A new organization has formed to fuel maritime-related innovation and economic growth in South Sound’s economy.

Tacoma Maritime Innovation Incubator — part of Washington Maritime Blue, an organization that aims to boost economic growth, jobs, and ocean health — was introduced in a Zoom call today that included Rep. Derek Kilmer, WA-6; Joshua Berger, founder and board chair of Washington Maritime Blue; and Nathan Tolbert, director of the Tacoma incubator.

“The incubator will focus on clean water and alternative energies and logistics and other initiatives addressing marine and maritime innovation — all really critical areas for economic development in our neck of the woods,” Kilmer said during the call.

“On top of that, the incubator will support at least seven companies each year with expert mentorship and free rent, and access to funders, and opportunities to collaborate within the Maritime Blue coalition,” Kilmer added. “That’s a big deal. That is a real opportunity for our community.”

The incubator wants to include the community in myriad ways, from suggesting startups that may have promising technologies for solving problems, to offering mentorship and other support, Tolbert said.

To Tolbert, the blue economy means anything water-based.

“While our focus is on ocean trade and logistics, … clean water, clean power from water, it could truly be anything from a new piece of fishing tackle to a giant steamship carrying thousands of containers, and it could be everything and anything in between,” he said. “Those are all parts of the blue economy.”

The Tacoma Maritime Innovation Incubator is focused on building what he called “the right companies” in the South Sound.

“We need to build companies that help the existing businesses that are already here and have already been doing great work in our community,” Tolbert said. “So we want every startup paired with a community stakeholder who can guide them towards making something that can benefit all of us in the South Sound region.”

Startups are much more successful if they can ask a future client or partner if the startup’s service or product is something the client or partner would benefit from and want to buy before the startup invests a lot of time and money, Tolbert said.

“That is invaluable to a startup, that is incredibly useful information, and it’s not easy to get,” he said.

The incubator also is focused on inclusion, offering an opportunity to build “no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what path you’ve taken in life,” he said. “Our entire community should be involved in this, and not just the elite startup founders.”

Seattle has a new maritime accelerator under Washington Blue that will work closely with Tacoma’s organization. Seattle has focused on the blue economy broadly — everything from sustainable seafood snacks to new marine battery and energy storage solutions, digital drayage solutions, maritime health, and more, said Berger of Washington Maritime Blue.

Tacoma is more place-based, he said.

“It’s much more focused on creating jobs and supporting the direct community in Tacoma, but it’s also more focused on port operations, and shipping and logistics,” Berger said.

The Tacoma incubator, to be based in the Center for Urban Waters on the Thea Foss Waterway, aims to open its office in early February, but that time is fluid due to COVID-19, Tolbert said.

For more information about the incubator and how to get involved, email Tolbert at nate@maritimeblue.org.

The organization’s website, MaritimeBlue.org/Tacoma, will be live soon.