Blue World's crowdfunding also builds community of cruisers

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Blue World Voyages' ship will have a unique floating lap pool.
Blue World Voyages' ship will have a unique floating lap pool.

Starting a cruise line takes a lot of capital, and a new name in cruising is trying the novel financing method known as crowdfunding to get to the point where it can actually acquire a ship and sail.

Miami-based Blue World Voyages is letting investors buy in for as little as $500 through the SEC-registered crowdfunding portal Wefunder.com. The campaign met its initial goal of $100,000, having raised $112,111 to date from 62 investors.

But that's hardly enough to launch a cruise line. Gene Meehan, founder and chairman of Blue World, said raising funds is only part of the point.

"Our No. 1 goal in crowdfunding is to create a community of healthy, active people who understand our product and who look forward to sailing with us," Meehan said. "From the beginning, we have embraced a strategy of having our passengers as partners, and equity crowdfunding is a perfect way to make this happen."

Getting passenger input into the design of a cruise concept was also part of the strategy at Virgin Voyages, where founder Richard Branson solicited ideas on its website for what the cruise line should be.

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A rendering of the fitness area onboard the proposed Blue World Voyages ship.

In Virgin's case, it did not use crowdfunding, however, relying instead on the Boston private equity firm Bain Capital for its start-up financing.

Blue World is trying to carve out a very specific niche by making its cruises all about active, athletic, healthy lifestyles. It is looking for sports fans, gym rats and whole-foods enthusiasts to hop aboard.

Entering an untested niche, Blue World is also hoping that successful crowdfunding will validate its idea. 

"We have larger, traditional investors standing by, but first our plan is to provide significant proof of concept," Meehan said.

Under securities rules, companies can only raise $1.07 million a year in crowdfunding by nonprofessional investors. And the SEC caps how much an individual can invest based on his or her net worth, with maximums ranging from $2,200 for minnow investors to $107,000 for those worth $2 million or more.

If Blue World succeeds, crowdfunders could enjoy some perks. Founders Club members get priority boarding, cabin upgrades and a $150 sports and spa credit every time they sail. Investors of the $500 minimum could get that amount discounted off their first cruise with Blue World within the first two years of operation, and there are proportional discounts at higher investment levels.

One Blue World crowdfund investor is Pamela Mitchell-Almand, a former Delta Air Lines pilot from Atlantic Beach, Fla., who now has a voice-over narrations business called The Captain's Voice. She said Blue World piqued her interest first as a concept. When looking deeper, she was impressed with the depth of experience in its management.

"The demographics of fit, fairly successful guests looking for adventure vacations without the planning and outfitting hassles seems to be moving in the right direction," Mitchell-Almand said.  "And, of course, the investor perks are pretty enticing as well."

On its Wefunder.com site, Blue World states its first ship will be a used 900-passenger vessel that it will refit for 350 passengers at an estimated cost of $26 million. 

When it initially announced its plans, Blue World said it expected to launch in 2018. The current launch date is May 2019.

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