Intiatives such as PIER71 and the Smart Port Challenge are fostering a startup ecosystem in Singapore, bringing together the maritime and tech worlds
Aimed at keeping Singapore at the forefront of maritime digitalisation, PIER71 is an initiative founded by MPA and the NUS Enterprise, the entrepreneurial arm of the National University of Singapore (NUS).
PIER71 itself is an abbreviation of 'Port Innovation Ecosystem Reimagined at BLOCK71', BLOCK71 being a former industrial building that became home to a start-up hub in 2011.
The primary objective of PIER71 is to re-imagine and grow innovation in the maritime industry. “We create programmes to attract, build and accelerate start-ups, identify innovation opportunities within organisations as well as platforms to fuel exchange of knowledge,” said NUS Enteprise’s PIER71 programme director Dr Mark Lim.
PIER71 designs and delivers programmes to uncover opportunities within the industry and supports entrepreneurs from ideation to acceleration of their ventures.
Considering what this ecosystem entails, Dr Lim said “It encompasses maritime companies; it encompasses start-ups; it includes Singapore’s Institutes of Higher Learning; it includes students; it includes government; it includes venture capital and accelerators to inject funding into the cluster.” The programme provides access to various markets, demand drivers, technology solution providers, investors and more.
A key part of PIER71 is the Smart Port Challenge, Dr Lim said. With a target of digital transformation in the maritime industry, PIER71 works with corporate entities to identify problems that can be translated into opportunities for third-party innovation. These are then presented to the global start-up community, who submit proposals.
NUS Enterprise held workshops to help 19 corporates and the Singapore Shipping Association to identify challenges and opportunities within their organisation. This translated into 20 innovation opportunities in the areas of port, shipping and maritime services and logistics.
Looking at the 2018 Smart Port Challenge, Dr Lim said 122 submissions were received overall, with roughly 60% coming from Singapore and 40% from overseas. PIER71 whittled the submissions down to 35, which were then reviewed by the corporate participants, who reduced the shortlist down to 18. These 18 submissions then go through an eight-week validation programme, working with the corporate participants from the maritime community to ensure the proposed solution is meeting the needs of the original problem. More than this, the solution should be a sustainable idea, with a value proposition to offer the industry outside of solving the original problem. At the end of this process is a pitching day, where start-ups pitch to investors including venture capitalists and other accelerators. If start-ups receive buy-in from investors in the form of a letter of interest they are able to apply for a grant from MPA of up to S$50,000 (US$37,000) per company.
The next step is prototype development, which takes place over a six-month period. During this period, PIER71 offers support to the start-ups across four areas: access to markets, access to funding, access to technology and access to talent.
The key technology tracks covered in the Accelerate programme are blockchain, artificial intelligence, automation and autonomous, maritime cyber security, deep learning, internet of things, wearable technology and immersive technology (AR & VR).
For the 2018 Smart Port Challenge, the corporate partners involved came from a range of maritime-related areas, including port operator Jurong Port, tank storage company Vopak, PSA, shipowner Teekay Marine, bunker vessel owner Sinanju, bulker owner Pacific Carriers Limited (PCL), ferry operator Batam Fast, ferry and cruise terminal operator Singapore Cruise Centre, equipment manufacturer Wärtsilä, ship manager Wilhelmsen, shipowner OMC Shipping (OMCS), ship manager OSM, insurer Lloyd’s Asia, container shipping company Ocean Network Express (ONE) and logistics technology specialist Symphony Creative Solutions (SCS). The innovation opportunities offered related to ports, shipping and maritime services and logistics.
NUS president Professor Tan Eng Chye said "Strengthening Singapore’s maritime innovation ecosystem will help to develop the talent, accelerate new ventures and attract investments into the sector.
"This will play a crucial role in bringing Singapore’s maritime industry into the digital age and create exciting opportunities for growth."
MPA chief executive Andrew Tan said "With the formation of PIER71 with NUS Enterprise this year, [the Smart Port Challenge] returned stronger with a 45% increase in proposal submissions as compared with last year.
"We are pleased to see many innovative prototypes and will continue to provide opportunities for start-ups as we embrace new technologies, such as virtual reality, blockchain and artificial intelligence, that are transforming the maritime sector."
The full list of innovation opportunities for 2018 and their originators were as listed below:
At the pitch day on 28 November 2018, Ocean Freight Exchange, which provides a platform to optimise vessel chartering using deep-learning AI, won the S$10,000 (US$7,400) first prize, SkyLab, a provider of internet of things data logistics solutions, won the second-place prize and Claritecs, developer of an AI-enhanced software-as-a-service bunker tanker scheduling platform, won the third-place prize. Other finalists included Aeras Medical, AIDA Technologies, BunkerEx, ENT-Vision, FreightKart, Hot TechGO, MapGage, Portcast, Ship Supplies Direct, Tagvance, Threatspan and Winimy.
The inaugural Smart Port Challenge took place in 2017 and saw 12 maritime corporates participate. Seven start-ups received grant support totalling S$311,598 (US$229,841) to testbed and develop prototypes with industry body the Singapore Shipping Association, port operator Jurong Port, and ferry operators BatamFast and Kanlian. The startups were internet of machines company Brightree, robotic process automation developer Glee Trees, chatbot developer MyBot, ecommerce specialist SG Smart Tech, real-time predictive analytics provider Simplus, AI and chatbot-based concierge developer Trabble and AI-based image and video analytics specialist Xjera Labs.