Group of people posing on a lawn with the ocean and Scripps Pier in the background.

Members of the second startBlue cohort at the 2023 startBlue Demo Day.

To date, StartBlue has supported 14 ocean-focused startups, 43% female founded, that have collectively raised $8.3 million.

StartBlue is a blue-tech-focused program that is part of UC San Diego’s StartR accelerator program and offered in partnership by Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Rady School of Management. Since 2012, StartR has graduated 198 companies, and Scripps and Rady have worked together to support over 80 new environmental startups out of UC San Diego through entrepreneurship education and pitch competitions.

San Diego has a vibrant Blue Economy with unique oceanographic resources, a regional workforce of nearly 114,000 individuals and over 4,320 companies producing $16.2 billion of direct sales (2020 San Diego Maritime Industry Report). StartBlue expands the San Diego Regional Blue Economy by supporting startup formation, including but not limited to UC San Diego spin-outs. StartBlue provides its annual cohort of startups a curriculum, 1-1 mentorship, and facilitated access to potential partners, investment, and customers. Active participation of partners integrates startBlue into the pipeline of regional blue tech resources from formation to scale including The Port of San Diego and its Blue Economy Incubator, U.S. Coast Guard Blue Tech Center of Expertise, National Defense Industry Association, SDMAC, AIIM Partners, AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles, TMA BlueTech and its Blue Tech Incubator, CA Sea Grant, The Brink SBDC, and Ocean Visions.

The startBlue Method

StartBlue focuses on company formation bringing Scripps science and Rady entrepreneurship curriculum to teams that are in the midst of developing a new business around a science and engineering solution to an ocean challenge. January to June will feature classes with expert guest speakers and teams will get to know the San Diego Blue Economy through site visits and workshops. Workshops will focus on skill development core to garnering funds such as grant writing and pitching. Conferences, pitch competitions, and industry association memberships available to participants offer teams valuable visibility and connections. One-on-one industry mentorship provides custom guidance through the duration of the program. And, access to scientific expertise and technical resources help teams refine their minimum viable product.

StartBlue is offered at no cost to participants. Each team’s time and active participation are its most valuable assets and required.

Meet the Team

Vanessa Scott |Director of startBlue

Vanessa Scott leads industry and innovation initiatives at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego and has supported Scripps research innovations, spin outs, and industry collaborations including the Scripps Corporate Alliance since 2019. She has supported the StartBlue Accelerator from Scripps Institution of Oceanography & Rady School of Management since the launch in 2020 through the Build to Scale Industry Challenge grant from the Economic Development Administration. Her background is in business development, sales, marketing, and communications in the biotech industry with over a decade and a half of experience cultivating strong industry partnerships and facilitating opportunities for collaboration and growth. She also has extensive experience working in non-profit fundraising and marine conservation organizations.  Vanessa completed a Masters in Advanced Studies in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography where she developed a business and marketing plan for Smartfin, an ocean-focused startup, to support the launch from lab to market.  Her passion and expertise is at the intersection of climate and ocean science, innovation, and industry with the goal to identify, develop, and support the commercialization of sustainable solutions that improve the health of people, the ocean, and the environment.

Vanessa is on the board of TMA Blue Tech, a leading non-profit blue tech industry association and cluster organizer for the San Diego ocean and water technologies community since 2007. She is also a board member of the San Diego Innovation Council, a group of thought leaders supporting academic entrepreneurs that facilitates commercialization, investment, licensing of, and new company formation from research intensive organizations in the San Diego region.

Karen Jensen | startBlue Program Manager

Karen Jensen has 20 years of experience in program management in the non-profit and education sectors. She has been with UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management since 2015 where she has worked closely with student entrepreneurs to help them launch their startups. She has managed business plan competitions, including the Triton Innovation Challenge geared at encouraging researchers to take their commercially viable, environmentally-focused technologies out of the lab and bring them to market.

Canon Purdy | Innovation Liaison

Canon earned a Masters of Advanced Studies in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.  Her Masters research explored the relationship between media and marine mammals, and she is well-versed in marine mammal ecology, and wildlife conflict resolution. As a California Sea Grant Fellow, she worked in the Department of Fish and Wildlife's Aquaculture Program, supporting aquaculture development in state and federal waters. She co-founded the networking group Women in Aquaculture to better connect the industry with research, government, and international partners. Most recently, she worked for the Waitt Institute as a Communications Manager, leading outreach and awareness in Bermuda and the Federated States of Micronesia to support program goals of developing Blue Economy initiatives while creating Marine Protected Area networks. Canon is delighted to join the startBlue team to support ocean-focused entrepreneurs.

Chris Ward | Executive in Residence

Chris Ward is the Principal Consultant at Delawarde Consulting where he focuses on providing strategy, marketing, and business development services for organizations involved in ocean, water, and environmental technology. In prior roles, Chris served as an officer in the NOAA Commissioned Corps and more recently a was a Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for the Analytics Growth Center of Xylem. Chris has over 30 years of both practical and commercial experience working with sales, marketing, and distribution of analytical instrumentation used for measuring and monitoring environmental parameters. Chris has a B.S. in Applied Physics from the University of Delaware and resides in San Diego, CA.

Mariah Avila| Student Fellow

Mariah AvilaMariah Avila was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, where she began working part-time for an oceanographic consulting company. She completed a B.S. in Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed by a M.S in the laboratory of Kevin Esvelt. Her thesis involved the development of high-throughput screens for the engineering of CRISPR Cas12a systems in mammalian cells. She joined the Moore Lab in Fall of 2021, where her interests include the applications of synthetic biology techniques and continuous evolution to marine natural products and human health research.


Dennis Abremski
Executive Director, Institute for the Global Entrepreneur
Mary Ann Beyster

Manager, Beyster Foundations; Film Producer, Retired Executive

Zac Dobbin

Program Advisor, Southern California Energy Innovation Network

Eric Floyd

Eric Floyd

Assistant Professor of Accounting, Rady School of Management

Phil LeBlanc

Blue Economy Incubator Consultant, Port of San Diego 

Luis Martinez
Founder, CEO, We Tha Plug
Nikhil Neelakantan
Nikhil Neelakantan
Program Manager, Ocean Visions

Shauna Oh

Director, California Sea Grant
Laura Rodriguez
Laura Rodriguez
Program Officer, Builders Initiative
Mysty Rusk

Executive Director, Free Enterprise Institute, University of San Diego

Tim Schwartz
Tim Schwartz
Executive Director, Rady School of Management
Shally Shanker
Founder and Managing Partner, AiiM Partners

Jennifer Smith, PhD

Professor, UC San Diego Scripps Oceanography

Paula Sylvia

Blue Economy Incubator Director, Port of San Diego