Financing an undersea station

financing an undersea station

(Updated 07.06.2017; added crowdfunding, daily turnover by educational institutions and underwater archaeology) The most professional underwater habitat so far is still the Aquarius habitat in Florida. This quality comes to a certain price of $1.2 to $3 million per year. Due to budget cuts, NOAA ceased funding Aquarius habitat after September 2012, with no further missions scheduled after a July 2012 mission. It was a very exciting period having the facility on risk. It took until January 2013 when a proposal to keep Aquarius running under Florida International University administration was accepted. What could we do in future projects to avoid sooner or later close-downs by lacks of financing?

Example ‘Aquarius Reef Base

Aquarius is a reef base with a zero incident history until 2009 when one of the technicians had a fatal accident. Until then the procedures of Aquarius proved perfectly well for nearly 20 years. Additionally there are statements in the internet claiming that not strictly following diving procedures are to be held responsible for the accident. Beside rules that divers have to obey, these procedures include long trainings, a huge number of support personnel and a big bunch of technical equipment leading to a high budget, which is generally justified to avoid risks carried by saturation environments.

On the other side mission participants are generally coming from universities or government agencies like NASA who are ready to pay a high price for their research. Recently Aquarius started to offer trainings and missions for civilians, but there are no information about the success of this new offer.

As a matter of fact Aquarius is a scientific laboratory on a stationary location and with an unchangeable size addressing scientific institutions only. This leads to the conclusion that the potential results of missions will be limited, and repeated missions of the same institution improbable, while the number of institutions ready to pay the high mission costs in the first place is low.

How can we make these parameters more variable in our project in order to maintain higher financial independence and how can we make it cheaper without making great concessions in terms of safety? Maybe it is appropriate to …

  • divide the financing stages into two, the initial and the daily financing,
  • to search for potential client groups
  • and to increase the attractivity of the facility accordingly.

Initial Financing

In the past years we have seen that it is very difficult to attract investors for the initial building of even a small habitat. In the beginning we concentrated on educational institutions who always were very interested, but not able to lift the initial costs. So we reconsidered the groups that might be interested in undersea habitation:

Educational Institutions

… are still first choice since an underwater laboratory meets their field of interest. Educational institutions would receive a laboratory in the most unusual location and environment. They will be able to conduct trainings in oceanography, biology and engineering at the land base, around the habitat and inside the habitat. They will be able to broadcast from their missions to all of their students live over the internet, and let them join interactively. Student groups from several countries will be able to visit the location, boosting the brand of the connected local university.

According to the investment they will be able to use designated panels on the outer shell and certain interior areas as well as participant uniforms for placing their logos and use them for advertising purposes. Some of our mission proposals will maintain high media coverage and therefore represent a high degree of advertisement internationally.

In return we would offer beside the main habitat a smaller habitat that can be positioned in other locations while keeping in touch with the main habitat and the institution live online.

While the habitat will be accessible for other participants when it is not used by the institution, the modular concept of the main habitat allows extensions according to different requirements only accessible for members of the institution. Therefore it will be possible to add other modules to the main body. Each module will contain a corridor to reach every part of the structure without to be forced to pass each room.

The initial investment granted by one ore more parties at the same time will be calculated to cover at least one year of operation consisting of each a six months construction and operation period. Any funding for further operation (see daily financing below) will be recalculated.

Advertisers

Companies of any sector who want to support a thrilling project like an undersea habitation to advertise will be able to use the already mentioned panels on the outer shell and certain interior areas as well as participant uniforms for placing their logos. The habitat name might be something like ‘The Fisher Steel Habitat‘ or ‘Smith Insurance Station‘ for the duration of the contract. Some of our mission proposals will maintain high media coverage and therefore represent a high degree of advertisement internationally. The panels will be attached in such a way that they will be visible on all photos and videos. Coverage will start during construction and continue during positioning and operation.

The habitat will be offered for missions to educational institutions or civilians. In this case they will be able to receive more affordable rates, but use less advertisement areas in return, since they are separated from the main sponsor.

The advertisement areas might also be shared by more than one advertiser, which reduces the costs per company. The initial investment will be calculated to cover at least one year of operation consisting of each a six months construction and operation period. Any funding for further operation (see daily financing below) will be recalculated.

Private Supporters

As a private supporter you will be part of a spectacular project that aims to provide a platform, that in the future might lead to settle human beings on the ocean floor. The volume of the initial project is absolutely variable. Since the concepts contain modularity as a main feature, each module can be subdivided according to the available funding. The minimum amount for a first project still has to be calculated, but it seems like being around 150.000 € for a small habitat, that will act as a development platform (e.g. for docking techniques) and as an attractor for further investments. It will be a mobile habitat to be used in different environments and later be fully integrated in the following main structure.

