Success Story

Partnering For Success In BlueTech

Water Windmills
Michael Jones
Michael Jones, founder and president of TMA Bluetech

TMA BlueTech is the non-profit industry association and cluster organizer for the San Diego ocean and water technologies community.

This episode explores the U.S. Commercial Service’s partnership with TMA BlueTech and how together, companies like Hydronalix, a small high technology company specializing in extreme performance, small unmanned vehicles, find or expand upon existing export success. Additionally, two of America’s Export Experts join to provide insights related to the marine technology sector. 

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Episode Transcript

Title: TMA BlueTech On The Value Of Partnership For Maritime Technology Companies | Transcript Date: March 9, 2021 | Duration: 59:04 

[00:00:00] Derrick: On this episode of Export Nation, we explore the U.S. Commercial Service’s partnership with Michael Jones founder and president of TMA BlueTech, and delve deeper into Hydronalix’s export success with CEO and President Anthony Mulligan. We are also joined by senior international trade specialist Christina Parisi of our Tucson office and Aaron Davidson of our San Diego office who offer additional insights related to the marine technology sector. Michael, since we have you here tell us about yourself and about BlueTech. What you do and what your organization is about? 

[00:00:40] Michael Jones: Sure, thanks very much, Derrick. My name is Michael Jones, I am the founder and president of TMA BlueTech. We are two non-profits in San Diego, California, and we are active nationally and internationally. BlueTech is a concept that I would say is relatively new as opposed to cleantech which I think some people would call greentech. BlueTech is really all about ocean and water. I founded the organization 14 years ago. We are considered one of the oldest most active blue tech clusters in the world and we focus on promoting really sustainable use of water and ocean technologies. 

[00:01:30] Derrick: I always like to know what prompted the organization to start? What prompted the idea? 

[00:01:37] Michael: In my case, I’m an investment banker by background. I’ve been acting as the pro bono president of TMA BlueTech from the beginning, and I had invested in a company that was the world leader in what we call Mini ROVs, remotely operated vehicles. They were selling all around the world. I acted as CFO and the second-largest shareholder. It was really through that that I became aware that San Diego was a hotbed of blue tech activity, but that there were blue tech centers around the United States and around the world. By and large, they’ve been invisible. 

We began to organize our community in San Diego, and then try and convince people in other places to also organize clusters in other places in the United States and other places in the world. When I found the company, started working with that company, I actually invested in that company, and began to understand that San Diego had all these amazing blue tech companies that I said, “We need to put an organization together to really help them mature and grow,” create a common what we call Blue Voice. 

[00:02:53] Derrick: It’s interesting that you say was invisible. Why do you feel the industry or these clusters were not relatively known at the time? 

[00:03:03] Michael: I would say it’s a couple of reasons one of which is that blue tech companies export all around the world and export out of their own region, so that they don’t typically belong to traditional organizations, chambers of commerce or economic development corporations. They don’t even know they exist. When we began to organize this community it was the first time that they really came together. That’s one issue, the second issue is that their sales are not very local. A company might sell 1% or 2% in a town like San Diego. 

They might sell up to the other 48%, just picking numbers now, but 50% if it’s domestic. 48% would be around the United States if 2% was local, and then 50% would be international. With some of our companies, their first sale might be to Indonesia or Saudi Arabia or Japan because it truly is an international market. That’s what really makes them very different. They don’t sell as much locally and as a result, people have a tendency to not realize they’re there. 

[00:04:15] Derrick: Got you. Very interesting. What does your global work entail? Also in that same question, what prompted your connection to the US commercial service? 

[00:04:28] Michael: Without getting in too much detail, there have been a prior organization that we’d started working with Department of Commerce, US Commercial Service. When we started TMA BlueTech in 2007, at our very first meeting, we had somebody from the US Commercial Service come and listen and really express interest to help companies. We’ve been working with the Commercial Service really since 2007 when we were really setting up what now is called TMA BlueTech. Their interest, the US Commercial Service interest to help US companies export goods and services successfully is a perfect edge on to what we were trying to do. 

The San Diego office recognized very early the importance and spent time with us. In 2010, I had a meeting in Washington DC at the Department of Commerce that was set up by someone at the San Diego office. I met with two people from other Department of Commerce and two people from the US Commercial Service. One person from NOAA which belongs to the Department of Commerce. The woman from NOAA said, “We’re scientists, we don’t do business.” Which is an entirely different attitude today. The people at the US Commercial Service said I was the first person that’d ever been there to talk about maritime technology. 

