So, who are the Singapore start-up winners chose by MPA and Pier71?

Earlier this month the Singapore backed Smart Port Challenge final took place. Brian Dixon delves into the winning start-ups.

Dravam, KoiReader Technologies and Teqplay have been named as the winning three startups at the 2019 Smart Port Challenge (SPC) Grand Final in Singapore on November 7th. Organised by Port Innovation Ecosystem Reimagined @ BLOCK71 (PIER71), itself a collaboration between the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and NUS Enterprise, the entrepreneurial arm of the National University of Singapore (NUS), the SPC seeks to foster “a vibrant maritime entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem in Singapore” by bringing together startups from across the globe with players from the maritime and allied sectors.

One of several PIER71 initiatives, the SPC follows a five-week market and business model validation programme called PIER71 Accelerate. This saw 24 startups from a total of 200 applicants being selected to develop solutions to meet 28 challenge statements identified by maritime companies in the areas of port operations, shipping and maritime services. After a closed-door pitching session, the judges then chose 10 startups to go through to the Grand Final, where they were each required to make a three-minute pitch to an audience of more than 300 investors, corporate partners, venture capitalists and maritime professionals.


While the competition as a whole featured pitches covering a broad range of technologies, including blockchains, robotics, virtual and augmented reality and wearables, the top prize was ultimately won by Singapore-based Dravam, which impressed the judges with its dR-SCAN fuel monitoring and testing system. This patented product combines ship-board hardware with cloud computing and web-based reporting to test the quality of bunker fuel in real-time as opposed to taking between one and seven days as is typically the case with conventional drip sample testing. As noted by Dravam CEO and founder Vivek Premanadhan in his Grand Final presentation, the need for such “rapid on-site testing” only seems set to increase with the advent of IMO 2020 and the implementation of Singapore’s Maritime R&D Roadmap 2030 initiative.


KoiReader of the US, meanwhile, scooped second place for its machine learning visual recognition system that not only extracts text from images, but also its contextual meaning. The result is ‘structured’ data (rather than ‘unstructured’ or jumbled text typical of using a conventional optical character recognition (OCR) system) that can then be used to quickly and accurately populate shipping forms and documents, such as bills of lading and dangerous goods declarations.


This year’s third prize went to Netherlands-headquartered port call optimisation firm Teqplay, which has developed a platform that collects, bundles and refines public data. It then combines this with machine learning and artificial intelligence to furnish port users with greatly enhanced decision-making capabilities in order to increase port call efficiency and therefore reduce costs. Although not a prize winner per se, Singapore’s Performance Rotors nevertheless received a special mention for its aerial drone systems that open up many new possibilities in the field of maritime inspection, particularly with regard to operations in confined spaces.

“One of the reasons for us to participate in PIER71 is that we want to take the step towards Asia,” says Teqplay CEO and co-founder Léon Gommans, identifying Singapore as an important element in the company’s scale-up strategy. “A port call is always a local process so it is really key to have these types of events and get these types of introductions within ports. It’s actually our bridge into the locality, which we require because what we bring to the table is optimisation across the multiple stakeholders involved in a port call,” he continues. Praising the competition as thus providing an ideal opportunity “to reach out to the relevant stakeholders” within the port sector, he says of his fellow SPC participants: “I was really impressed by the pitches and the stories being told over there. A lot was going on.”

PIER71 reports that so far more than a dozen of this year’s SPC participants have received letters of intent from maritime companies, adding that it will continue to support all 24 startups through corporate matchmaking and mentorship schemes. As well as being able to participate in “community events with ecosystem partners and engagements with enterprises and government entities”, the 24 startups, it continues, are also now eligible to apply for an MPA grant of up to S$50,000 ($36,700) to help with the development of their applicable products and services. In 2018, a total of S$650,000 was disbursed to SPC participants through such grants.

All 10 pitches from this year’s SPC Grand Final are available to watch on YouTube here:

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