Sitting at the heart of Southeast Asia, Singapore boasts the busiest port in the world in terms of shipping tonnage, with more than 130,000 vessel calls annually. Consistently ranked as the leading maritime city, Singapore has nurtured a strong innovation ecosystem that allows startups around the world to reimagine their technology for the maritime industry. Playing a pivotal role in the growth and vibrancy of this ecosystem is PIER71 (Port Innovation Ecosystem Reimagined at BLOCK71). Established in 2018 by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), and NUS Enterprise, the entrepreneurial arm of the National University of Singapore (NUS), PIER71 acts as a catalyst in accelerating innovative ventures by bringing together key stakeholders and creating opportunities for collaboration in the industry. It recently launched the sixth edition of Smart Port Challenge (SPC) at a hybrid event held at the Singapore Maritime Gallery.
SPC is the flagship programme under PIER71 and is one of the leading gateways for startups to gain access to this thriving sector.
Emerging challenges in the maritime industry
The maritime industry is responsible for more than 80% of global trade and is facing increasing pressures to digitalise, decarbonise, strengthen supply chain resilience, optimise operational efficiencies, and enhance seafarers’ welfare and training.
Kenneth Lim, Assistant Chief Executive (Industry), MPA believes that more than addressing the industry’s challenges and opportunities, Singapore’s maritime sector can also co-create innovative and pragmatic solutions by collaborating closely with startups. He believes that Smart Port Challenge plays a vital role in developing a strong MarineTech sector in Singapore, ensuring that Singapore’s maritime industry is future-ready and that the city ultimately remains a dynamic international maritime centre.
Professor Freddy Boey, NUS Deputy President (Innovation and Enterprise) remarked that the cohesiveness of this ecosystem stems from the support of industry partners and continues to grow stronger as the startups develop further synergies. Through its collaboration with demand drivers, PIER71 creates opportunities for startups to bring in ideas and solutions that will propel the industry’s digital transformation journey forward.
Smart Port Challenge 2022
For SPC 2022, 16 maritime industry partners have identified challenges across 15 areas where technological innovation can play a vital part in developing maritime solutions. The top areas identified are (1) Smart Port; (2) Smart Ship; (3) Crew Safety, Training and Wellbeing; (4) Smart Maritime Services and Logistics; and (5) Green Technology.
Technology startups based in Singapore and abroad are invited to submit proposals in any of the challenge statements, or other solutions related to the maritime sector in an Open Category. The closing date for the submission of proposals is 8 July 2022.
Shortlisted startups will be mentored under PIER71 Accelerate and may be eligible for a MINT-STARTUP grant of up to S$50,000 from MPA to embark on pilot projects with corporate partners. Participating startups will also enjoy entrepreneurial and technical support through PIER71’s global network of partners. The top three winners of the challenge will win cash prizes of S$10,000, S$5,000, and S$3,000 respectively and will be announced at the Grand Final in November 2022.
PIER71 Accelerate is designed as a 6-week market validation and customer discovery programme. Startups can take advantage of access to mentors, masterclasses and networking sessions with key stakeholders to build knowledge on navigating the maritime ecosystem and finetune their proposition, as well as identify new markets and establish connections to accelerate their venture.
Startups also have access to talent and technologies as they can tap the wider NUS network to enhance their offerings for the maritime industry. The SPC Grand Final is where top teams will pitch in front of judges, industry stakeholders, and a global audience. Close to 80 startups have benefited from PIER71 Accelerate and SPC to date, and 50 have been awarded grants amounting to S$2.45m.
Under SPC 2022, 22 co-creators and supporting sponsors including the American Bureau of Shipping, Bernhard Schulte, DNV, Jurong Port, Pacific Carriers, OMC Shipping, PSA, Wilhelmsen, and the Workplace Safety & Health Institute, are calling for collaboration with global startups
Future MarineTech: Addressing challenges through IoT, Data and AI technologies
In the 2021 challenge, MPA awarded 11 startups with Maritime Innovation and Technology (MINT)-STARTUP grants for prototype development and test-bedding. The selected startups are collaborating with maritime corporate partners from PIER71 on pilot projects that focus on the use of smart sensors, vision and data analytics, artificial intelligence, and wearables, amongst other innovative ideas.
In a sector already under pressure to decarbonise, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in global supply chains and heightened awareness of crew health and safety challenges. At the Maritime Leadership Roundtable facilitated by PIER71 in January this year, senior leaders identified key priorities in the areas of decarbonisation, digitalisation, supply chain resilience and manpower.
A Maritime Innovation Workshop that followed the roundtable saw 42 raw problem statements drawn out by a group of senior maritime executives. These challenge statements were further distilled and channelled through relevant communities. Ultimately, these translated into the 15 innovation opportunities identified in SPC 2022 currently accepting applications from startups around the world.
SPC startups benefit enormously from being immersed in the PIER71 ecosystem. Ranging from deeper insights into various industry stakeholders, access to testing data and environments, and advice on creating a market fit, to validation of solutions and funding opportunities — graduating SPC companies can find multiple avenues for further collaboration.
Examples of startups bringing innovation to the maritime sector include SPC alumni such as Portcast, from SPC2018: a Singapore startup that develops technology to predict cargo movements by integrating data about external disruptions like port congestion, weather adversities, and other unforeseen events. Portcast has raised US$3.2m in investments from partners like Wavemaker, Newtown Partners, TMV Ventures, and INNOPORT and is already working with customers in Asia, Europe, and the US, with plans to set up an office in Europe within the year.
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Startups from anywhere in the world are welcome to apply to SPC 2022. PIER71 encourages startups to reimagine technologies for the maritime sector and many startups have successfully remodelled their solutions originally designed to address issues in different industries.
Performance Rotors, from SPC 2019, specialises in drone technology for inspections in confined spaces. Starting in the building and construction industry, they have discovered new opportunities through PIER71 with their drones now being used to conduct inspections in confined spaces such as vessel hulls and ballast tanks. They’ve received multiple class certifications to conduct remote surveys internationally and have secured funding from INNOPORT, Royal Vopak, EDB Ventures, and others. They have also since expanded to Malaysia and the Netherlands.
Startups taking part in SPC 2022 stand the chance to impact the maritime sector not only in Singapore but across the globe in the same way these other previous companies have. Moreover, this becomes an opportunity for them to expand their vertical, improve their products, and network with some of the largest names in the maritime industry.
For more details on SPC 2022 visit https://www.pier71.sg/smart-port-challenge/smart-port-challenge-2022
This article is produced by the e27 team, sponsored by NUS Enterprise
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