What was so exciting about that was about three months after I attended, it was announced they were going to create a worldwide team. There are now are the maritime technology worldwide group team and part of the US Commerce Service is 1 of approximately 25 worldwide teams. It was very exciting to see the way the commerce service followed the opportunity and really ran with it. There’s now, Aaron would know better, but let’s call it 80 or 90 officers around the world in probably 50 countries who are supporting the maritime technology industry. Then there’s a whole ‘nother team on the environmental side that works with water wastewater, which is another part of what we do. 

[00:06:54] Derrick: Thank you, Michael. Aaron to you, why would you say our partnership with TMA BlueTech is important? 

[00:07:02] Aaron Davidson: Thank you, Derrick. Thank you, Michael. I think it’s important for many of the reasons that Michael referenced. First and foremost, to echo Michael’s point, there are all these companies particularly a place like San Diego where so much of our business community in general is made up of small and medium-sized businesses that are inherently export-oriented. To echo Michael’s point, they may not be as well known locally because much of their market is inherently global as opposed to domestic, as opposed to selling within San Diego or California. 

It winds up being a great synergistic relationship. Michael and his group at TMA BlueTech are interfacing with all of these companies that become a pipeline of clients for us that we can then help promote and support their international business development activities. While we are able to help them in what we do, TMA is able to help them in what they do. Because we have such a close working relationship, we’re able to do it all very seamlessly. 

[00:08:10] Derrick: That makes sense. As it relates to marine technology then, what types of clients does the US Commercial Service engage with? I know that might be broad but in several industries, there are several different types of clients. How could you speak to that? 

[00:08:27] Aaron: The clients that we work with in this very broad category is— categorization, excuse me, of marine technology include a lot of companies that service multiple industries. For example, Michael mentioned he got into this via his work with the underwater robotics company. Underwater robotics is of course very big here locally in San Diego, and underwater robotics and the companies that are components of the underwater robotics industry make up a lot of types of companies we work with globally throughout the commercial service. That’s a great example. 

A lot of these are small innovative companies, and they’re looking for our support globally, but because of technology like underwater robotics, it has applications for security and defense, coastal protection, oceanographic applications. Applications for the oil and gas industry for aquaculture. The list can go on and on and on. The fact that they make underwater an ROV, for example, that can be sold into so many industries, of course, dovetails with what we do at the commercial service because we can help them amplify that market. 

[00:09:51] Derrick: Got you. Perfect. Christina, you’ve worked with the clients at Hydronalix which we had on the podcast a little earlier this year. Could you maybe speak to tell us a little bit about Hydronalix, maybe how you work with that client and to get them globally situated, if you can? 

[00:10:13] Christina Parisi: Thank you, Derrick. Hydronalix was actually a very interesting case. Tony Mulligan, the main guy over there had come from the aerospace industry and had taken his technology out of an area where he was no longer allowed to compete because he had sold his company and applied that to marine technology. He was in a new industry with technology he was comfortable with. When I met him, it was clear that he understood global business, and he understood intellectual property and how to do business with governments around the world. What he wasn’t aware of, maybe are the industry contacts, the specifics of getting different types of permits, water-based demonstration permits [unintelligible 00:11:04] as opposed to aerospace. 

He was also needing to know more about export administration regulations because he came from a ITAR world, which was very black and white cut and dry. It’s much more enabling on the commercial side. A lot of my early time was spent on export control, making sure they understood the best way to package and sell their products around the world, and then getting him into those programs that could provide the introductions to both the industry and to government to contacts around the world. 

[00:11:40] Derrick: Understood. Then what types of service were most impactful? Would you say with Hydronalix’s success, as far as how we helped with them? 

[00:11:50] Christina: I would say a lot of the counseling because Tony’s an inventor as well as being the president of the company. I would work a lot with his staff to understand the logistics using Carnets for their trade shows, understanding export control process. As far as our services, it was often those introductions and having our staff interface with the heads and other government’s ministries and cabinets to vouch for Tony. A lot of this was the intimate government knowledge and context that we brought to him as well as on the promotion side, he joined our trade missions. He participated in other trade shows. That’s a big part of his strategy is marketing all around the world, and he’s taken advantage of our language specific capabilities and other countries to assist them at these trade shows as well. He’s really used at all. 

[00:12:50] Derrick: Got you. Understood. Michael, you said something earlier about scientists and business. I was just wondering about your thoughts on— do you feel that it’s important, especially for creators and inventors to have a business mindset from the jump? 

