Clear Blue Sea’s Startup Success Driven by Collaborations with Ocean Conservancy Nonprofits, Marine Scientists, Blue Tech Industry, and Student Interns from all 4 San Diego Universities

Susan Baer, San Diego State University, Fowler College of Business, San Diego, CA, United States
Clear Blue Sea (CBSea) is a 501c3 startup nonprofit with a mission to cleanse the oceans of plastic pollution. Our solution is an unmanned, solar-powered, marine robot we call FRED for Floating Robot for Eliminating Debris. CBSea joined San Diego’s The Maritime Alliance and Blue Tech Incubator providing office facilities and networking with relevant organizations. We were introduced to Scripps Institution of Oceanography, marine robotics companies, and the Port of San Diego to gain their insights and networking to more partners.

All startups face continuous challenges. In our case, we have advanced our FRED innovation despite engineering, financial, and organizational challenges. A key success factor is collaboration with our academic, commercial, and governmental partners committed to ocean conservancy. Volunteer mentors and strategic advisers enabled us to attain nonprofit status and FRED prototyping. Examples:

  • Ensuring FRED practices what we preach to “do no harm” when removing plastic from the ocean. Gwen Nero of Scripps linked us to Dr. Jenni Brandon, whose PhD thesis was on marine microplastics research, and to Aaron Thode to discuss passive acoustic mammal deterrent options. These experts advised us to collect microplastics down to 5mm, and to embed pingers in FRED to alert marine mammals.
  • Leveraging student internships to prototype FRED and build CBSea’s management infrastructure. Through Stewart Halpern, Board Member of Coastkeepers, we met Tom Lupfer, USD Professor and Clarity Design CEO, who funded 4 internship projects to produce our first a small-scale FRED prototype. The latest project demonstrated FRED collecting marine plastic in Mission Bay covered by 4 TV stations. We partnered with SDSU for engineering projects, PLNU for management support, and UCSD for environmental studies.
  • Embedding marine sensors to collect not only plastics, but environmental data for marine research. Through Scripps, we met Grant Wagner who joined as an intern. With mentoring from SIO Tony de Paulo, Grant developed a white paper on navigational and oceanographic sensors applicable to FRED. Tony has since given Scripps tours to dozens of our interns, showing emergent technologies supporting oceanographic research and conservancy.