Business of Shipping: Maritime Industry Technology Accelerators

autonomous containership
A conceptual design by Rolls-Royce of an 1,000 TEU unmanned feeder vessel. Image credit: Rolls-Royce

By Ira Breskin – The staid maritime industry now boasts several technology accelerators, with more likely to follow.

The accelerator name is self-effacing. These technology “hot houses” are designed to force feed promising start-up firms that offer the promise of highly-sought, cutting-edge, industry-specific software and hardware. Ironically, some of this technology may have been spawned and nurtured in technology incubators, an older and arguably more familiar enhancement setting

Accelerators strive to turbocharge introduction of applied, disruptive, generation-leaping technology to a ready, often industry-specific market. Given an ideal scenario, maritime industry users quickly will embrace this new, high-demand innovation. In doing so, they amply reward bold, risk-taking innovators, early stage backers and technology gurus who molded these “darling” start-ups firms.

To date, only a few such maritime industry technology boot camps have emerged, mostly in Singapore. This location marries an entrepreneur-rich city with a shipping-infused culture.

More specifically, Eastern Pacific Shipping and entrepreneur backer/investor Techstars, based in Boulder, COLO, are hard at work there.

This accelerator’s principals will select ten “lucky” start-ups that will be get mega-financial vitamins to help fund quick development of their respective technologies. The next goal: showcase a finished offering by February 2020 to an eager audience of venture capitalists and industry experts who can spur product roll out.

Similarly, The Maritime Port Authority of Singapore and the National University of Singapore’s entrepreneurial unit have launched the Smart Port Challenge. A total of 13 winning maritime-industry digital start-up each will receive about $35,000 (US) to perfect a product. Again, the goal is to attract further investment, this from a new set of financial backers attending a second-round beauty contest later this year.

Competition comes from other maritime industry-based accelerators, specifically Port XL in Rotterdam, and those in North America about to launch. Port XL, which dates back to 2015, focuses on maritime operations in and around ports

Accelerator backers hope customers ultimately will buy new products and services, offered by their fledging tenants, that address the maritime industry’s most pressing needs. Such success would be welcome given the industry’s historic reluctance to quickly adopt leading-edge technology.

Business of Shipping is a new column from Ira Breskin, senior lecturer at State University of New York Maritime College in the Bronx, NY. Ira is the author of The Business of Shipping (9th edition, 2018), a primer that explains shipping economics, operations and regulations.