[00:13:12] Michael: It’s a great question. Let me answer it two ways. One is that we talk about the triple helix in all of our events, try and bring together really each of those three groups, three legs of a stool. One is academia and education, writ large. The second is industry, and the third is policymakers. Elected officials, economic development folks, military press, NGOs, anybody that influences policy. From that point of view, it’s always important for us to be interfacing with academia. The second part of your question, if I can phrase it like that is having somebody like Tony, who is an inventor, really a very creative person. Tony is very much a business person as well. He knows that he needs to make money in order to continue to invent. 

He comes at this as a very systematically, “I’m going to invent, but I’m also going to go to market.” I think your question really is can you come up with a great product and does that make you successful? Of course, the answer is no. You really need to understand what the market is. You can come up with a great product for a very small market, and then you’ve got to have the right management team, the right business model and the right funding to be successful. There’s a lot more than just a great idea to be successful in the commercial side. I think Tony is a great example of— I don’t know that Tony was ever an academic, but Tony is a very cerebral guy very innovative person, but he’s also a great commercial person as well. 

[00:15:08] Derrick: Sounds good. You brought up the triple helix, maybe you could tell us why you see that as the basis for cluster formation. 

[00:15:19] Michael: The idea of a cluster is a economic concept that has been around for probably hundreds of years, but certainly United States, for the last 30, 40 years, it’s much more prevalent in Europe. For the most part, people have talked about bringing together the triple helix as three big stakeholders that need to be involved. The government does this as well in certain areas of theirs. I gave a talk to a group at National Academy of Sciences, for example, that brings together government industry and universities. The concept is not new, but clusters really are like a specialized industry association, and they will try and bring together different parts of the triple helix in order to make sure everybody’s rowing in the same direction. 

Again, I use the words, Blue Voice. It really is important, particularly, when many of your companies are not very visible in your region. Part of our job as a cluster is to turn them into choir as opposed to having a bunch of single voices trying to tell their story. That communal Blue Voice is important. That’s why bringing the triple helix together so that academia says, “Wow, here’s an opportunity. I’m developing something that is applicable in the marine space.” Remember, we also do water, wastewater. We say, “If it’s wet, it’s blue as far as we’re concerned.” Anything in that space is of importance to us. Academia you want to involve, they of course are developing both new ideas, new technologies that sometimes they’re not able to take to market themselves. 

You want them to license it. They’re also teaching young people, the new entrepreneurs and technical workers. It’s a critical role. Industry needs those new ideas, technical workers to solve problems. People in government and NGOs want to figure out how to provide solutions to problems. A cluster really concede at the intersection of that triple helix, and I think help everybody to understand each other’s roles and how they can work together. It’s one of the things that clusters do around the world. Hopefully, there will be more support for clusters in the United States compared to, for example, Europe. 

[00:18:00] Derrick: Thank you, Michael. I’m going to come back to that. I just want to ask Christina a question. She has to leave soon. Maybe, Christina, if you could answer, what are some challenges you see often with marine technology companies looking to export? 

[00:18:15] Christina: I would say that they face some of the same challenges as other industries, as well as unique ones. Obviously, anything to a space or water can be highly regulated. There is also a lot of sensitivity in these areas around the world. I’ve encountered sometimes a little bit of protective behavior for local industries. There’s also a lot of competition, both fair and unfair competition, and very much so the technology is how to protect it as well as be able to get that out there and sell it. There’s also that I would say that maybe marine technologies aren’t as well recognized as some other technologies. They probably could use some additional promotional efforts to remind people the importance of the industry and also the different issues and concerns around the world that they could address. 

[00:19:17] Derrick: Thank you. Now, Aaron, I’m not certain when the marine technology team for us officially began. Maybe you could talk about that and how that became a focus area for us in the US Commercial Service? 

[00:19:35] Aaron: Sure. Thanks, Derrick. It was a little bit before my time. Legend has it that, and Michael touched on it briefly a few moments ago, but essentially Michael went to Washington DC for some meetings, and those meetings captured a lot of attention. There was a realization. Again, I think this was probably about 10 or 11 years ago now, that this was a tremendous gap in our area of coverages, the US Commercial Service. Why wasn’t the US Commercial Service looking at marine technology on an industry basis, and having a global team to offer the center of excellence concept that the global teams are intended to do to look at this industry more holistically? 

