Founder Feature: Protecting our oceans with underwater drones

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Published by Oslo Business Region, 23 February 2024

Winning a hackathon inspired Becky Wightman to leave a lucrative law career to launch an underwater drone startup.

Becky Wightman, COO and co-founder of oceantech startup Syrenna, thrives off variety and face-paced innovation.

“The other week, I was on the electric boat Brim Explorer presenting to Prince Daniel of Sweden. And just a couple of days ago, I visited the British Embassy for a networking event. No two days are ever the same. There’s just so much variety in what we do, and that’s one of the great things about it,” Becky says.

The Oslo-based startup she co-founded, Syrenna, combines AI and advanced robotic solutions to collect, process and visualize ocean data. The company’s product, the WaterDrone, transmits information via 4G, 5G and satellite, enabling customers to access and visualize the data via a user-friendly data platform.

The drones can be used, for example, to provide environmental data for the entire lifecycle of an offshore windfarm, from the pre-construction phase, all the way through to construction, operation and decommissioning at the end of its life. They also have many other uses, including the monitoring of subsea cables whereby the drones can alert customers about unexpected incidents and the monitoring of carbon capture and storage sites.

More than 80 percent of the ocean has never been mapped, explored or even seen by humans, according to National Geographic. Getting data from the ocean is difficult, expensive and time-consuming.

"We want to be leading the way in protecting the health of our oceans by changing the way that ocean data is collected, making it cheaper and easier than it is now,” Becky explains.

“Although we still don't know much about the ocean, there's more and more economic activity going on there. Our goal is to help make sure that these new industries scale sustainably in a way that doesn't damage the oceans.”

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A spontaneous leap from law to entrepreneurship

Becky grew up on the island Guernsey, the second largest in the Channel Islands. At 18, she left the island to attend university in London, where she studied contemporary history and journalism. She worked as a journalist for a local paper for a year (“probably one of the most fun years of my career”).

She went on to study law and pursued her career in Guernsey and the UK. Along the way, she met her Norwegian girlfriend and started looking into giving Oslo a try. Quite quickly she was able to land a job at a law firm in Oslo and relocated. That was six years ago.

During the pandemic in 2021, Becky heard about a 48-hour hackathon, “Hack the Crisis Norway,” and convinced her girlfriend to join her. They won first place.

Once the entrepreneurial flame ignited, there was no stopping it.

“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. As a teenager, I took part in the Young Enterprise scheme whereby students from across all of Guernsey´s schools formed companies to sell products and services. I was the managing director of our company and at the end of the program our company won! But then I got derailed and did the sensible thing. So this kind of got me back on my entrepreneurial track,” Becky says.

She worked on building the concept that she had created for the hackathon, a gift card app, into a company but lost momentum when the competition outpaced her.

Not easily discouraged, Becky joined the startup generator program Antler later that year and met her future Syrenna co-founders Ester Strømmen and Alex Alcocer. Robotics professor Alcocer had invented an underwater drone and was looking for a team interested in commercializing the product. Becky joined the team, and at the end of the program, they got their first capital investment.

“Things just snowballed from there,” says Becky, now the COO of Syrenna.

She commends Oslo’s growing startup ecosystem which gives startups like hers a boost with resources from Innovation Norway, the Research Council of Norway and various accelerator and incubator programs.

“There's quite a lot of support and good funding opportunities to be had. The infrastructure for startups in Oslo is really good, and I think that's just going to get better and better over time,” she adds.

“ I am really proud that we are building something that will have a positive impact on our ocean’s health. Seeing our tech come to life is something special. ”

Oslo as a home base for a diverse, international team

“What I love about being an entrepreneur is having the autonomy to make quick decisions. If we decide something's a good idea, we have a team meeting and make it happen. That's really refreshing.” says Becky.

“I love Oslo as a city. It's a clean and safe environment to live in, and great for children. It doesn’t quite have the energy of London, but in some ways, I think that’s a good thing. And I love the fact that I have a 15 minute cycle to work everyday,” says Becky who lives with her girlfriend and their three-year-old in the Grünerløkka neighborhood.

The company’s small team of six represents four nationalities. Co-founders Alex and Ester are from Spain and Norway respectively. The company’s two engineers are Egyptian, and the head of sales is from the UK.

“Building a culture of diversity and inclusion is important to us, and our different backgrounds really bring strength to the team,” says Becky. “It’s nice to have females in a traditionally male-dominated sector and an array of different nationalities on the team. I’m gay as well. So we’ve got a real mixed bag here, in the best possible sense.”

Having a team with a global mindset opens doors to other markets. Syrenna has so far completed two customer pilots in Norway and is planning its first international one in the UK this April.

“There’s a lot of pride and joy in building something,” she says.


Founder: Becky Wightman

Country of origin: Guernsey, Channel Islands

Company: Syrenna AS

Year founded: 2022

What the company does: An oceantech company applying advanced subsea robotic solutions and AI to improve ocean data collection and visualization.

Sector: Oceantech

Number of employees: A team of six – three employees and three consultants. Countries represented are Norway, Guernsey, Spain, UK and Egypt.

Markets served:Norway to start - with plans to expand in Europe then globally.

How startups and scaleups contribute to Norway's economy

Want know more about how Syrenna and other Oslo-based startups contribute to the Norwegian economy? Nearly 2000 startups and scaleups in the Oslo region have a combined value creation of NOK 3.1 billion and employ 4,500 people. Learn more here.