Who’s at the Helm of Maritime Digital Transformation?

05 Aug, 2021

If you haven’t heard, the Singapore maritime ecosystem is teeming with innovative minds, collaborations between corporates and start-ups, investment opportunities, government support initiatives and other enablers.

Leading Innovation Hub for Maritime

With a consistent standing as one of the most innovative and competitive economies, Singapore is an attractive base for tech companies. Port Innovation Ecosystem Reimagined at BLOCK71 (PIER71) was founded in 2018 by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and NUS Enterprise, the entrepreneurial arm of the National University of Singapore (NUS), to boost innovation in the maritime technology, or ‘MarineTech’ space. Over the last three years, PIER71 has been actively growing our maritime innovation ecosystem into one that is vibrant and globally recognised. Its annual Smart Port Challenge has attracted more than 500 applications from tech start-ups around the world. Close to 60 start-ups have benefitted from its programmes, mentorship and network access, and 32 received MPA grants of about S$2 million for prototype development and pilot projects with their maritime corporate partners.

Accelerated Path for Digital Transformation

Once perceived as conservative, complex and slow to change, the maritime industry is gaining momentum in digital transformation in recent years. With the advantage of being able to look at, and learn from how technology has positively disrupted industries like retail and finance, it is primed to be on an accelerated transformation path.

The maritime industry is responsible for more than 80% of global trade. As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the need to minimise manual processes and physical transactions, and keep our global supply chain open grows even stronger. Alongside this, regulations are kicking in towards a greener maritime future. Decision-making sped up, adoption of new processes and technologies gained industry support, and start-ups began seeing traction for technologies that facilitate remote verification of crew credentials and health statuses; automation and robotics; supply chain optimisation, decarbonisation and others.

Maritime Innovation Ecosystem

Change can only happen when industry players embrace it. As a key driver in catalysing this change, PIER71 actively creates opportunities for collaboration between start-ups and maritime corporates. Through its flagship programme, Smart Port Challenge, PIER71 identifies and curates business challenges that are then transformed into innovation opportunities for start-ups to address. At the core of this process is a progressive-thinking pool of maritime corporates that value the potential synergies of open collaboration with start-ups. A number of these collaborations have also grown into larger investments. An example is Performance Rotors, a start-up that specialises in confined space inspections. After receiving a Special Mention for its innovative drone technology in Smart Port Challenge 2019, it was awarded with a grant from MPA to testbed and pilot a project in 2020 and went on to secure investments from Bernhard Schulte INNOPORT and Royal Vopak that same year.

The quality of innovative solutions in maritime has also attracted attention from venture capital funds and led to more maritime corporates setting up venture arms in recent months. For example, IMC Group announced in June this year, the establishment of a Corporate Venture Capital Fund (CVC) firm, IMC Ventures. The increase in the number CVCs is a positive sign that the maritime industry is looking towards innovation for creating value, and an indicator that the industry is progressing well along its digital transformation journey.

As an industry with strategic importance, Maritime Singapore, through MPA, provides technology providers various forms of support and incentives. This includes platforms for ideation (workshops and road-mapping exercises), mechanisms for matching and collaboration (PIER71’s programmes, MPA’s Call for Proposals), test-bedding infrastructure and data (e.g. Maritime Data Hub, Maritime Drone Estate, Maritime Innovation Lab), and co-funding schemes for research and product development (through the MINT Fund schemes). For start-ups, MPA provides a new MINT-STARTUP grant scheme of up to S$50,000 for start-ups to pilot their projects, and promising start-ups looking to scale up their offerings or projects are also eligible for a project grant of up to S$100,000.

Going Beyond the Depths of Imagination

The maritime industry is undergoing a major digital transformation and there is a huge opportunity for start-ups to bring in fresh insights and solutions even if they do not have a maritime background. Start-ups can lean on the strong and globally connected ecosystem of PIER71 for a deeper understanding of the industry and entrepreneurship, and to gain access to maritime corporate partners, funding, mentors and other stakeholders. Through the wider network of NUS, start-ups also have access to talent and technologies they can tap on to enhance their product/solution offering to the maritime industry.

Smart Port Challenge 2021 is currently open for applications. Start-ups are invited to explore the 17 innovation opportunities and submit their proposals by 10 August. For further details, contact  enquiries@pier71.sg.

Shortlisted finalists are enrolled in a two-phase, 12-week programme.

Phase 1: Fit Check - Market Discovery and Validation

Kickstart your journey by diving deep into the heart of your market! In this phase, we'll help you answer the pivotal question: Is there a product-market fit for your solution? Validate your tech, test your assumptions, and find the perfect match for your innovation. A review will be conducted at the end of Phase 1. Only selected participants will advance to Phase 2.

Phase 2: Gap Busters - Navigating New Markets

Now, it's time to bridge the commercial gap. In this phase, you’ll partner with industry veterans who bring sharp business insights to the table. Together, you’ll navigate and conquer markets that may be uncharted territory for your startup.

Although the programme is designed for remote and overseas participants, in-person participation is required for the following events conducted in Singapore: