Q&A with Alissa Peterson of SeaAhead

September 18, 2018

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Though a recently established venture, SeaAhead (Accelerator ‘18) is already making impressive strides not only in Rhode Island, but within Southern New England. SeaAhead is a Benefit Corporation with the mission of supporting new venture development at the intersection of innovation + sustainability + the oceans– otherwise known as “bluetech.” Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the co-founders, Alissa Peterson, to discuss SeaAhead and the burgeoning bluetech industry


SeaaheadLogoZara Salmon: Thank you for coming in today, we are really happy to have you! Before we start, would you mind sharing a bit of background on yourself?

Alissa Peterson: Prior to launching SeaAhead, I worked in business development and strategy for several organizations. Directly after grad-school [at MIT], I worked for McKinsey & Company’s global sustainability practice in the US and Europe. After that I worked for a grid-scale battery technology company in California, Primus Power, before I eventually moved to Providence where I worked for NanoSteel, which is an advanced materials company.

ZS: How did the idea for SeaAhead come about?  

AP: I realized that I wanted to apply my experience across a number of different start-ups, so I started looking for an opportunity to get involved in growing the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem. Ultimately, I met with my co-founders Mark Huang and Jason Kelly, who were interested in the ocean-related technology space, which is where I became aware that “bluetech” is an industry that Southern New England could own and make its mark in. We started really formulating our business idea and and investing our time and resources into it starting in December 2017.

ZS: SeaAhead is described as “Catalyzing the intersection of innovation, sustainability and the oceans” What does this mean?

AP: Our priority focus is supporting new venture development in the bluetech space. In doing this, we have two main objectives.

The first is working on what we call “incubator and studio,” which means working with seed or pre-seed ventures that have a commercial solution within the bluetech space. These ventures are for-profit entities and we guide them on business strategy, scaling, funding and network connections. We believe that in order for ventures to be impactful, they need to be scalable– that’s where we help.

The second objective is to work with companies that are further along in their trajectory. We have started working on forming an investment vehicle, so we can provide them with series A stage investments.

ZS: Aside from bluetech entrepreneurs, who do you consider to be your target audience?

AP: Outside of entrepreneurs, we work with corporations that are interested in accessing innovation. These corporations may be in shipping, seafood, or insurance industries. In addition to that, we work with investors that may be interested in investing in bluetech. Essentially, we create an international network of folks that are interested in doing similar work.

ZS: On the SeaAhead website, I love that you speak into existence that you will be bluetech’s next global nexus.  What exactly is your venture’s optimal future for the next 5-10 years?

AP: We are growing, increasingly working with a broader group of entrepreneurs. Over the next year we envision having co-working space where these ventures can thrive and meet with other like-minded people. We’re also in the process of scaling up our events. In the future we’d love to have a philanthropic granting program where we can make seed investments to promising entrepreneurs and technologists.

ZS: What is the best advice you have given another social entrepreneur? And what is the best advice you have received?  

AP: It’s advice that I have both given and received: figure out what your customer’s “burning platform” is. Meaning, what need are you fulfilling that will make someone want to jump and/or take a risk on you, because if you’re standing on a burning platform, you’re going to jump. You have to figure out what existential need your customer has that will ensure they will join you.

Photo by SEG Advisor, Erin Read.

ZS: How long have you been with SEG?

AP: I was in the Impact Accelerator in January, so really, my relationship with SEG started with the beginning of SeaAhead. We also have a desk here in the SEG Hub.

SEG has supported this entity with community, space, and connections to folks who have been extremely helpful to us. In addition, SeaAhead’s kickoff event was held here in June. SEG has definitely been a part of the growth of SeaAhead.

ZS: Why did you choose Rhode Island to start SeaAhead?

AP: Boston is the heart of innovation in New England and global center of excellence. In Rhode Island we have locations like Newport, which sits at the center of what is likely the densest bluetech capabilities of anywhere else in the world. This includes universities, like URI and UMass Dartmouth, and research centers, like the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, the US Coast Guard Research & Development Center and WHOI.  Regionally, we also have the defense, boat, and ship-building industries and the emerging offshore wind industry. Further, our sustainable shellfish sector is growing as a result of our now clean watersheds and New Bedford is a national leader in wild-caught fish and shellfish landings. The bluetech capabilities that surround a new venture in this region are the strongest of any in the world due to our unique location.

 ZS:  Does SeaAhead have any upcoming events or news that you would like to share?

AP: On September 20th, Venture Cafe Foundation in Cambridge will be hosting our BlueTech Cafe Night from 4:00pm-8:00pm (get your tickets here: http://bit.ly/2wxBb5y). We’re expecting 500+ people so it should be a great event. Aside from that, we’re in the process of planning more events so if people are interested in the following they can subscribe to our monthly newsletters via our website (https://sea-ahead.com/) and they can also follow us on Twitter @SeaAhead.

Staff - Zara Salmon

Zara Salmon, Communications Coordinator 

Zara is a 2018 graduate of Wheaton College where her majors were English and Political Science. During her junior year, she went abroad to Senegal, Italy, and China to study African migration and entrepreneurship. It was through this experience that she fell in love with the field of social entrepreneurship. As the Communications Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA, she will be working alongside the wonderful Crystal Rosatti helping to build and maintain SEG’s relationships with universities, organizations, and other institutions across the state.