As a result of Michael’s meetings, I think he presented it a little bit humbly earlier. Again, it created a lot of energy and excitement internally that this was an area we needed to focus on. It was really at that point that the team was created. Over time, as more and more of our colleagues around the United States and around the world have realized all of this that they have in their backyard here domestically in the United States, Christina’s a perfect example. Here she is in Tucson, very much a landlocked part of the United States. There’s no maritime coast anywhere nearby, but yet there are these companies like a Hydronalix, who are doing this incredible, innovative work. 

Then you extrapolate that further, you look at our offices in places where there are more of the traditional marine technology hubs or clusters, as Michael defines them, via this triple helix concept, whether it’s on the Gulf Coast, whether it’s, of course, here in San Diego, Seattle, Newton, Massachusetts, and the Greater New England area. There’s all of this business in all of these regions. Then globally, as our officers and our commercial specialists started to see that there was all this market demand in their areas, regardless of what industries were there that we really needed to focus and be a lot more strategic about this. 

Over time, that’s exactly what’s happened. We’ve been very lucky working alongside great folks like Michael to really help us collectively put our heads together to do this in a much more effective way than we otherwise would. 

[00:22:12] Derrick: Understood. What should potential clients in this space consider before going global? Do you feel there’s certain things that are different with this space from other industries? I know, Christina touched on it a little bit, but maybe you could elaborate? 

[00:22:27] Aaron: I think Christina’s points are incredibly well taken. I would say because a lot of these companies, as Michael noted, are inherently global from the outset, they sometimes run into a lot of issues that startups inherently face. They’ve got a market demand for their products overseas, but maybe they don’t have the internal infrastructure yet, the financing, the production capabilities to scale up, et cetera, to respond to those market demands as quickly as a more established company would that already has its finances set that has its ability to scale up production, that has the facilities and the resources and the teams in place to do all of those things. 

It does happen on occasion where sometimes where small companies in the marine tech space, but also outside the Marine Tech space aren’t able to respond as effectively as they otherwise might because they don’t have the infrastructure in place. It’s that striking that balance of having enough infrastructure in place from the outset, so they can respond is, I think, a primary importance. When I say respond, that means being able to answer questions that come in from potential clients, having a website and a social media presence that provides the information that folks overseas are looking for, and again, being able to produce whatever the product is and ship it, and annex payments in a timely manner. You’re looking at both the macro as well as the micro issues that companies need to look at. 

[00:24:06] Derrick: Wonderful. I see, Tony, you’ve been able to join, happy to have you. Maybe you could just tell us quickly about yourself and your company. I know you were on a podcast, so we definitely have a lot of good info on you. If you could just give us a little bit about yourself and your company. 

[00:24:22] Anthony Mulligan: I’m Anthony Mulligan. I’m the CEO and president of Hydronalix. We’re a manufacturer of small robotic rescue systems to assist people that are drowning or distressed in the ocean or rivers, lakes. We initially started as a cooperative research and development agreement with NOAA, 11 and a half years ago or so. We came up with this concept of a small robot boat used to monitor marine mammals to if we put a float on it, we could rescue people in rough water. That’s turned into the EMILY product line, which we now distribute in 33, 34 different countries. It’s a product that we manufacture in the US, in a rural community that’s primarily a farming community and a copper mining community. 

The other high-tech companies are— it’s like the carwash. Nearly the entire product is made in this rural community. 90% of our outside suppliers are within a 30-mile radius, and we actually have no customers in the state of Arizona. Primarily, we sell to the coastguard agencies of other countries or the police agencies or to the humanitarian agencies and to large American municipalities that have fire departments that do water search and rescue. About half of our EMILY business is foreign export. 

[00:26:24] Derrick: Got you. At a previous podcast, and then also Christina mentioned something that was interesting, you said the business started as a hobby. Christina mentioned that before she had to take off, that you were into the aerospace industry. I’m curious about why the concept was developed, and what prompted you to develop these products, these line of products? 

[00:26:51] Anthony: My previous business started as a materials research company, that developed a lot of interesting products that had an impact. We developed a very high-speeds manufacturer a composite component, similar to an aerospace component, that was used for making computer hard drive disks. Within a few years, we had 40% of the global market for the people who manufactured this the memory platter for hard drive. That company went on to also develop advanced technologies for oil drilling, a way of processing a diamond coating, that led the drill bit last three times longer than a regular diamond coating. 

We also went on, we developed a ceramic airbag detonator, which ended up becoming the major system of use for most airbags in cars. A little ceramic nozzle that the gas expels out of when it’s filling your airbag. We also developed rapid prototyping. In the early ’90s, we had some of the early patents, which everyone calls 3D printing now. One of the later technologies in early 2000s was basically putting small high-end computers and radios in what, at the time, was basically a radio control model airplane. We started building military drones, again, initially to look for whales in the ocean before the Navy turned on their sonar. 

