Miami-Dade Innovation Authority launches first project, seeks tech to rid sargassum from our shores

3 companies will be selected for a $100K investment and opportunity to pilot their sustainable solutions with the county.

By Riley Kaminer

It’s a beautiful day at the beach. You’re folicking in the record warm ocean water when all of a sudden you get tangled up in some slimy brown algae known as sargassum. You walk out of the water only to be confronted by masses of the same seaweed that has washed up, tarnishing our golden beaches. Ah, summer in South Florida.

But it’s not just an annoyance. Sargassum carries the potential for respiratory problems and can cause a stinging sensation, according to medical professors at Baylor University. In small doses, sargassum plays an important role in marine ecosystems as a source of food and shelter. But periodic blooms of the macroalgae are increasing in frequency and size, causing large mats to accumulate along Florida’s Atlantic coast.

Not to fear: the Miami-Dade Innovation Authority (MDIA) is here.

Having launched in March, the Authority is tasked with launching three public challenges each year to attract the most innovative startups that can help to address some of our county’s most pressing problems.

Its first public challenge, in partnership with the Office of Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and the Nature Conservancy, is all about repurposing sargassum for beneficial use. Three companies will receive a $100,000 equity investment and the opportunity to test and validate their solution in collaboration with Miami-Dade County during next year’s high season for the seaweed.

Companies should already have a minimum viable product. They can, but do not have to, be based in Miami-Dade. The first application deadline is Sept. 29.

“We’ve already received quite a few applications,” president and CEO Leigh-Ann Buchanan told Refresh Miami. “For us, success of this challenge looks like identifying startups that have solutions that actually address public challenges in Miami-Dade in a way that is sustainable and environmentally friendly.”

Buchanan signaled that the five-person MDIA team is already working on its second and third challenges, which it hopes to launch in the fall. These projects will be aligned with the MDIA’s areas of focus: climate, health, housing, transport, education and opportunity. She said that they will choose challenges that impact residents’ quality of life, that have opportunities for private market intervention, and where the government or other anchor institutions are ideal partners.

For startups, the value proposition is that they receive the investment and the opportunity for commercial validation with the county. Buchanan explained that the idea for the MDIA came out of a trip Levine Cava and Chairman Oliver G. Gilbert III took to Israel. In the self-proclaimed ‘Startup Nation,’ the two politicians learned about the Israeli Innovation Authority, which became the inspiration for the MDIA.

So far, the MDIA has received $9 million in seed funding, which it will receive over the next three years: $3 million each from the Knight Foundation, Ken Griffin (CEO of Citadel), and the Miami-Dade County. 

“The MDIA is an opportunity to address some of the most pressing challenges in Miami with tech and innovation in a way that actually has an economic development impact, but also helps our constituents,” asserted Buchanan. “It’s a unique vehicle, and I’m excited to see it grow to a point where it becomes an important institution in our system – and also becomes a blueprint for other cities across the world.”

Find out more and apply here.


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Riley Kaminer