capital in general.

“I would like to see more venture capital companies set up investments teams here in Norway, in a city like Bergen,” Gjendemsjø said.

Skolem in Aker BioMarine see a role for VC when it comes to using larger part of the ocean, not only the ‘beef’ in the upper part.

“This will be important to provide food to the world, that we learn to find use of the biomass on the bottom. We need to go further down the food chain and do it in a sustainable way. But for these industries to become profitable, we need the ability to scale. This is where venture capital enters the picture,” Skolem said.

From Tokyo to Bergen

One of the leading private investment funds in the world, Horizons Ventures, hosted their annual TechCracker during the conference, where some of the most exciting startups in Norway were showcased. The Chinese PE fund has hosted the TechCracker in destinations such as Tokyo, Whistler and Singapore before bringing it to Bergen in 2019.

In addition to Horizons Ventures, investors from all over Norway joined the investor days to scout for interesting companies. The Norwegian ‘game changers’ were put on stage in the grand auditorium at Media City Bergen, where they pitched their companies’ ideas. All startups presenting during the summit were handpicked by Horizons, BKK Spring and an advisory board.

Argentum’s panel debate concluded the conference, which was arranged for the first time this year, at Media City Bergen. In addition to Argentum, BKK, Bergen Kommune, and Innovation Norway were the main sponsors of the event.

Anders Milde Gjendemsjø, Associate Partner at McKinsey & Co in Bergen, made an introduction to the topic before the panel debate. Photo: Gunnbjörg Gunnarsdottir

From left, Ellen Amalie Vold, Anders Milde Gjendemsjø, Ingrid Kylstad, Lotte Skolem, and Birgit Liodden. Photo: Gunnbjörg Gunnarsdottir