Later there will be a possibility to rent a complete room inside the habitat for private purposes like a laboratory or hideaway. Except the technical staff and official controls nobody will be able to enter that room.

Tourism

This habitat will be open to recreational divers regularly. Therefore there will be a floating platform and swimming boundary on the surface from where snorkelers can watch the habitat and the activities around it. Freedivers will be able to approach the habitat and the surrounding underwater park, while being caught on photos and videos on request. Vicinity Divers will be able to book dives around the habitat, while Habitat Visitors even enter it for a short visit within the non-decompression time. For these entering visits there will be special trainings included in the price and they require appropriate certification and experience.  All these offers will be very affordable in means of time and cost.

Later there will be a possibility to enter the habitat for longer stays. This  exposure to saturation conditions will require a certain training and diving experience as well as extensive safety measures. Demands, costs and risks have to be evaluated.

Visitors will have the possibility to visit the land station, where they can have a live conversation with aquanauts in the habitat or join courses in the workshop concerning environmental protection, marine biology, habitat history or just speciality certifications. A small number of merchandising products will be available as well.

The undersea habitat will be  a very attractive highlight for any touristic region. By representing readiness for innovation, dedication, technology and environmental awareness, it has a huge effect on advertising and brand value. The Ithaa Undersea Restaurant of Conrad Hotels on the Maldives costed $5 million in construction. It is unlikely that the restaurant itself returns this amount directly, while the value for the company is priceless. As for our habitat it must be stated, that the volume of touristic activities will probably not be enough to return the initial costs, though it will play a major role in covering the daily expenses.

Consequently potential investors for touristic purposes are hotel chains, travel agencies or government institutions like ministries for tourism.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding sounds like an easy solution for getting the initial financing, until you have a look at the statistic below.  (for all non-germanophones:) As you can see technology projects are on the third place after games (!) and design projects in terms of collected amounts. Still a very promising number.

But on the right you can see the percentage of successful projects stating that only 20% of technology projects were actually successful, which is the worst result of all sectors.

Quelle: © FAZ.NET / Statista – Lizenz: CC BY-ND

So, this is the problem: even the most simple undersea station is costy, at least more costy than a painting exhibition.  With higher amounts the probability of collecting enough drops. To get the best result we have to promote the camapign and focus all interested people and our entire network to the campaign. If this campaign fails by not generating enough money we might lose participants and credibility.

See as an example the SeaOrbiter project of Jacques Rougerie. The probability to get this great concept financed is low. What he did (and what we try to do, too) is to divide the constuction into modules and offer them for example to the crowdfunding community. The campaign to construct the ‘eye of SeaOrbiter’ generated 345.000 € (!) in 2015, 6% more than the targeted amount, and covered the construction of the shell of that module, which awaits next steps ever since. Not to be misunderstood: it is a great project and we really hope that it will be finished one day, but if the shell of a small module takes years to be funded, how long takes the complete construction then. While the ‘eye of SeaOrbiter’ is not usable alone we have to target from the beginning a small module, which is completely implementable into the end concept, but also usable as a stand-alone module, similar to the International Space Station (ISS).

So here is what we have to do before turning to crowdfunding:

  • Split the concept into the smallest full functioning module
  • Keep the price as low as possible
  • Try to attract and include as many sectors as possible
  • Find out the probability of being successful
  • WAIT (!) until the probability is high enough
  • Create a convincing presentation
  • Agree on the best date to start the campaign
  • Do it!

Daily Turnover

An important issue is the location of the habitat in the Mediterranean, right between Europe (including Russia), the Middle-East and Northern Africa. This location covers numerous countries, cultures and languages with their own scientific and cultural agendas. A habitat in the Mediterranean would be a premiere since all former stations were closed several years or even decades before.

This is the plan of keeping the project running once it is financed, built and put on position:

Educational Institutions

Schools and universities will have the opportunity of reserving certain times to connect live from their classroom to the underwater habitat (as still done in Jules Undersea Lodge in Florida/USA). They will be able to send their own participant to connect to. Since Stage 1 of the project aims a shallow depth it will also be accessible to students. Fees for these offers will be as low as possible in order to involve the most important group of people: the young generation, that is forming the future of this blue planet.

Science: Underwater Archaeology

The beginning Stage 1  of the project will be a mobile habitat. Like this it surely will attract the attention of underwater archaeologists as discussed already with leading authorities in this sector, who expressed their interest. Underwater habitats were not used for underwater archaeology yet, so the potential of them can only be estimated roughly, while the Mediterranean is the cradle of western civilization and therefore full of historical sites. The habitat and the support team can then be reserved for certain projects.

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