Those drones became very prevalent. The war started, and we grew very quickly, and we ended up producing drones that were used in pretty much all the continents except for Antarctica. That business was sold to British Aerospace, BAe in 2009, and my agreement was not to compete or build UAVs for a period of time. The guys at NOAA asked us, “Hey, could you build some robot boats that they could use to monitor the animals on the beach that would stay together if the big wave crushed it on the rocks?” I looked at the problem and I thought, “If I approach this like the way we build a high-end UAV, the military ones or the science ones,” where I worry about energy and density. 

The robot boat is really the same as a drone. It just has no wings, and it has a really small propeller. It doesn’t have a big propeller that a plane has. All the other supply chain and technology and subcomponents would all be directly applicable for the small robot boat. The idea was why not take advantage of this huge investment the government’s made and society has made in producing aerial drones and use this to immediately be able to produce the state of the art water drone. That’s where the concept started and what turned out to be a good path to follow. 

[00:30:31] Derrick: Thank you, Tony. Michael, to you. As Tony was speaking, I was curious about how you work with companies like Hydronalix or other companies similar or in that space. 

[00:30:47] Michael: Every company is different with some companies— Tony, for example, went with us on a mission to Europe, and he’s one of the companies that know a lot about the international sales. Many of the smaller companies we were going with were really first-timers and didn’t quite know how to find international partners. Having somebody like Tony with us was very helpful. He went on to meet with some potential clients and in the Netherlands, for example. I know that he credits that trip as having helped him make some sales to various groups in Holland. Other companies would be different. 

They’re looking for sometimes distributors, sometimes big customers. Each of the companies come for a slightly different reason. They’re members of TMA BlueTech, again, so that they can be party to something really big or where we can get the attention of organizations like the US Commercial Service, Department of Commerce, State Department and sometimes help open doors or support the companies. We do it company by company, but we’re also doing it in toto, so that our multiple companies can benefit from working with the US Commercial Service around the world. 

We have had the opportunity, working typically with air and coordinate, but people from Korea and Japan and Indonesia to Mexico, Peru, Brazil, South Africa, of course across Europe as well name. The country, and we have probably talked with some US Commercial Service international trade administration people in that country typically because one or more of our companies are interested in that country, again, finding distributors, finding customers, wanting to license their technology. Our roles are different for each company. We work really hand-in-hand with the US Commercial Service around the world. Tony’s needs might be different from five more of my companies, but all of them are trying to figure out how to find the right path to success in the international arena. 

[00:33:20] Derrick: Got you. Then, Tony, back to you. How were you introduced to the US Commercial Service? 

[00:33:26] Anthony: I was approached by a number of people, not just including Michael. I had known some of the staff in previous positions. We had an awareness for a while. We knew who they were. We knew some of the people. It was really more of we approached— When we came to a point where we said, “Hey, we’re getting all these requests from foreign entities to buy our boat.” He’d seen it on YouTube or on the internet. We actually did that storybook thing, and we called him, and we looked it up. We found the phone number, and we called him. He said, “This is what we’re doing. Can we talk to you? Can you help us?” 

On that first call, we were extremely naïve on what needs to happen. We had no real idea of how we’re going to start. We just knew that we’re getting interest internationally, and we had decided as our company was gelling that we wanted to try to get expert sales as much as possible. We had mentally decided that it was the way to go. We fit in our new strategic plan for what we want to do as a company. Then we really called and executed, is the easiest way to say it. We’d already known the individuals that were involved in these things and in different areas. Other people have told us this is the way to go. The first challenge we had was, “How do we ascertain what is controlled export and not controlled? 

What is international trades in arms regulations? ITAR, what do we have to do for licensing or which products can we sell that we can self-regulate or self-certify to minimize?” The office helped us basically put together what our catalog should be and how they should be. Because we do other technologies that are and is readily easy to export because we’re also a defense contractor. The office was very helpful. Christina spent a lot of time helping us work through the process and also helped us to establish now what do we have to apply for ITAR licenses on and not. We also got a lot of good advice on terms for selling for. Then that got us going, and then the real big lifting started with getting us involved in having support from officers and embassies. 

