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WHOI Announces D’Works Marine Technology Initiative for Massachusetts Startups and Entrepreneurs

Advanced tools at WHOI’s DunkWorks rapid prototyping facility are among those available to startups, entrepreneurs, and others who receive funding through the new D’Works innovation fund. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

August 26, 2020

Massachusetts has long been known as a center of invention and technical innovation and, more recently, has gained attention for its vibrant marine robotics startup community. Now startup companies, entrepreneurs, and others in the Commonwealth who work in the marine robotics and related technologies sector, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, will have a new partner to help them develop products and technologies and bring their ideas to market.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech) are teaming up to make WHOI’s unique mix of resources available through the D’Works Marine Technology Initiative to accelerate the pace of marine technology innovation.

“Our goal is to help move ideas from the concept stage to at-sea operations as efficiently as possible,” said James Bellingham, Director of WHOI’s Center for Marine Robotics (CMR). “To do this, we're making WHOI’s specialized facilities and expertise available to the entrepreneurial community.”

The Innovation Institute at MassTech  has seeded the D’Works Innovation Fund via CMR for qualified companies to access WHOI facilities, as well as technical and engineering support, building on a previous $5 million grant to support the construction of DunkWorks Advanced Manufacturing and Rapid Prototyping Center and several other new test facilities at WHOI. Applications will be accepted beginning August 26 on a rolling basis through the fall, with the first awards expected to be announced by September 30.

“WHOI’s work at the leading edge of oceanographic research is based on a combination of deep understanding of the ocean and how it works,” said WHOI Deputy Director and Vice President for Research Rick Murray. “WHOI is pleased to work with the MassTech to support the growth of marine robotics, AI, and related technologies that will benefit from WHOI’s state-of-the-art testing facilities. In turn, we expect that marine research will also advance through the innovative ideas tested by entrepreneurs.”

“The funding for the D’Works initiative will expand access to WHOI’s world-class facilities, helping grow new startups and further strengthening our state’s position as the number one region in the world for marine and blue tech innovation,” added Carolyn Kirk, Executive Director of MassTech. “What sets Massachusetts apart is not only our top R&D facilities, but also the talented researchers and innovators that can help entrepreneurs grow their business.”

 D’Works funding is intended to support the use of critical fabrication and testing equipment and facilities by startups, entrepreneurs and innovators to develop marketable robotic devices, vehicles, AI, or sensors for use in the marine environment. Available WHOI facilities include the DunkWorks Advanced Manufacturing and Rapid Prototyping Center, WHOI’s advanced pressure test and calibration facilities, the Iselin Marine Facility and test well, and WHOI’s skilled carpentry, electrical, and mechanical staff.

Accepted D’Works Innovators are not limited to shore-based testing. Through the program, startups may also make use of WHOI’s coastal research vessel Tioga and small boat fleet, scientific dive program, and offshore infrastructure at the Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory. Applicants may also implement and test technologies at other WHOI facilities, or apply for membership in the CMR DunkWorks Program.

“Our ideal applicant has a prototype for what they believe to be a working technology in the pre-scaling stage,” said Leslie Ann McGee, CMR assistant director. “This fund is for those innovators or technologists who need access to facilities like we have at WHOI but don’t have the funding for a larger, traditional project at WHOI."

To apply, Massachusetts-based applicants must submit a proposal outlining specific project milestones and demonstrate how modest funding will advance those goals from a technological and marketing standpoint. Minority and women-owned companies are encouraged to apply. More information is available at

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit