Narwhale Ventures: Decarbonization of the Ocean Economy
By Celine Schulze 20 April, 2023
Excited by the crucial role ocean startups play in decarbonizing the blue economy, Schulze co-founded the Narwhale Ventures fund. We sit down to hear more about it and what she's got in the pipeline
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Narwhale Ventures funds pre-seed to series A blue economy start-ups based on decarbonization, digitalization, healthy consumption (plastic, water, aquatic food). We chat to Co-Founder and CEO of Narwhale Ventures, Celine Schulze to find out more about the fund and its potential to decarbonize the blue economy.
CWR: Celine, thank you for chatting with us. As Co-founder and CEO, can you tell us why Narwhale Ventures was started, a bit about the fund and what your ultimate goal is?
Celine Schulze (CS): Dawn, thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to speak with you about our respective missions, the ocean and water.
The concept of Narwhale Ventures emerged during Covid19. After eight years in China working for startups, business angels and a Shanghai-based VC, the pandemic made my husband and I moved back to Switzerland, where I started a consulting company to serve the Swiss federal Innovation Agency, incubators, and the VC ecosystem.
The most exciting startups are ocean startups because of their crucial role
In my view, the most exciting startups are ocean startups because of the crucial role they can play in climate change mitigation, environmental resilience, improved lives, and because they bring ocean-related businesses (e.g., maritime industry companies) to the next level of efficiency (e.g., via digitalization).
Narwhale Ventures aims at bringing sustainability-driven solutions to ocean-related businesses while generating above-average financial returns for our investors, that in time will attract more investors to this space, fill the funding gap and make the transition to net-zero a reality.
The Fund’s objective is to decarbonize the ocean economy…
…we finance early-stage ocean startups across 3 major investment themes: energy, mobility & healthy consumption
The Fund was named after the arctic Narwhale that is often dubbed as “unicorn of the sea” for its long tusk, which is actually a protruding canine tooth. The fund is managed by 10power9, which is owned by my husband and me, and has presence in Singapore and Estonia.
Narwhale Ventures participates in early-stage financing rounds of ocean-related startups. The Fund’s major impact objective is the “Decarbonization of the Ocean Economy”. Therefore, a large percentage of the Fund’s capital will be invested in companies with products or services that are helping to reduce the carbon footprint of the maritime industry.
We focus on three major investment themes, namely Energy, Mobility and Healthy Consumption. Energy covers especially the offshore renewable energy sectors like floating wind, floating solar, OTEC, tidal and wave energy, as well as green hydrogen. Mobility comprises investments related to vessel electrification, subsea drones, robotics, and smart marine infrastructure. Lastly, Healthy Consumption covers all investments that are related to sustainable aquatic food, plastic alternatives, and water (wastewater treatment, water management, desalination, biodiversity).
CWR: The ‘blue economy’ is not new but seems to be garnering more attention. Is it becoming the new frontier for entrepreneurs and investors? Will this help with the huge underfinancing of the blue economy?
CS: You are right that humankind has been using ocean resources for thousands of years. Yet, the term “blue economy” was first crafted in the 1980s by Belgian economist and politician Prof. Gunter Pauli. It gained traction only in 2012, thanks to a High-Level Panel organized by the United Nations and GEF (Global Environment Facility). The main difference between the previous use of the oceans and the blue economy is that the latter considers preservation and regeneration of the marine environment as a must.
Driven by technological innovation, climate change & energy or food supply risks, ocean industries have received more attention from investors
Driven by technological innovation, challenges related to climate change as well as energy or food supply risks, ocean industries have received more attention. We see a strong growth not only in offshore energy related industries, but also in electrification of marine vessels, robotics, IoT and sustainable aquatic food, to name a few.
The offshore wind industry alone is generating directly and indirectly thousands of new jobs every year and is creating a new supply chain. Stricter emission regulations for ships and ports are also creating new opportunities for technology-driven solution providers.
Part of our work is to inform investors about the investment opportunities within the blue economy. More funding needs to go to ocean startups and to decarbonization of the maritime industry. Investors’ awareness is increasing, and some blue economy-focused incubators, accelerators, university departments and research clusters have emerged.
CWR: Narwhale Ventures mostly invests in pre-seed to Series A start-ups, is there a reason for this?
CS: The funding gap in the ocean economy is the largest among early-stage startups. Yet, it offers the greatest opportunities and potential upside. Thanks to our fund structure, we can invest in emerging and potentially disruptive technologies at a very early stage.
Funding gap in the ocean economy is the largest in early startups – yet it offers the greatest opportunities
Additionally, in the current market environment, we feel quite comfortable in early-stage financing rounds as in our view the valuations in late-stage financing rounds haven’t been fully marked to market yet and we expect some corrections to come, although not as strong as in other sectors that were overheated.
The granularity of our index fund enables us to mitigate risks well, as we use diversified allocation across different industries and geographies.
CWR: Your investment verticals focus on decarbonisation, digitalisation and healthy consumption (plastic, water & aquatic food). Why these and how do they link to the blue economy? How are these solving the world’s water-related issues?
CS: The Fund’s overall impact objective is decarbonization of the maritime industry. Inspired by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) scientific consensus and findings, we decided to focus our investment scope on three of IPCC’s five pillars that have the most impact on climate change mitigation, namely: Energy, Mobility and Healthy Consumption (Food).
Look closely at tech that lowers carbon footprint of maritime industry…
…but also have a variety of startups tackling water issues too, like new antifouling tech
We look closely at technologies that help lowering the carbon footprint of the maritime industry. Besides renewable offshore energy that powers maritime infrastructure, it can be related to the electrification of vessels (commercial and leisure), replacing ships by (subsea) drones or IoT solutions for smart and autonomous ports.
We have a variety of startups in the pipeline that help solving water-related issues. There are for example companies that develop nature-based and less energy-consuming solutions to filter wastewater in aquaculture farms or industrial plants. Some of them focus also on filtering plastic particles out of the water. As a large part of plastic garbage ends up in the ocean, bioplastic startups are also of interest for the Fund.
New antifouling technologies are also good examples of solutions that can help to reduce the carbon impact, but also address water-pollution problems. While a regular autonomous cleaning of a ship’s hull can significantly reduce the ship’s fuel consumption it also makes toxic and water-polluting antifouling coating obsolete.
CWR: As protecting the blue economy becomes more urgent, what’s one message you would like to convey to governments/ investors and/or entrepreneurs who are hesitant to work in this space?
CS: The blue acceleration, the human expansion into the ocean, is happening at an increasing velocity. Since 2020, aquaculture has been the world’s fastest growing food production sector, offshore wind has increased five hundred-fold and the annual volume of cargo transported by container shipping has quadrupled.
A solid international regulatory framework can protect the ocean & offer tremendous opportunities
While this of course comes with various challenges to the sensitive ocean environment, a solid international regulatory framework is required to protect the ocean, it also offers tremendous opportunities for all involved stakeholders.
Investors: the ocean economy will offer an increasing variety of investment opportunities with different risk return profiles in various asset classes.
Entrepreneurs: The various challenges of the maritime industry, especially the requirement to reduce the carbon footprint but also biodiversity and healthy lifestyles, such as the necessity to use the ocean as a source for sustainable aquatic food.
Disruptive technologies are currently creating new opportunities and markets.
Governments: The blue economy is becoming more and more important for governments because it provides a source of jobs for millions of people and contributes significantly to the overall economy. We see job creation not only in the booming offshore renewable energy sector, but also in various other ocean-related industries worldwide. Governments need the ocean to provide more food, more jobs and meet the increasing demand for energy.
In a nutshell, our core message is that there is currently an ocean of opportunities. Feel free to contact us per email for partnerships.
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