The TMA thing, when we went with the TMA delegate visit to Europe in that particular case, there are several little things that added up into the equation where we ended up getting the right distributors and the right customers, and had enough credibility with the customers for them to go ahead and invest in us. Because just like an American company leery about buying something overseas, our foreign counterparts are very worried, like how do they know this is real, that they won’t get ripped off or cheated. The delegation visits and trips really help go a long way with that because the vetting that happens. 

[00:37:42] Derrick: Sounds good. Aaron, could you speak to the US Commercial Services role when it comes to helping clients with things like ITAR and control regulations? 

[00:37:54] Aaron: Yes. Absolutely. With those particular issues is something quite limited. We can advise and direct the companies to our counterparts at the Bureau of Industry and Security who have jurisdiction over, in particular the EAR. ITAR, of course, is covered by the state department. Again, we can help vector companies to the state department’s resources as well as when we’re able to access them the actual points of contact. We can only go so far because, again, that is a little bit outside of our scope, and we don’t want to necessarily get into waters that part in the pond that are beyond our jurisdiction. 

One thing that we do do and I think it’s very important is telling companies that, “Hey, if you are a company like Tony’s, and you are working in the defense space or you are working in a space where sensitive technologies are involved, you need to be aware of export control policy and export control compliance issues. Because if you’re not, you might get a very unfriendly knock on your door.” Raising that point in companies to the resources, so they can at least get smart on all those issues is, I think, very, very part and parcel of our responsibility. 

We can’t get into defining commodity classification for companies and the like because that really is Bureau of Industry and Security’s jurisdiction or, again, in the case of ITAR, State Department’s jurisdiction. We do have a lot of great resources on our website. Most of us are pretty familiar— we know enough to be dangerous so to speak, so that we can at least let our companies know of the things that they need to be aware of as they embark globally. 

[00:39:50] Derrick: Got you. Gents, I just want you to know, just to have maybe a few more questions, and then we’ll say our parting pieces. Tony, on last podcast you were on, you mentioned two million in exports. I know you talked about some challenges with understanding ITAR and control regs. I was wondering if you faced any challenges, more specific to exporting and in terms of dealing with partners or sales or if there was a particular country you had a more difficult time accessing. 

[00:40:30] Anthony: It’s up and down with the Middle East countries. Sometimes, when we’re going to trade shows in those locations, sometimes our product is never allowed to leave the airport, even though it’s EAR99. For instance, we have products that we can sell to other militaries or police organizations that look tactical in nature, like they’re a military item, but they’re truly a very simple EAR99 type of thing. There’s no advanced radios or processing software or autonomy. They’re all manually controlled. We’ve had a Customs person look at it and say, “We’re not going to let that in.” Sometimes we never [inaudible 00:41:39] period of the conference. 

Then there’s been a number of times where the foreign trade service has been very helpful with us and has gotten support from the local embassy. Like in the case of Bahrain, and we were able to get our products into the show, and then that leads to sales. We’ve had similar incidences in UAE. Those tend to be more for a special project, for the king in Saudi Arabia looking for a missing child where staff was on a layover in the airport, and our gear was pulled off the plane, and our staff has pulled off the plane. It took a couple of days to get that worked out. Fortunately, we had the help for that. We have no hard feelings about those things. 

We understand why they happen, but having a relationship with the Department of Commerce and the State Department is a valuable thing when there’s misunderstandings. Those kinds of misunderstandings can happen in the US. I don’t want to discourage anyone, but it’s really good to team with them. We’ve also seen a lot of help with some projects we’re working on with Singapore and with Korea. It’s always a catfight where you’re scratching and clawing your way to success for almost any type of project. They provide what we see is with the foreign trade office, it gives us more tools and more opportunity to try to secure what we’re doing. 

To all the entrepreneurs out there listening, you know that you always need every advantage you can get. Every little bit of help does add up. Sometimes it’s not definitive whether that little bit of help did the trick or not. When you look back at things that failed, but there are always things like, “Oh, maybe if we had this, and maybe we had that.” I just strongly recommend that you do get all the help you can. Because it is a tall order when you’re trying to do export because you’re talking about competing on a global scale now, and it’s no longer the people in your city that you’re used to competing with or your state or your country. Now, you’re talking about the best counterparts in the rest of the world. You really need to take advantage of all the help you can get. 

[00:44:39] Derrick: Perfect. Thank you. Michael, I meant to come back to this earlier, but [chuckles] I think we touched on it, but maybe you could just elaborate more just in case to tell us about how the BlueTech Alliance came to be, and how it’s helped TMA’s members internationally. 

