The Iceland Ocean Cluster’s mission is to create value and discover new opportunities by connecting entrepreneurs, businesses and knowledge in the marine industries.

Can Clusters elminate blind spots?

As a founder of the Iceland Ocean Cluster, I have had the luxury of meeting with seafood people in over twenty coastal communities in the US and Europe over the past few years. The dialogues have been extremely enjoyable and beneficial to me and have added more “hands on” experience to the issues I focused on in my PhD; how tech entrepreneurs in the seafood industry build and nurture their networks.

In my studies, I had found the seafood industry entrepreneurs to be less connected and utilised less their relationship network within the industry than did the other entrepreneurs in different sectors. The seafood entrepreneurs had also smaller network outside their home region.

To make a long story short, the visits to these coastal towns indicated a significant isolation of the seafood industry in these areas from many important parts of the seafood value chain. As an example, I visited a large university just 30 miles from a seafood town, I was stunned to see that the academics, many with great research in our field, and even business ideas, had no connection with the seafood industry next door. Seafood entrepreneurs were in very little contact with other entrepreneurs, R&D efforts, etc. Many firms are family-owned, and there is a lack of trust when the network extends beyond family and close friends.

Industries based on natural resources have acted very rationally regarding networks. As the resources are limited, comapnies tend to keep competitors away and keep their networks small. As a result, the networks in the industry are closed. In the supporting services, such as processing equipment, the access of entry was easy; a clever technician could duplicate easily the simple technology used. Where access to the fisheries was open, the same was true for the catch. As the processing technology has developed further with more IT and seafood resources are viewed more and more as high end protein for food, nutraceutical markets etc., there is shift in the industry. The shift is from natural resource-based to a knowledge-based industry. With knowledge-based industries, the more people interact, the faster the knowledge grows!

The lack of cooperation among the seafood entrepreneurs in coastal areas means there are “blind spots” in businesses – not the least of which has been the number of opportunities for future generations of well-educated people. I believe the cluster concept has a vital role to play in the trust-building of the seafood value chain in coastal communities. Both our experience in Iceland and now in the US with the New England Ocean Cluster shows a potential for relationship building in the seafood industry which can lead to more value creation. 

The existing formula for success in seafood has not included a harmonisation or strong cooperation among firms, startups, R&D and Universities. There may be an opportunity here; harmonisation can strengthen the competitiveness of the “protein industry” in coastal communities.

Our philosophy is to build a network of clusters. A crucial element there is to lean local first and then look for synergies. We know ocean clusters are not homogeneous; that is what makes them so exciting. Some may focus on seafood, others on various marine technology, aquaculture, ocean tourism and so on. It is crucial for the clusters to find their niche. However, I have emphasized that this niche is not decided at a brainstorming session at the start – it evolves as the cluster initiates different relationships and sharing of ideas – then the trends and future focus emerge.

We didnt see the green technology becoming so crucial in the early days of the Iceland ocean cluster. But as relationships developed and trust was built among tech companies more and more emphasized their strength in that field and willingness to collaborate more on environmentally friendly solutions. The same is with the focus on full utilization of seafood; it emerged through conversation among entrepreneurs.

After the initial mapping of local ocean industries and building of the local network, the global network is the natural next step. Remember we are in an industry with lots of potentials but somewhat left behind in the startup world. By creating this movement or a network suddenly interesting startups will emerge, not only as isolated islands but a part of a larger network or a movement in the ocean industry.

Thor Sigfusson

Economic costs of the strike

The Iceland Ocean Cluster was recently assigned to a project by the Ministry of Fisheries in Iceland to evaluate the economic costs of the strikes in the fishing industry which came to a halt in the mid of December. At a press meeting, February 10, the Minister of Fisheries, Ms. Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir introduced the findings of the report.

The fisheries sector in Iceland has been regarded as one of the cornerstones of the Icelandic economy for quite some time.  In earlier economic studies done by the IOC, the whole ocean industry in Iceland, including fisheries and processing, tech companies, transportation etc., had overall effects of around 25% of Iceland GDP. Long strikes may therefore have serious affects on the Icelandic economy.

The IOC study indicates that the strike has already had serious effects on various parts of the economy but still most of the fish quota can be captured later in the year. „Therefore a major part of the income are not lost but rather delayed,“ says dr. Thor Sigfusson at the IOC. „However, much longer strike can seriously effect various parts of the ocean cluster in Iceland; fisheries and processing, companies in tech and service, sales and marketing etc..,“says Thor. „Longer strike may also cause serious damages on the brand which Iceland has built in seafood; being a year round reliable source of quality seafood in the global market.“

Should Iceland, Russia, Norway and the Faroe Islands start collaborating on branding and marketing the North Atlantic Cod?

This is a question put forth by dr. Thor Sigfusson founder of the Iceland Ocean Cluster in a new IOC analysis just released.

The analysis discusses the increased whitefish farming competing with the wild whitefish in the largest markets for wild Cod; Europe and the US.

The North Atlantic Cod needs to expand its boundaries in Asia and the IOC analysis suggests that one option to observe is for the aforementioned Cod nations to start building a stronger brand recognition in new markets. Such collaboration could strengthen the global market position of the wild North Atlantic Cod.

“The wild North Atlantic Cod has unique qualities and comes from unspoiled and cold Arctic seas. We believe we need to be tell more people about the Cod especially in new markets such as Asia where the product is rarely known. To do so its clever to cluster our efforts and work together,” says Sigfusson.

Top ten highlights of the Iceland Ocean Cluster in 2016

  1. 70 companies are now a part of our community in the Ocean Cluster House – 20% increase from last year.
  2. Several of our startups received awards for excellence: Entrepreneur of the Year, Rising Star Awards etc. Great stuff.
  3. We were awarded the Best Office Space in Iceland 2016 by Nordic Startup Awards.
  4. Number of visitors at the Ocean Cluster House in Reykjavik in 2016 increased by 20% from previous year.
  5. Our new cluster in New England had a great first full year – inspiring fisheries to use more of their seafood!
  6. Codland, one of our first spin-offs, introduced new marine collagen products to the market which were well received.
  7. Our 100% Fish project emphasizing full utilization of seafood products currently used as landfill in many countries, is making a wave!
  8. The IOC announced the planned opening of the first food hall in Reykjavik in 2017 at Hlemmur.
  9. Lyst- Future of Food venue was held for the first time and is a part of our stategy to become a game changer for startups in all food related in Iceland.
  10. Never in the IOC history have more cities or states shown interest in setting up ocean cluster houses similar to ours in 2016.

We are extremely pleased with the year 2016 and honored by the interest and enthusiasm which we find all around for the 100% movement we are a part of – using our skills and coop to treat our natural ocean resources sensibly and create more value and jobs while doing so.

We wish you all a very merry christmas and a happy new year.

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