How The Ocean Supercluster Will Spark New Companies

Halifax Harbour. Image: iStock.

During the Ocean Supercluster roadshow this summer, Matt Hebb made a throw-away statement that lingered with me, because it so elegantly described the role of startups in the Supercluster.

Hebb is CEO of the Supercluster, the four-province partnership that will spend $300 million to $360 million on marine innovation R&D over the next five years. He and his team are preparing to develop ocean-related R&D projects and hope to launch the first this year.

Meeting with reporters during the summer roadshow, he described the role of innovators and startups in the R&D process, saying: “To me, it’s really customer discovery that’s already happened for them.”

Now, to understand that statement, we have to comprehend the meaning of “customer discovery” and the philosophy behind the term. But once we do, we can grasp the most exciting part of the Ocean Supercluster project.

“Customer discovery” means talking to as many potential customers as possible to help determine if there is a market for your product. The idea is that a modern startup begins with a business hypothesis that needs to be tested before anyone spends time and money developing it.

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Rather than launching right into the project, the startup founders go out and ask potential customers (people who would realistically be in a position to pay for it) what they think of the idea.

Usually, these potential customers will say they like one part of the idea but dislike another. That means the entrepreneurs can go back to the drawing board and redesign their product. Then they talk to more people about their idea with the changes incorporated.

Ideally, they eventually have a product that is so exciting that some people become early customers. The team ends up with clients before they’ve begun to build their doohickey.

So how does this tie into the Ocean Supercluster?

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