[00:45:05] Michael: One of the ways we believe we can best help our companies is to have relationships with other clusters in other countries. The responsibility that we have to each other is if a Norwegian company or a Portuguese company that is a member of our counterpart cluster in those countries wants to come to the United States, I’m obligated to assist them typically to try and find a US partner, not to help them find direct sales and vice versa. They’re really supposed to help our companies that are going overseas. It’s amazing how that can assist. We’ve probably had about seven companies, if I remember correctly, where we made introductions typically through our partners to our partner clusters. 

That cluster relationship that you alluded to is called the BlueTech Cluster Alliance. There are 10 clusters in 8 countries. We help each other. Again, we help each other figure out ways to work together, but we’re really there for our respective members. The countries are Canada, France, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, the US, and the UK. I’ll give you one quick example that Tony, I think, may be aware of, but we were on the phone with the US Commerce Service officer in Portugal. We were talking about ways that we work with companies, and she had arranged for us to talk to a US Commercial Service person in the Netherlands. 

The account officer that we know very well in Lisbon said, “Oh my gosh, I really want to talk to Tony at Hydronalix because I think there’s a real opportunity in Portugal. We know the right people to introduce them to.” Now, I don’t even know since I haven’t had a chance to talk to Tony yet whether or not he’s already selling in Portugal, but what’s so wonderful is that this network, in this case, it wasn’t the cluster, but it was talking about how we work with clusters and was there a cluster in Holland. We’re already working with the national cluster in Portugal along with the US Commercial Service. We have just set up TMA Europe in Portugal. The US Commercial Service is helping us. 

The way we’re doing it is by taking space with our cluster partner there, so we can better support our companies. It’s a great example of how one step leads to another, which hopefully, will lead to potential sales for one of our companies and the ability to better get them integrated into opportunities, in this case, in Portugal or in Holland. It’s just a wonderful relationship we have with US Commerce Service and we have with our cluster partners. We’re also trying to help create— I should rephrase that. We’re trying to help other countries create organized clusters. We’ve been working with Korea and Japan most recently, as they have been putting together clusters. 

Again, we’ve worked with Aaron with the US Commercial Service. Because, again, this is like a team sport. It’s just like we say that our companies come together to create a choir. It’s very rare that a single voice is as loud as a choir. It’s the same thing here. It takes a village to raise a child. It really also takes a village to help our US companies export successfully. Sometimes that’ll be cluster to cluster support, sometimes it will be cluster to government. It’ll be business to business, cluster to business. There’s lots of permeations, but it’s always about aggregating the ways that we can help our company and our members. 

[00:49:14] Derrick: Michael, thank you. I just have one last question for each of you. I see Christina has also joined. We could start with you, Michael, Tony, you started hitting on this. Michael, any advice you have for blue tech companies looking to go global. 

[00:49:35] Michael: Wow. I think, first of all, I would say that the maritime industry is different than many other industries. This is a global industry, and as I said earlier before Tony joined us, many of our companies, their first sale might be in Indonesia or Portugal or somewhere else around the world. It truly is an international industry. I would say the companies, for the most part, know they need to go international, but they don’t necessarily understand how clusters can help them and how the US Commercial Service and ITA can assist them around the world. Tony mentioned that was a learning process for him. Obviously, Christina is on this particular call where she’s been working with him. 

In our case, it’s been Aaron working with our companies. I think the closer the relationship with the US Commercial Service whose role it is to help companies export successfully and if you have a cluster in your region, a blue tech cluster, those two working hand in hand, I think, really can do a lot to help companies. 

Sometimes companies are reluctant, either because they’re so busy or they don’t realize the power that can be brought to bear. We’re fortunate that Aaron and his team, both in San Diego and around the world, have been very proactive and tried to meet companies and be helpful. We have nothing but compliments for US Commercial Service and ITA and of course for our own members in ways we can work together. 

[00:51:17] Derrick: Thank you. Tony, any other tips from you? 

[00:51:22] Anthony: I would encourage to the businesses and entrepreneurs that are listening that you have so many things on your plate and so many issues that can cause a problem for you and slow you down. The more areas that you can get help, the better off you are. Getting help from somebody to do something doesn’t mean you’re weak, it means that you’re taking the smart path. Stronger entities that ask for help have better growth than if they don’t ask for help. What I see as over many years is that delegation visits, delegation trips really accelerate the relationship building process because now you’re part of a vetted group. 

