Sagar Defence Engineering (SDE) is a top-of-the-line robotics and autonomous shipping scale-up from India. In 2017 they took part in the PortXL Rotterdam Acceleration Program. Their technology is “Boat in a box”, an AI-based command and control sharing system which helps to transform any existing vessel out of platform into three operations: remote, semi-autonomous and fully autonomous. All these levels of scalable autonomy are available for maritime, underwater and aviation platforms.

At the end of March 2021 we had the pleasure to speak with CEO Nikunj Parashar, who kindly answered our questions.

What was your experience in the Netherlands?

Before coming to Rotterdam for the PortXL Acceleration Program I used to say that I do unmanned boats, which are capable of hydrographic services or XYZ in maritime, but we did not know what our core tech was. The PortXL team sat with me and told me: “You don’t do boats, you do robotics! You have the boat in a box, that’s your technology.” Then we did a project with a corporate which we didn’t carry forward, despite interest from them and other companies in Europe, because once I came back to India I realised doing all of this from Europe was too challenging at the time. I took the learnings and connections made through the PortXL program and applied them towards improvements in India. I am talking to the Van Oord, Kongsberg, Fugro teams in India now and that is all due to the initial connections in Rotterdam. I wanted to work for the nation where I come from, I am one of those that love India way too much. If I could establish myself in the country with all the learnings and recognition from Rotterdam, then there would be a great acceptance level here and I could come to Europe again to scale. And I know that PortXL will be there to support me when I do. This confidence level, this understanding, this is what the program was all about.

What are your recent successes?

End of March we closed a contract worth nearly 2 million USD with the Indian Navy, who for the first time ever is taking up drones which can take off from warships and land back on them in different weather conditions. This contract could extend into a 40 million USD contract. In parallel we are also working on three vessels, 3-11 meters in length. All three are autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs) used for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance operations. Lastly, we were selected as one of the top start-ups in India by the ministry of defence to develop a swarm of autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles. It is a 20-month project where we need to develop 20 AUVs and if successful, this turns into a 60-64 million USD contract.

We are about to close a 2nd round of funding of around 1.7 million USD with a bank coming onboard as an equity partner.

During this pandemic we have been working extensively in rural areas of India, especially with police departments. We were one of the start-ups who came forward without any monetary support and worked in Mumbai for a long period supporting the government. When you do such things, they come back to you.

What is coming up next?

SDE has come a long way – initially an 18-member team, now 34 with the look to expand to 60 team members soon. The past year has been particularly good, and they are entering the 2021 financial year with 3.5 million USD worth of outstanding orders. All of this without taking any grants, running fully on their own money. They have exported 7 systems internationally, to Singapore and African nations and in 2021-2022 they are looking towards scaling operations to Europe and Canada, with contacts already in place. Boat in a box, coming soon to shore near you!

View their journey through the PortXL Rotterdam program in 2017 via the video below: