WeWork today announced a new program to bridge the gap between one of Washington state’s oldest industries and the booming technology sector that dominates the region today.
The co-working giant is teaming up with the Port of Seattle and Washington Department of Commerce’s Maritime Blue initiative to launch a startup accelerator focused on the maritime industry. The program aims to establish the region as a hub of innovation for maritime technology while also making the industry more environmentally friendly.
The program is funded by the Port of Seattle, with a grant from the Department of Commerce, and run through WeWork Labs, the company’s startup incubator. The Maritime Blue Innovation Accelerator is taking applications until Nov. 18, and it will pick 10 startups for the initial cohort. The program kicks off in January.
“In partnership with Maritime Blue, we’ll be making waves that crash onto shores far beyond our own by accelerating the linkages between the Puget Sound’s oldest industry, maritime, and all of the innovation happening here,” said Elizabeth Scallon, the former director of the University of Washington’s CoMotion Labs innovation hub who now leads WeWork Labs in the Pacific Northwest and Silicon Valley. “This is a powerful opportunity to ensure that our maritime industry continues to be an engine of growth while at the same time a leader in preservation for one of our most precious natural resources, and I am honored and excited to have WeWork Labs play a central role.”
The startups will work out of WeWork Labs’ Seattle location and get access to mentors and advisors. WeWork will facilitate seminars and workshops to help the startups navigate challenges and obstacles.
The program concludes in April with a demo day, where the startups will pitch their ideas to investors and government officials.
WeWork said the maritime industry in Washington state employs 146,000 people with an economic value of $30 billion. However, a lack of capital both in the Pacific Northwest and worldwide restricts innovation.
While there are a few maritime accelerator programs out there, WeWork says this one is the first in Washington state. Accelerators are a common vessel for connecting investors and entrepreneurs in the tech industry but somewhat rare in other areas.
“By supporting innovators and entrepreneurs we tap into whole ecosystems of expertise and capital that we have not yet accessed,” said Joshua Berger, Gov. Jay Inslee’s maritime sector lead and the board chair of Maritime Blue. “We are recruiting for new and growing markets as a global innovation hub for the Blue Economy.”
The project comes at a turbulent time for WeWork as a whole and in the Seattle area. Earlier this week, WeWork said it is canceling a huge WeLive office in Seattle. But it also just opened a new co-working space in the city’s Belltown neighborhood.
The once high-flying startup canceled its planned IPO; forced its founder to step down; and is now reportedly laying off one-third of its tech staff. It’s also closing WeGrow, its private school subsidiary. And even its phone booths made headlines this week for “potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde.”