Even if you’re not so sure how well the group is vetted, the potential customers on the other side see it as a vetted group. You have the advantage of a lot of positive assumptions being made that there’s no businesses of poor reputation or poor credibility that are involved in that group. People are willing to let the relationship build faster. Of course, speed is very important for any business because the faster you can do things or the sooner you can get things set up, the sooner you make a profit, the sooner you have growth, the sooner that you have more financial strength. 

I encourage anyone listening too, if you’re not participating in these types of activities, with delegation types of activities, where you go with a group, you really should. You really should look at competing globally because whether you compete or not, you’re still going to have the same competition. You might as well take advantage and get the expanded customer base. That’s my suggestion. 

[00:53:49] Derrick: Thank you, Tony. Aaron, any tips from you? 

[00:53:53] Aaron: Yes. I just would recommend that companies that are looking to go global after they’ve done their initial research to reach out to us anytime. If they’re in San Diego, contact me. Of course, if they’re in Tucson, contact Christina. Please come find us via our website at and we’ll help you out, we’ll help direct you to the right resources if they’re outside of our organization. Of course, if they’re in our organization, we’ll help you directly. We can only help the companies that contact us. Again, that’s why we’re so grateful to TMA Blue Tech and our partners around the United States and world that cover various industries to serve as a vehicle for us, as a force multiplier for us to get in front of more companies. 

[00:54:40] Derrick: Perfect. Christina, what about you? 

[00:54:42] Christina: What I would say is that there are no mistakes in using our services and our market research services even if it seems that the market might not be the most ideal market or the easiest one to enter. I’ve seen some of these introductions and information provided take years to pay off but still pay off. I think that the more that you can learn about the markets you want to enter, the better off you will be and how much easier is it than using our services and our staff around the world that are in those markets and can give you a very upfront and honest discussion of what it will take to be successful in that market. 

[00:55:23] Derrick: Thank you. Aaron and Christina, anything coming up for the marine technology team that our audience or listener should know about? 

[00:55:35] Aaron: I’ll start and then Christina, if there’s anything you would like to add, I do know that we are looking to organize a series of virtual coffee chats focused on key markets throughout Asia. That schedule will be forthcoming. We’ll be putting all of our upcoming content and programs in our next marine technology newsletter, which comes out monthly. 

[00:55:58] Christina: I would suggest everyone subscribe to our distribution lists. Because there are a lot of really detailed webinars and calls you can join virtually that can provide that kind of information much less expensively, and that we can also at least get started in the virtual format before things open up and everyone can meet in person. 

[00:56:23] Derrick: Sounds good. Michael, how do people get in touch with you or your organization? 

[00:56:28] Michael: The easiest way is to go to our website, We look forward to hearing from people. We have an info app and our own individual emails are also shown as well. We, of course, look forward to hearing from companies. Tony’s firm in Arizona is one of our members. We have members in Boston and the Pacific Northwest. The largest environmental cleanup company in Brazil is a member. A leading big data company in South Africa focused on fishing and fishing industry is a member. One of the biggest blue tech companies in France. We have both domestic and international members, and that’s what we live for is to help our member companies. Please reach out to us if we can be of any assistance. 

[00:57:18] Derrick: Sounds good. Tony, how do people get in contact with you and your company? 

[00:57:23] Anthony: We have a website, H-Y-D-R-O-N-A-L-I-X or you can just Google search EMILY robot. If any entrepreneurs are looking for some advice or one on one discussion, they can email me at T-O-N-Y.mulligan, M-U-L-L-I-G-A-N I’ll be happy to respond. 

[00:58:03] Derrick: This podcast is intended to provide information that may be of assistance to US companies. Statements made by Export Nation podcast guests reflect the views and opinions of that individual. This podcast does not constitute an endorsement by the US Commercial Service of the individual, his or her employer or affiliated entity. The specific information provided, resources mentioned or products or services endorsed or offered by that individual and his or her employer or affiliated entity. The US Commercial Service assumes no responsibility for the accuracy, completeness or timeliness of the information provided by the guest or for the decisions made in reliance on any information provided by the guest in this podcast. 

The information provided in this podcast does not constitute legal advice. Thank you for listening to this episode of Export Nation, brought to you by the US Commercial Service. For more information on how you can get started exporting, please visit 

[00:59:05] [END OF AUDIO] 

Relevant Links

Partner Information:

TMA BlueTech
San Diego, California

Company Information:

Green Valley, Arizona

Local Offices: 

U.S. Commercial Service San Diego
U.S. Commercial Service Tucson

Trade Specialist:

Aron Davidson -
Christina Parisi -