As Iran-backed groups attack Red Sea ships, investors back startups helping global cargo


Multiple shocks to global supply chains caused first by the pandemic and more recently by Iran-backed Houthis target cargo ships in Red Sea have shown the need for greater resilience in global shipping. At the same time, pressure to reduce costs and reduce carbon footprints continues apace. Investors are quietly eyeing technology platforms for ports and cargo ships, which could prove to be a very wise investment.

There are already several signs that this is happening.

More recently, Port chain — a Danish startup that claims to be a “neutral exchange” for cargo ships and ports, has now raised a $5 million “Seed+” funding round from Angular Businesses. Other investors include MK Ventures and several former maritime industry executives.

Portchain works by facilitating constant communication between a cargo ship and a port, acting as air traffic control to ensure that a ship arrives at just the right time to be docked, rather than waiting outside the port, burn fuel, pollute the atmosphere, and accumulate costs.

CEO Niels Kristiansen explained the problem to me this way: “The top 10 carriers account for 85% of global volume. But carriers and terminals operate very differently. Carriers know how carriers work but don’t know much about how terminals work, and vice versa. What happens is the carrier comes to a terminal and says, “I have this data system.” And then the terminal says, “You’re a carrier, so you don’t know how I work.” Ultimately, the two end up sharing and planning via email, phone calls, and WhatsApp. It’s a mess.”

Instead, long before reaching their destination, Portchain allows ship captains to adjust their speed in order to dock at just the right time, just like a plane landing at an airport. Meanwhile, it eliminates the need to update spreadsheets, emails, and PDF documents (that’s how many systems are in use today).

Portchain claims that as a result, CO2 emissions can be reduced by up to 14%, without any modifications to ships – which is significant since shipping is estimated to be burning 117,800,000 tonnes of fuel per year.

And the neutrality of these systems is important. Although shipping giant Maersk launched the “Tradelens” project in 2018, it ran into problems when it needed rival companies to share data. The company subsequently close Last year.

Portchain now claims to have signed 90 container terminals worldwide (20% of global terminal capacity) and has signed a five-year agreement with Lloyd’s tablethe 5th shipping company.

However, Portchain is not the only player in this space that is clearly booming.

PortXChangebased in Rotterdam, developed as a separate project from the Port of Rotterdam and became an independent company in 2019. Its strategic partners include Shell and Maersk.

Heyport in Hamburg, was funded and incubated by local German port operator HHLA.

Then there is Wake up.aiheadquartered in Finland.

Awake has so far raised a total of around $12 million, according to CEO Karno Tenovuo. He and his team were once part of a unit at Rolls Royce that was interested in “intelligent shipping.”

With funding from the Finnish government, support from Angel and the EU (but no venture capital to date), Tenovuo said: “Last year we launched what we call “Amazon ports “. This is a marketplace feature. Carriers and ports use emails and phone calls. So we secured EU funding to develop this product, which automates the buying and selling of port services, as well as reporting and invoicing.

“We automatically connect buyers and sellers. We predict where these products or services are needed, then we can recommend all the optimal arrival and departure times and tell shipping companies what their impact is on fuel cost emissions,” he added.

However, he said there is “not a lot of overlap” between Awake and Portchain.

Meanwhile, the International Maritime Organization has regulated the need for a “national one-stop shop” when ships enter an area controlled by a nation. This means that more and more technology will need to be used to help both carriers and ports.

As Tenovuo says, this “one-stop shop” will mean there will be a huge need to “connect all services”.

So, for now, it is likely that these types of services will continue to be launched and continue to interest investors.


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