UMass Boston

$820K Grant to Boost BlueTech Innovation at UMass Boston

10/17/2022| Office of Communications

Project BEACON Will Drive Engagement with BlueTech Startups, Boosting Access to Cutting-Edge Labs and Adjacent Dock Facilities

Event attendees gather at Fox Point on the UMass Boston campus.

“ Climate equity is a strategic priority for UMass Boston. ”

The Baker-Polito Administration awarded a new $820,000 innovation grant to UMass Boston from the Seaport Economic Council (SEC), which will invest in new research and development tools on the waterfront campus and spur engagement with innovative BlueTech startups. The SEC’s Innovation Grant program, managed by the Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech), will also boost increased engagement between UMass Boston and the local BlueTech community through an expanded partnership with Boston-based SeaAhead, an organization launched in 2018 to support startups focused on innovation and sustainability in the world’s oceans.

“Our administration has made boosting R&D infrastructure statewide a key part of our economic development efforts in the tech and innovation sector,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This new investment in UMass Boston will also support workforce development efforts, increasing the interactions between innovative startups and the students at UMass Boston to advance the talent pipeline for BlueTech industries across the region.”

The new grant to Project BEACON (BlueTech, Energy, Aquaculture Coastal and Ocean Needs) will boost the core facilities at UMass Boston to better support small BlueTech startups and entrepreneurs that require advanced facilities to construct, test, and launch prototypes. The investment will allow for the purchase of a JetYak® autonomous surface vessel developed and designed at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and produced by Falmouth’s Integrated Coastal Solutions. The purchase will expand the much-needed ocean floor mapping capabilities in the region.

“We are thrilled to be launching Project BEACON with support from the Seaport Economic Council,” said UMass Boston Provost Joseph Berger. “Climate equity is a strategic priority for UMass Boston, and this partnership with SeaAhead is an ideal opportunity for us to advance the BlueTech economy and contribute to the sustainability of our oceans and coastal areas.”

The grant, spearheaded by School for the Environment Interim Dean Bob Chen, will also expand onsite facilities, including a machine shop and field prep facility, plus increase direct waterfront access via the Fox Point Dock. The expanded facilities will boost research opportunities for growing startups engaged through the SeaAhead partnership, but also grow BlueTech training opportunities for UMass Boston students.  

“Massachusetts is a leader when it comes to our ocean industries, including commercial fishing, aquaculture, and our growing wind energy sector,” said Undersecretary of Community Development Ashley Stolba, Vice Chair of the Seaport Economic Council. “BEACON will play a critical role in uniting our existing tech and innovation hubs across the state, helping ensure we maintain and expand our global leadership in BlueTech. This grant will work in parallel to the grants we’ve made across our coastal communities to advance economic competitiveness, bolster resiliency, and expand tourism and recreation resources.”

The grant will enable startups to access an array of upgraded resources at UMass Boston, including:

  • Prototype Development Space;
  • Construction facility, including access to standard machining tools;
  • Marine operations facilities, including the ADA-compliant Fox Point Dock, which features a 3.5-ton crane, 171-foot dock, university research vessels, and dockside labs;
  • Variety of ocean environments adjacent to the waterfront campus, including salt marsh, mud flat, beach, and rip rap (rocky) environments;
  • Nantucket Field Station, offering access to beach, freshwater pond, salt marsh, coastal shrub habitats, and a shellfish hatchery;
  • Rainsford Island Observatory, including an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler, Water Level, Water Quality Hydrodynamic Model; and
  • Research & Teaching Labs such as environmental chambers (to test temperature/light), GIS lab, Environmental Analytical Facility, and the Venture Development Center, all staffed by expert faculty.

The partnership with SeaAhead will bring new companies to BEACON, committing funding through the award to boost startup engagement through events, direct marketing, and outreach efforts to increase awareness of the expanded capabilities at UMass Boston. SeaAhead will engage its existing cohort and connect with additional companies outside of the region.

“SeaAhead was formed around the concept of creating a new BlueTech economic cluster in New England. The BEACON project will accelerate this effort by providing access to critically needed infrastructure for the startups,” said Alissa Peterson, co-founder and executive director of SeaAhead. “The proximity of these startups will also create career opportunities for the diverse pool of talented students that attend UMass.”

This is the third grant awarded by the Innovation Institute under its innovation focused work with the SEC, following the $1 million-plus announced in in 2018 and 2021. It’s also the second R&D grant to UMass Boston this year, following the award of $1 million to boost quantum computing research on the campus from the Commonwealth’s Collaborative R&D Matching Grant program.