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Comment: Grilling maritime start-ups

Start-ups need to be strong, and realise and push their values, says sustainability and innovation consultant Sofia Fürstenberg Stott who went to one of Scandinavia’s top start-up meets in search of the maritime angle.

Never before has MaritimeTech had representation at Copenhagen’s TechBBQ, probably the biggest start-up and innovation summit in Scandinavia, but it has now. Among Fintech, Life Science, GovTech, CleanTech, Automation and FoodTech, the maritime tech scene was there, physically represented by DFDS, Maersk Tankers, Danish Shipping, Danish Maritime, and the Danish Maritime Foundation.

I was there for the first time too, and had the opportunity to listen in on some of the workshops and not least the talks held in the event’s so-called ”Dive in Dome”, which despite the sound of hammering rain and hail on the tent canvas above, had me caught completely.

Did you know that Maersk Tankers and DFDS have joined forces to become smarter and more efficient through data pooling? It suggests a business model where sharing the effort of managing data by a joint consortium of ship owners, can offer a platform for developers, authorities and academia, to access anonymous validated data. It is very refreshing to see these concrete initiatives of collaboration at practice, creating new value and saving costs.

And have you heard about ZEEDS? The Zero Emission Energy Distribution at Sea Project? Finally, an ocean industry consortium! Yay! This is an example of what we foresaw with the Opening Oceans Conference last year; the need for ocean industry actors to join forces to solve great challenges, while creating new business. With Wärtsilä, Aker Solutions, DFDS, Haldor Topsoe and Siemens Gamesa around the same table, the idea is about ship-to-ship bunkering offshore, with ammonia produced from renewable sources, strategically placed along common trade routes of the North Sea. The hurdle? No viable business model has been identified yet, with financial incentives lacking and lack-lustre political will.

The consortium was asked by the moderator, Julian Bray from TradeWinds, why they chose to come to speak on this stage, where most people in the audience are from the startup community. The answer was, that perhaps these large established firms are too slow to move themselves, and need an energy injection from new thinkers. There was an open invitation from Egil Hystad at Wärtsilä, who is leading the consortium, for startups and other thinkers, to come and help out.

ScanReach’s Jacob Grieg Eide: Make sure to know your power, make sure you are not being abused by the big players.

So, why aren’t startups just jumping on this? Surely there are a lot of business opportunities lurking in connection with this initiative? The next session in the Dive in Dome really hit the nail on head so to speak. Jacob Grieg Eide from ScanReach shared some insights on his recent entrepreneurial journey. “You take a lot of risk, leaving your job [and running with your idea]. You have very little money, and you work very hard. As a startup, you need to make sure there is business at the other end, before you engage [more deeply]. Make sure to know your power, make sure you are not being abused [by the big players].”

P. Michael A. Rodey from Maersk filled in with some candid advice: ensure that you have a Proof of Concept that has been successfully accomplished, and that you still have access to the right sponsor internally in the company, to continue the journey together. Otherwise the risk is that the opportunity may have vanished, after investing all that money and effort into the POC.

There was consensus in the panel, that the traditional procurement process will have to change to accommodate for novel solutions being brought in by startups, and so would the legal process of collaborating with them as well.

“We need to engage the whole supply chain to decarbonise, and to save pennies on the dollar”, the panel proclaimed. This was just minutes after Maersk told us we need to de-commoditise shipping. Clearly, there is a disconnect between appreciating the opportunity of de-commoditising, e.g. business model innovation, and the decarbonisation of the supply chain. We are still in the early days of MaritimeTech. That was suddenly all very obvious to the audience in the Dive in Dome.

Sofia Fürstenberg Stott is a leading figure in the innovation- and sustainability sphere of the maritime industry. As an advisor to the industry, she developed Nor-Shipping’s new concept exhibition Blue Economy, and launched the first Opening Oceans Conference, connecting the wider ocean industries for the first time. She has been a visible figure in the Nordics for the last 10 years, through her tenure as innovation manager with Maersk, and as a green shipping spearhead with DNVGL. She holds an MBA in Shipping & Logistics from CBS, and a MSc in Chemical Engineering from Lund University. 

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