Miami Non-Profit Organization Launches Sargassum Challenge

Sargassum washed up on a beach.

(Credit: Thor Tryggvason on Unsplash.com)

by | Jul 14, 2023

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The Miami-Dade Innovation Authority (MDIA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the relationship between local government and technology companies, is beginning its inaugural public innovation challenge, which aims to identify new and sustainable solutions for repurposing sargassum, a type of seaweed known for forming large floating mats that wash up on beaches worldwide during the summer months.

The MDIA plans to select at least three global start-ups and provide each with a $100,000 equity investment to fund research and development efforts toward sustainable sargassum processing solutions that prioritize environmental responsibility and user safety.

Investing in Solutions for Miami-Dade County’s Challenges

The Miami-Dade Innovation Authority’s primary objective is to improve the quality of life for residents of Miami-Dade County by fostering innovation and collaboration between technology companies and the local government. To achieve this goal, the MDIA’s public challenge targets the issue of sargassum accumulation on the county’s beaches.

By offering substantial funding to selected start-ups, the MDIA is supporting the development of innovative solutions that address the problem.

Driving Sustainable Repurposing of Sargassum

Sargassum plays a vital role in marine ecosystems by providing shelter and food for marine creatures and contributing to the ecological balance of the open ocean.

However, the frequency and size of sargassum blooms have been increasing, leading to the accumulation of large mats along Florida’s Atlantic coast. Decomposing sargassum releases hydrogen sulfide gas, which can cause breathing difficulties and various irritations to humans. These accumulations adversely impact the local fishing and tourism industries, necessitating costly cleanup operations.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava emphasized the county’s commitment to finding environmentally friendly solutions to mitigate the negative effects of sargassum on beaches and wildlife. By partnering with public and private sector entities, Miami-Dade County aims to transform this environmental challenge into an opportunity not only for the local community but also for coastal regions globally.

Collaborative Evaluation and Testing

To evaluate and select the winning companies, the MDIA has enlisted the support of subject matter experts from The Nature Conservancy in Florida (TNC), a global conservation organization focused on the coexistence of people and nature. The experts will assist in identifying the most promising start-ups that propose innovative and sustainable ways to repurpose sargassum. The winning companies will be announced in December 2023.

Selected start-ups will also have the opportunity to participate in a product testing program directly with Miami-Dade County and local institutions starting in the spring of 2024, coinciding with the sargassum seaweed season. The MDIA will oversee the testing process and collaborate closely with the portfolio companies to produce a comprehensive report on the outcomes and results. Leveraging its extensive network of partners and resources, the MDIA will work towards publicizing the report and disseminating key findings.

Cultivating an Innovation Ecosystem

Leigh-Ann Buchanan, president and CEO of MDIA, expresses the organization’s commitment to fostering a thriving innovation ecosystem in Miami-Dade County. The launch of the public innovation challenge marks the beginning of a series of initiatives aimed at providing entrepreneurs with critical funding to test and validate their ideas in a real-world environment. By harnessing the power of technology and collaboration, the MDIA seeks to address Miami-Dade’s most pressing challenges in areas such as health, housing, climate, transportation, and education and opportunity.

Since its establishment in 2023, MDIA has received $9 million in seed funding through a collaboration with Miami-Dade County, key technology leaders, and contributions from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Citadel founder and CEO Ken Griffin. With a mission to scale innovative solutions and improve economic and social outcomes, MDIA aims to distribute over $1 million annually through its public challenges, setting an example for cities and municipalities worldwide to accelerate innovation and enhance the quality of life for their residents.

Entrepreneurs and technology start-ups interested in participating in the sargassum innovation challenge can submit their proposals until Sept. 29, 2023.

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