10 to Watch Winner 2024 – Ocean AID

10 to Watch Winner 2024 - Ocean AID
From left, Archit Kumar and Andrew Polanyi. Photo By: Jeffrey Bosdet.

Sector: Technology

Principals: From left, Archit Kumar and Andrew Polanyi

Year launched: 2023

Unique selling proposition: Pairing sonar technology with artificial intelligence in real time.

Strategy: To use proprietary software to make ocean cleanup faster and cheaper.

Website: oceanaid.ca

Ocean AID co-founder Andrew Polanyi grew up in Toronto but spent summers fishing with his grandparents on northern Vancouver Island.

“I fell in love with the abundance of life in the ocean,” says Polanyi.

He also became aware of the damage humans can cause to the world’s oceans, particularly the scourge of ocean plastics and “ghost” gear (discarded and lost fishing gear that’s clogging marine ecosystems around the world).

Early experiences on the water as a kid informed his decision to move west and study software engineering at the University of Victoria. It also inspired his entrepreneurial spirit. In 2023 he partnered with Archit Kumar to form Ocean AID, a startup that blends the power of sonar with artificial intelligence to detect and map underwater objects in real time and with pinpoint accuracy.

“Our mission is to simplify and accelerate ghost-gear retrieval for a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable ocean ecosystem. Our vision is to be a leader in marine technology that improves the circular economy of ocean plastics,” Polanyi says.

Polanyi and Kumar are plying new waters in the battle against ocean debris. Despite shoestring funding, Ocean AID is already having an impact, earning top honours in the first ever Ocean Communities Climate Challenge. 

“Our core IP [intellectual property] comes from our data pipeline, which gives us the ability to process and detect objects from raw sonar data in real time. This is something that none of our competitors can deliver,” Polanyi explains.

Being technically minded software developers, the cold-calling and sales side of business have been challenging. It’s been a steep but fruitful learning curve for the entrepreneurs. Ocean AID now has partnerships with the Coastal Restoration Society, the BC Shellfish Growers Association and many of the 100 or so organizations engaged in ghost-gear recovery. They are also partnering with (and learning from) Indigenous groups across Canada.

By the end of 2024, Ocean AID aims to have contracts with large industrial sonar firms. By 2026, the founders plan to be licensing their tech to sonar companies on a global scale, a market that will be worth an estimated US $5 billion by 2027.