The Future of Blue Tech Conferences

Over the course of the three-day event, BIS 2024 hosted more than 54 speakers, 30 sponsors, and 320 attendees. (Image credit: BIS)

The Blue Innovation Symposium (BIS), New England’s largest blue tech conference, will be celebrating its 9th anniversary on February 26-29, 2024, in Newport, Rhode Island.

Our motto has always been “By the industry, for the industry” and the board of the Blue Venture Forum, which now organizes the BIS, has over 100 years of combined experience working within it. So, in preparation for what will likely be the largest BIS ever, we reflected on the attributes that we think have helped to make our conference a success.

Like most conference organizers, we think that great programming must be at the center of all we do. To attract the right audience of leaders—from industry, defense, government, research, and beyond—you need to have the right mix of speakers and topics. The markets that are of interest to our attendees include defense, marine energy, offshore wind, commercial fisheries, aquaculture, and research, among others. We’re fortunate to have a diverse and unmatched network that we can tap to recruit outstanding keynotes and panelists. It is important to also look for ways to partner with like-minded organizations to attract speakers, deliver programming, and reach the right audience.

This year, for example, the Blue Innovation Symposium (BIS) is partnering with the Southern New England Defense Industry Association (SENEDIA) to deliver a “Maritime Communications in GPS-Contested Environments” panel discussion, with representatives from the US Navy, which will be followed by “Flashtalk” presentations from select companies who are developing potential solutions to this challenge. The US Navy and company representatives will then have the opportunity to meet one-on-one in dedicated satellite rooms while the BIS agenda moves on to its next panel discussion.


In addition to our industry and organizational partnerships, we have a special, long-standing relationship, with the Consulate General of Canada in Boston. Since 2015, each year, this partnership ensures that at least two dozen Canadian companies and organizations are represented at the Blue Innovation Symposium. Over the years this has led to Canadian companies making sales, forming partnerships, connecting with US research organizations, and to establishing offices in New England.

The event is attractive to international participants because it is held in Newport, RI, at the geographic center of New England’s Blue Economy ecosystem. Within a one-hour drive, you have key assets like Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC), UMass Dartmouth, the University of Rhode Island, MITRE Corp, Mass. Maritime Academy, L3 Harris Ocean Server, SAAB, Inc., Boston Engineering Corporation, and more.


When appropriate, a conference also needs to introduce new programming to keep it the format fresh and the areas of discussion conducive to genuine thought leadership and pertinent debate. BIS organizers noticed that, in addition to industry attendees scouting for new technology companies to partner with or acquire, investors started to attend, and even sponsor, our events. We spoke with these attendees and learned that they weren’t just interested in hearing from the Flashtalk panels—exclusive opportunities for up to 16 start-ups to deliver a 5-minute pitch to the BIS congregation—but they were also interested in gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the markets for these technologies and what other developments were shaping the industry as a whole.

So, at the Blue Innovation Symposium 2023, we successfully introduced the Blue Venture Investment Summit (BVIS). The BVIS is a half-day program, during the BIS, that attracted over 130 participants. During the event, we heard from panels of investors, including angels, venture capital firms, family offices, and philanthropic organizations, as they discussed the recent trends that were impacting investment in the sector. We also heard from founders, who have successfully raised funding, as they shared advice about identifying investors, pitching investors, and about building their business.


We also believe that a conference should take the time to recognize those that are making professional, personal, and organizational contributions to the industry. Each year we give out three “Rising Tide” awards to recognize a company, an organization, and an individual for their work. Over the last 8 years we have given awards to individuals who donate hundreds of hours of their time to mentor industry start-ups, to companies who support scholarships and internship programs, and to non-profit organizations that provide the key resources that a growing industry like blue tech needs.

Networking is still at the heart of what we do. We make sure that we develop, and adhere to, an agenda that affords plenty of time for networking and for attendees to meet with exhibitors. Networking is important for developing and retaining relationships, creating opportunities, and ultimately facilitating new ideas.

We continue to look for ways to be innovative and deliver a symposium that the industry sees value in. This requires consistently assessing industry and market trends to develop the programming and facilitate the networking that will lead to strengthening and growing the industry.

We wish the industry a successful 2024 and look forward to seeing you at the Blue Innovation Symposium 2024.

This story was originally featured in ON&T’s December Special Edition 2023 issue. Click here to read more.

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