PIER71 shows how bringing together tech innovation and maritime expertise can solve the problems facing the sector
Established in 2018 by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the National University of Singapore’s entrepreneurial arm, NUS Enterprise, Port Innovation Ecosystem Reimagined at BLOCK71 (PIER71) seeks to build a vibrant maritime entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem in Singapore.
This involves boosting innovation in the maritime and maritime-related industries by attracting talent, creating opportunities for exchanging knowledge and ideas, attracting investment into start-ups and accelerating ventures.
Central to this mission is the annual Smart Port Challenge, which seeks to match tech start-ups with maritime challenges and innovation opportunities raised by maritime corporates, and to facilitate investment in such start-ups by venture capital. Start-ups may be located anywhere in the world, while participating corporates are required to have a presence in Singapore. These corporates come from a range of maritime backgrounds, including owners such as TATA NYK and CMA CGM, managers such as Wilhelmsen, Thome Group and OSM Maritime, and other players such as BP Maritime, Jurong Port, and more.
“We gather a problem statement from maritime corporates, then transform this into an innovation opportunity which is published worldwide in order to gather the best solutions,” explains PIER71 programme director Dr Mark Lim, adding that PIER71 acts as a neutral party to ensure the innovation opportunities are not overly specific to a particular corporate’s needs, but rather address the needs of the whole industry.
Twenty-four start-ups were selected from more than 200 applications and invited to take part in the PIER71 Accelerate programme, a five-week market and business model validation programme. Covering technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, robotics and wearables, these 24 start-ups were whittled down to a group of 10 who were invited to pitch to an audience of more than 300 investors, corporate partners, venture capitalists and maritime professionals.
The overall winner for the Smart Port Challenge 2019 was Dravam, a Singapore-based start-up that developed a fuel quality-monitoring solution that can be installed on a vessel to provide real-time detection of bunker quality issues. Current assessment of fuel quality such as drip sample testing can take up to a week, while Dravam’s system, based around multi-phase flow monitoring, incorporates both modelling and big data techniques to offer real-time assessment of bunker quality based on flow patterns. Dravam received a prize of S$10,000 (US$7,400).
The first runner up, US-based KoiReader Technologies, aims to address the labour-intensive process of checking and cross-referencing financial and declaration documentation. The start-up developed a machine-learning visual-recognition system that extracts unstructured textual data from images and translates them into usable structured data. This improves the accuracy of filling up logistics data for regulatory clearance and reduces the risks associated with misdeclared dangerous goods. KoiReader received a prize of S$5,000 (US$3,700).
The second runner up, Netherlands-based Teqplay, developed a context broker that provides information and tools to empower the shipping industry to make smarter and better-informed decisions when both planning and executing port calls and the wider maritime supply chain. They have developed a platform that crawls the web to collect, bundle and refine public data. Combining this data with machine learning and artificial intelligence creates a shared picture which results in better-informed decision-making, and ultimately faster and cheaper port calls. Teqplay received a S$3,000 (US$2,200) prize.
Judges also gave a special mention to Singapore-based Performance Rotors for developing a unique drone solution that overcomes the challenges of confined spaces and presents many new possibilities in maritime inspection.
All start-ups participating in the Smart Port Challenge are eligible to apply for grant funding of up to S$50,000 (US$37,000) from MPA, to embark on pilot projects or develop prototypes with the maritime companies, Dr Lim adds. Start-ups based outside Singapore are encouraged to build a presence here to further their technology development and immerse themselves in the ecosystem.
PIER71’s activities are not limited to the Smart Port Challenge, Dr Lim says, adding “Our goal is to establish Singapore as a vibrant maritime ecosystem that spearheads world-class innovation, and the smart port challenge is a vehicle for this.”
“We act as a catalyst for the acceleration of digital transformation within the maritime industry by bringing this innovation ecosystem together, fuelling it with an entrepreneurial spirit and providing access to education, talent, technology and funding.”