The Miami-Dade Innovation Authority, Inc. (“MDIA”), a nonprofit that works to strengthen the relationship between local government and technology companies as a way to identify and scale innovative solutions that improve the quality of life for Miami-Dade County residents, has announced its first-ever public innovation challenge.
Kicking off Wednesday, July 12, 2023, the open call seeks novel and sustainable uses to beneficially repurpose sargassum, a type of seaweed known for forming large floating mats that wash up on beaches across the world during the warm summer months. As part of this challenge, the MDIA will select at least three (3) early-to-growth stage technology start-ups and award each $100,000 to fund the further research and development around sustainable solutions that process sargassum in an environmentally responsible manner and prioritize the health and safety of end users.
In addition to the six-figure investments, selected companies will be shortlisted to participate in a product testing program directly with Miami-Dade County and local institutions beginning next spring, during the onset of the 2024 sargassum seaweed season.
The MDIA will oversee each testing process and will work closely with the portfolio companies to publish a report on the outcomes and results, as well as activate its network of partners and resources to publicize the report and key findings.
“The MDIA is dedicated to cultivating a thriving innovation ecosystem in Miami-Dade County,” said Leigh-Ann A. Buchanan, President & CEO of MDIA. “We are thrilled to officially launch the first in a series of public innovation challenges that will provide entrepreneurs access to critical funding necessary to test and validate their ideas in a real-word environment, foster collaboration, and drive economic prosperity by harnessing the power of technology to solve the critical issues impacting our community.”
Sargassum plays an important role in marine ecosystems, providing shelter and food for both small marine creatures and larger fish in the open ocean, and depositing prey-rich wrack onshore for shorebirds. Unfortunately, periodic blooms of the macroalgae are increasing in frequency and size, causing large mats to accumulate along Florida’s Atlantic coast, releasing hydrogen sulfide gas that can cause breathing difficulties when decomposed. It also irritates the eyes, nose and throat, causes a burning sensation, and expels a malodorous odor; ultimately impacting Miami-Dade’s local fishing and tourism industries, and necessitating expensive collection, removal and clean up.
“Miami-Dade County sits uniquely at the intersection of environment and innovation. We’ve spent over $4.2 million on sargassum cleanup in 2022 alone. And while this naturally occurring event can disrupt our beautiful beaches, we are committed to finding environmentally friendly solutions to mitigate its impact and protect the wildlife that depend on its shelter,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. “We know that by partnering with our public and private sector partners, we’ll catalyze new ways to turn this challenge into an opportunity for Miami-Dade County and coastal communities worldwide.”
The Nature Conservancy in Florida (TNC) — a global conservation organization working to create a world where people and nature can thrive — will convene subject matter experts to support the evaluation and selection of the winning companies, to be announced in December 2023.
“The Nature Conservancy is thrilled to work alongside the Miami-Dade Innovation Authority and Miami-Dade County, to foster community engagement and identify cutting-edge technologies that will transform this environmental challenge into a benefit in Miami-Dade and beyond. Sargassum is a vital part of a healthy ocean, but like sunlight and rainfall, too much can be harmful. Increasing sargassum blooms are attributable to many factors, including changes in ocean currents, extreme weather, and warming waters associated with climate change,” said Morgan Higman, Florida Climate Strategy Director, The Nature Conservancy.
Founded as an outcome of a collaboration with Miami-Dade County and key technology leaders, MDIA launched in 2023 with an equal match of private, public and philanthropic funding from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Citadel founder and CEO, Ken Griffin; and Miami-Dade County, for a total of $9 million in seed funding. This challenge is the first in a series of open calls launched by the MDIA as it works to tackle Miami-Dade’s most pressing challenges including health, housing, climate, transportation, and education and opportunity.
Overall, MDIA aims to launch three public challenges throughout each year, with the goal of distributing more than $1 million annually, serving as a blueprint for other cities and municipalities across the world to fast-track innovation to improve the quality of life for residents. As with all business and economic development opportunities, Miami-Dade County is committed to supporting the growth of diverse businesses and advocating for equitable participation of minority and women entrepreneurs in economic opportunities.
The deadline to submit proposals is Friday, September 29, 2023. To submit, please visit the following link.