PROVINCETOWN — From art to aquaculture, the potential breadth of a local “blue economy” was on display at the business incubator EforAll’s pitch session held at the Commons on April 19.
The free event was packed. Maybe the all-you-can-eat raw bar — a reflection of the growth of at least part of the Cape’s blue economy — helped. It provided littlenecks from Orleans and oysters from Dennis for people to slurp while seven entrepreneurs made their two-and-a-half-minute pitches.
EforAll Executive Director Christin Marshall said she decided on the theme for this year’s pitch contest after reading the Camoin report, a community development plan submitted to the town in 2019 that identified investing in Provincetown’s blue economy as a top goal. She was curious to see how the local Cape community would approach the topic.
Coastal data and infrastructure projects are gaining global traction alongside a number of large-scale marine business accelerators as part of the so-called new blue economy, but these “tend to cater to folks who are building underwater autonomous vehicles and other extremely high-budget, not grassroots, technologies,” according to Marshall.
Meanwhile, Marshall said, “we are launching, generally, main street businesses.” For the contest, her organization defined blue economy businesses as ones “that would leverage the marine environment.”
Mark Adams, the current artist-in-residence at the Center for Coastal Studies who was a longtime National Park Service cartographer, said that the commercial and environmental points of view can ultimately diverge on whether a souvenir shop in a coastal town, for example, is encompassed by the goals of the blue economy. “I think the priority should be not just a thriving economy but an economy that stewards coastal sustainability,” he said.
EforAll received 31 pitch applications, which were winnowed down by a team of volunteer readers, according to Marshall. The result was a set of pitches encompassing aquaculture, transportation, fitness, boating, and art.
At the end of the night, the top prize of $1,000 was awarded to Ellen Gage of Barnstable, whose proposed business would provide accessible fitness opportunities for people with disabilities.
“I’ve been kicking this idea around for a long time, and actually taking the step of sharing it with other people and speaking it into existence in the world was really cool,” Gage said. Living on the Cape, where we’re surrounded by water, she said, it’s ironic that “a significant portion of our population can’t necessarily access that safely.” Her proposal features adaptive swimming lessons.
Second place and $750 went to Patrick Wilson’s “Pilgrim Shuttle” idea to start a water taxi from Plymouth to Provincetown aimed at addressing the seasonal worker housing shortage. Wilson, who lives in Provincetown, also won the $500 fan favorite prize. During his pitch, Wilson said that he has already been in touch with town and state officials about piloting the project.
Haley O’Neil, a former Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance intern from West Yarmouth, gave a pitch on “Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture,” describing the implementation of a tiered system that can cultivate aquatic species from differing trophic levels in the same area. She received third prize and $500.
The five-judge panel for the event was composed of Adams, along with Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod East Harwich branch manager Chris Cataldo, investor and entrepreneur Ralph Folz, Center for Coastal Studies marine fisheries research director Owen Nichols, and local shop owner and Independent food writer Rebecca Orchant.
“For the number of pitches we had, they covered the range in an amazing way,” said Adams. “Someone said there were pitches that came from the heart and pitches that came from the entrepreneurial heart of a businessperson, and both were rewarded.”
“The Provincetown Commons throws a great party,” said Marshall. The contest was funded by a $100,000 fiscal 2023 Urban Agenda grant, which is distributed by the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.
The Commons and EforAll went in together on the grant, and funds will also go towards EforAll’s business accelerator work and allow graduates of that program to use the coworking office space at the Commons. While the town was not involved financially, Town Manager Alex Morse wrote a letter to the state in support of the joint application saying it would support “important economic development for Provincetown.”
On hand for the event was Katy Acheson, the economic development director for the Cape Cod Blue Economy Foundation, a nonprofit created by the Chamber of Commerce in 2017 to implement the chamber’s Blue Economy Project.
In 2021, the Independent reported that art installations around Provincetown that were part of the Chamber’s project ruffled local feathers with their design, location, and lack of an obvious tie to serious infrastructure investment in the coastal economy.
After the pitch contest, Acheson said that at these nascent stages, part of her role is to generate more awareness of the blue economy. “Every single person on Cape Cod is part of the blue economy,” Acheson said. “There are just different levels of dependency on the water.”
She said that the pitch contest represented three tiers of the blue economy. In development parlance they read: “dark blue” businesses that are fully reliant on the water, “medium blue” economic activity conducted because of proximity to water, and “light blue” business that elects to be near the water.
“You’re going to start hearing ‘blue’ the way you started to hear ‘green’ 20 or 30 years ago,” Acheson said. “It’s a way of identifying ourselves as a community, but also putting ourselves on the map at a global scale.”