Blue Economy Convergence Conversation: Monica Jain, Founder of Fish 2.0
Monica Jain is a connector of people and ideas. She started her career as a marine biologist, earned an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, spent several years in finance and venture capital, then directed her experience and energy to focus on oceans. After spending many years bringing finance into ocean-related projects with private, public, philanthropic organizations, and NGOs, she formally began to apply her experience and the rules and opportunities inherent in finance to oceans.
She saw that one of the big things happening in oceans is related to sustainable seafood, and that impact investing is a big trend in finance. Familiar with both of these areas, she considered, “why aren’t there more investors in seafood businesses?” Her search for answers exposed a number of reasons, including what investors wanted to understand the industry more deeply, they wanted to see seafood deals in one place, they wanted connections to other investors who were also interested, and they needed to be sure that deals were investment-ready. In 2012, Monica founded Fish 2.0 to address these issues. The organization was one of the first accelerators for ocean-related businesses. She served as the Executive Director of the organization until the end of 2019, at which point Fish 2.0’s network of investors with active interest had grown to over 700 investors and the organization had worked with approximately 600 companies from around the world.
In this Blue Economy Convergence Conversation, Monica and I discuss the relationship between finance and oceans, and its necessary role in developing a sustainable Blue Economy.
Deb: What are your thoughts on what the Blue Economy is or isn’t?
Monica: The Blue Economy isn’t a difficult concept. It’s an economy with wealth, resources, production, and consumption of goods related to the ocean. It might include things that you can take from the ocean or things that the ocean gives back. It can also include things that you can give back to the ocean to make it healthier. What’s interesting about it for me is that it’s a “thing” now and that it wasn’t before. The Blue Economy is actually a huge part of the overall economy, given the ocean is approximately 70% of our world, so it’s interesting that it seems like a new thing. We will have arrived when we can talk about the Blue Economy like it’s not a “special thing.” I used to say the same thing about impact investing — “Impact investing will have succeeded when you no longer have to specify that it’s Impact investing. It’s just investing, and everyone thinks about impact when making decisions.”
Deb: Do you think it will ever become not a “thing”? Will it become normal investing?
Monica: I would say that point has already come in many sectors. However, the differentiation is still good and important for people. But people still like the term. It’s good marketing and helps with differentiation.
Deb: What’s the value of a concept such as the Blue Economy as Wilmington tries to think about their growth for the future?
Monica: Wilmington is essentially already a Blue Economy because so many of its resources and wealth come from the ocean and water. So in a way, I would say specifically thinking about the Blue Economy is good for Wilmington because it makes them focus on and value the resources that are right there in front of them. The ocean, rivers, and water sources are a big part of their economy. People in Wilmington have been fishing forever. They’ve been oyster farming for a long time. The importance or development of the Blue Economy is not a new thing. The recognition and value of it are new.
Deb: There seem to be these stovepipes that are for good intent, but they don’t seem to be coming together to leverage effort or energy. Is it important for these efforts to be integrated or are they fine as is?
Monica: I believe the University of North Carolina Wilmington is doing quite a bit to bring those bits together. They’ve developed several programs that are intended to bring the community together. All Blue is supposed to be a catalyst for this. I learned the importance of events that allow people to make connections while doing Fish 2.0. We worked all over the world and were very proud of the linkages we were able to make, like connecting entrepreneurs between Canada and Thailand. We allowed entrepreneurs to make links across the globe. In another case, we worked with two entrepreneurs developing fish feed from insects who were literally working a mile away from each other yet had never met. They knew about each other, but they both thought they were competitors, so they didn’t think that they should connect. When they met, they realized, “we’re doing the same thing, we think alike, and we should collaborate.”
Often, people tend to decide they won’t reach out to others like them because they are uncomfortable with doing so. Efforts such as All Blue are important because people need to meet other humans who are interested in similar things and who are interested in different things, to generate new ideas. I believe that all initiatives that bring people together are good. People just need ways to meet each other.
Deb: In addition to meeting people, listening, and collaborating, what are other critical activities or considerations for success?
Monica: It’s meaningful to help people raise awareness of new ideas and go deeper in their interests by having them meet each other, which I understand is part of All Blue week. And it’s not just the people active in the Blue Economy meeting one another, but it’s also the people who are interested in finding out what the Blue Economy is. The conversations need to be happening at all levels. We all get a lot of information thrown at us every day even when we pick up the newspaper and read about all sorts of things. Some of it sticks and some of it doesn’t. We need some sort of meaningful interaction with a topic to make it stick in our brain and to become interested in stories about it.
For example, for most of my life, I never thought about watching water polo. Then my son started playing the sport. From then on, every time I heard something about water polo, I found it super interesting, and that interest allowed me to make connections to other topics that I had not considered. It wasn’t that water polo wasn’t already out there, it was that I never paid attention to it. Some people have never thought about aquaculture or algae production. Then, all of a sudden, they’re introduced to an entrepreneur working in the area. Or they meet someone else who’s talking about it. From then on, every time they read about algae or aquaculture, they are making connections. They might not know where they are going to end up, but the probability that they get involved goes up. There are hundreds of things going on in the world. Stuff sticks with me because of the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met, and the resulting interests that have developed over time. That’s the thing about making connections, they create the sticky parts of our brains.
