“During the program, there were days where we’d wake up at 5am and go to bed at 3am – struggles of a start-up.” – Abhijeet Sangani, Head of International Business Development & Strategy, Planys Tech
The rise of Planys Tech
Planys is a marine robotics / deep tech start-up incubated in one of the premier Indian technical institutes: Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras. Founded in 2015, they are the pioneers in India when it comes to underwater robotics development. In fact, any kind of underwater drones.
Planys is also a pioneer in the World in integrating novel underwater NDT [non-destructive testing] probes and sensors onto their drones. There are a few companies and that are in bits and pieces trying to do something similar, but nobody has come as far as they have.
In 2019 Planys took part of the PortXL acceleration program in Rotterdam, that had an intense process leading to their selection, from both sides. Planys was at a crossroad between the Rotterdam and Singapore programs ran by PortXL.
Choosing the Netherlands
A bit of background on why the Netherlands was chosen as Planys’ next destination: by 2019, Planys had executed 50+ projects in India and started looking across the seas towards the international markets. Based on multiple interactions in multiple regions across the World, there was one common denominator in terms of challenges by asset owners or managers during data acquisition for inspections: they were very similar to challenges faced by their Indian customers. Similar challenges and similar structures meant that the solution model used by them in India, with small tweaks would also work worldwide.
After extensive research, the potential expansion was narrowed down to two locations, both via the PortXL program: Rotterdam and Singapore. The Rotterdam program was the more established one and Planys ended up applying for that one and successfully went through the selection process.
The final part of the process, the Selection Days in Rotterdam were exhausting, Abhijeet recalls: “They were two exhausting days, barely had time to take a break and once we went back to the hotel we started working again. We would research who we would speak to the next day and profile them into clusters. This came with changes in the pitch depending on who we will be talking to. We also researched on people that we were not meeting and would try to catch them during the coffee and lunch breaks. We were relieved when Planys was announced as one of the selected companies. The hard work was worth it.”
Landing in the mouth of the Rhine
The program showed Planys the huge potential the region had for their services and also the network that PortXL can provide to start-ups across the maritime world. “We can only hope that we have this sort of ecosystem for core-industry start-ups in India soon.” The experienced mentors assisted with finding what to focus on when talking to a Dutch customers compared to discussions with customers from other regions. The regional dynamics are completely different, India is a reactive market and assets are mostly operated by the government authorities. In the Middle-East any solution or technology that can help avoid downtime to their assets is welcome. While they are quite pro-active, they don’t like downtime in assets such as Petrochem plants or desalination plants. In Europe they are more pro-active towards asset inspection, with a great focus on extending the lifespan of the assets and ensuring it is safe so a catastrophic failure just never happens.
“What makes PortXL different is that the program is not just focusing on making industry connections and mentorship, but the key driver is signing contracts. The more you sign, the more it validates that you are doing something right and the mentorship has helped us tune our offering to the point where companies are willing to explore implementing the start-up solutions in their organisation.” Planys signed 4 pilot contracts at the end of the 2019 program, with Vopak, Gemeente Rotterdam, Port of Rotterdam and North Sea Port.
Planys Tech CEO Tanuj Jhunjhunwala (centre-right) and Head of International BD & Strategy Abhijeet Sangani (right) shake hands with Vopak representatives after signing a contract at PortXL Shakedown 2019
Expanding on a solo mission
Following the program, Abhijeet stayed back in Rotterdam to establish their base of operations and grow Planys in the European market. As of today, Planys’ European presence – intended as pilots and projects – expanded from the Netherlands into Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Italy (to an extent) and there are ongoing talks in Austria.
Due to COVID-19, many of the above pilots and larger projects lined up for April – Dec of 2020 have been put on hold due to safety concerns and travel restrictions. Planys team is bullish of the resumption of this in 2021.
When asked about how he managed to create such business in less than a year on his own, his response is “research”. It all started there, with 15-odd European countries researched prior to deciding to participate in the PortXL program. Knowledge is power, and it was used to maximum efficiency when travelling across Europe. The key was to develop the market and identifying strategic partners who would further help them in scaling. Once any business comes out of these regions, Planys has their equipment in the Netherlands with people soon to be deployed full time – and then it means, being just one phone call away for any kind of project execution across Europe.
Tackling an expansive obstacle course
International expansion is never easy. “Thanks to the PortXL program, our transition into the Netherlands was easier, but when you look into the other countries in Europe like Spain – were not an easy market to crack due to different dynamics.”
Being a company from a non-Schengen region brought its own difficulties. Bringing equipment from India was a major hurdle. Planys’ technology is complex and requires trained technicians for successful execution of any project (specially when its a pilot and stakes are high with the client).
Being away from the home ground brought other challenges, such as not having a base of operations set up – for example until three days before the equipment was scheduled to arrive, they had nowhere to unload it. Close save but ultimately that was overcome too.
Planys in Rotterdam
Tips for future entrepreneurial explorers
Have a clear mindset: be sure of the reasons on why you are expanding in the Netherlands.
Do your research. Only then you will be able to identify clear synergies with the economy, the partners , the mentors and so forth.
You will get a much a clearer picture as to WHY you are here, instead of just ticking a flag off the map.
Business aside, make sure you travel. It is a beautiful country with lovely small towns and a great countryside. Explore.