ESG venture arm Seeds Capital and partners to invest $50m in maritime start-ups

PUBLISHED JUN 26, 2020, 4:29 PM SGT

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) – Enterprise Singapore (ESG) investment arm Seeds Capital, together with six appointed co-investment partners, will pump a combined $50 million into more than 50 maritime technology start-ups in Singapore.

The co-investment partners are: Innoport, the corporate venture arm of family-owned ship owner and manager Schulte Group; KSL Maritime Ventures, the venture capital (VC) unit of the Kuok family’s investment-holding company Kuok (Singapore) Limited; PSA unboXed, the external innovation and VC arm of port operator PSA International; corporate innovation and venture development firm Rainmaking; ShipsFocus-Quest Ventures, a collaboration between maritime innovation firm ShipsFocus and VC firm Quest Ventures; and TecPier, a VC investor in early-stage maritime and supply chain start-ups.

The co-investment initiative is supported by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. Seeds Capital and the appointed partners will invest in start-ups that develop solutions to improve operational efficiency and safety across the different segments of the maritime sector.

Enterprise Singapore said that strengthening the capability of the maritime sector will in turn enhance the resilience of key economic pillars such as the logistics, manufacturing and wholesale trade sectors, which are reliant on smooth and efficient global supply chain routes.

Each co-investment partner will help the start-ups to fast-track their commercialisation of solutions. Innoport will allow start-ups to conduct pilot tests within Schulte Group’s business units, while PSA unboXed will potentially deploy some solutions in PSA International’s operations if proven successful.

KSL Martime Ventures will focus on renewables, fintech and vessel technologies, and ShipsFocus-Quest Ventures will focus broadly on solutions in digitalisation, sustainability and deep tech for maritime commerce.

Meanwhile, TecPier will partner start-ups developing data-driven solutions for areas such as ship operations and maintenance, port management, and supply chain. Rainmaking will work with its corporate partners in the next two to three years to drive the growth of more than 100 start-ups, with solutions focusing on decarbonisation, supply chain resilience, artificial intelligence and deep tech.


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What is really unique about Chemical Shipping (vis-à-vis other segments of shipping)?

James: 1) other bulk cargoes like oil, ore, or even container liners move in one direction, chemical cargo has more myriad ways of flows to/fro multiple ports and berths. 2) chemical cargo is not generic: there are hundreds of different types of cargoes and grades by multiple producers, users and traders involved. that leads us to: 3) the hardware: chemical ships have multiple segregations. voyage options and decisions for which cargoes to combine to where and how are much more varied, furthermore 4) while there may be some standardisations, many ships are built for specific needs. with this multiplicity of factors, optimal loadable quantity and performance of a ship can be a BIG VARIANCE. ironically, this also makes for an attraction and a low entry barrier into chemical ship operating as each operator believes in his one-upmanship within that big variance.

How is that uniqueness important in what you and ShipsFocus are doing?

James: maritime shipping faces various issues, like in 1) HR: people with great skills and experience are aging and leaving the industry, while new ones are not catching up fast enough; 2) PR: constraints to improving its image as an industry that has a wide spectrum of jobs ranging from off-shore to land-based; 3) TALENTS: shipping lull in the last decade did not help in attracting talents; 4) 24/7 nature it’s hard to sell ‘work-life balance’; 5) SYSTEMS: experience, know-how and network within a knowledgeable person are not captured systematically over time.

Our role is to fill gaps, bridging 3 major gaps: (1) between the ‘Old’ and ‘New’, (2) more and better use of data (3) optimising the ‘variance’ and efficiency. there are not many people in this unique space, and on such pursuits. to make it work, we have to cater to this uniqueness, using our unique knowhow, experience and network.

Which part of your background is most helpful to what you are doing now?

James: I believe it’s my background as a ship-owner and operator. I was with Hanjin first in VLCC and then Aframax, then to Chemical Tankers. that gave me tremendous opportunities adjusting from one to another. there were so many varieties and details in high frequency I had to know and adjust to. i became sensitive to the uniqueness in Chemical shipping. coincidentally, Hanjin was undertaking a PROCESS INNOVATIONS initiative, and I was required to provide inputs for a chartering and operations system, including on how it should work. unfortunately, users had to work for the system when it was developed, not exactly a system i dreamed of.

What is the biggest challenge in marrying tech and shipping, and what is your specific strength in this respect?

James: mainly it’s people’s fixed mind-set that’s the biggest obstacle. people say they are busy, while tech can help, they are reluctant to adopt such change. it’s a chicken and egg issue. our strength is the ability to cater to the specific and minute details that make chemical shipping unique, and the network we’ve gained trust from previous roles we played as shipbrokers. we get better chances than the tech people to hear the pain points and thus introduce the right solutions.

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