Deb: What learnings from creating Fish 2.0 apply can Wilmington leaders adopt for success?
Monica: Creating a space for meaningful connections and experiences is not something you just do haphazardly. It’s something you need to do very thoughtfully and deliberately. You can learn how to do it from people who have done similar things in the past. When I created Fish 2.0, I spent two years talking with people who had created programs and events I admired and that had an impact. I learned from them. I went to their events, spent time asking them questions, and did a whole lot of research on what they did and why. With that insight, I created the first iteration of Fish 2.0. After that, I went out to get feedback from those who participated, and I got a ton – which helped make the next one better.
It is interesting to me that, over the years, a lot of people have come to me and said, “I want to create something great like Fish 2.0 and I’m just going to put these specific pieces together.” But things are not just glued together. That’s not how it works. There are a million things behind the scenes to consider. You can create whatever you want but you have to be very committed to it. You have to put the work into creating it and you don’t create it based on what you’ve seen from the outside somewhere else. You create it from understanding everything that was behind the scenes and talking to the folks that did it.
You also have to be prepared for a lot of failures. We learned what didn’t work and we tried a lot of things that did not work. We were constantly getting feedback from entrepreneurs, investors, and partners. There were things that worked in one country that didn’t work in the other. There were things that worked with one sector that didn’t work in the others. We learned different ways of messaging for different audiences. Through this learning and adaptation process, we were able to come up with a framework that made a lot of change happen.
Deb: If Wilmington adopts a Blue Economy mindset, can it help create opportunities for its future?
Monica: What do you mean by Wilmington in this context? Is it the Wilmington government or the people of Wilmington? Is it the University of North Carolina Wilmington? We should be very specific about who the Wilmington in question is and what it is that they want to achieve. You have to create messages for a specific audience or audiences. Then later you might tie them together. If Wilmington wants to create Blue Economic growth, they need to define who it’s for and how they will do it. It is possible to have different groups work together to do this. You need to make it so enticing for them to work together, they won’t want to work separately.
An issue may be the size of Wilmington. What I have seen is, the smaller the community, the less people talk to each other. I worked on a small island in the Galapagos about 25 years ago. There was literally one street on the island and all of the leaders who worked on ocean stuff for the Galapagos worked on that street. They all knew each other, they saw each other in the same bars and shops. But they didn’t talk to each other about their work or collaborate at all. Sometimes, when you’re in a small place and you have personal relationships with others, you don’t want to mix work stuff with personal relationships. You have to live with these people so you don’t want to take risks. In a bigger place, the stakes seem lower. They don’t have to see those people all the time. It’s more of a challenge in a small place like Wilmington, so they’ll have to create safe spaces for people to question, debate, and seek alignment without putting any of their personal relationships at risk.
Deb: What are the one or two things Wilmington leaders should do right now to get started?
Monica: There seem to be several different groups of people working on different aspects of Blue Economy growth right now. They may be competing against each other, or they may not even know each other exists. They may not know if they can create leverage between their groups. Wilmington leadership needs to understand if and why people don’t work together now. What do they all want in common? Once they can answer that, they can figure out how to build something that can work for everyone. I don’t think it’s rocket science. It’s mostly hard work and asking lots of questions. There also needs to be open-minded thinking and being a little outside the box.
Deb: What’s your greatest hope for the future?
Monica: I have many hopes for the future, like getting to world peace and resolving world hunger. But when I think about the oceans, I really hope we can all start to speak with one voice. There’s a small community working on ocean stuff and it’s growing, but we need to speak with one voice and support one another. I feel we could get a lot farther and do it faster if people inside the community are less competitive with each other and work more collaboratively on solutions. It’s not about thinking you have the best solution. I also would love to see more integration of oceans and climate change initiatives. It’s important. If we don’t deal with climate and oceans, we’re neither dealing with climate nor with oceans. We must deal with them together. I’m really excited that the investment community’s interest is growing in the integrated approach for ocean and climate.
Monica reminds us we are operating in an unsettled, progressive age. Structures are fluid. Collaboration is boundless. New information emerges and joins the network daily, and as they do, they reveal new insights and ideas. It’s a chaotic and incredibly exciting time to lead. More and more, we are members of a connected society, partners in a community ripe to create change. We are swayed by the voices and ideas from traditional and nontraditional corners of the world. New generations of leaders are growing up in this empowered, boundaryless reality. It also takes honesty and courage to consider what’s working and what isn’t to create new behaviors and practices to evolve and operate in this new environment. It is essential to resilience and growth. Ultimately, a call to action must give preference to a human-centric perspective.
Deborah Westphal is a leader in future-focused strategy. In her book Convergence, she leverages more than 30 years of experience helping the world’s most innovative business and government leaders to challenge biases, ignite ideas, and build connections. She delivers this rich insight with an empathetic and thought-provoking writing style to chart a path for readers. Throughout the book, personal stories and historical examples highlight convergences that span the globe, impacting everything from global supply chains to climate change, and reshaping the future of business, technology, and humanity everywhere.
Get your copy of Convergence here.