Flemish start-up at the helm of internal communications at sea with IoT technology

Sealution, a start-up that developed a proprietary network of receivers that enables internal communications on ocean-going vessels, raises over €1.3 million in a funding round. The young company from Sint-Martens-Latem found an Internet of Things (IoT) solution that connects all devices and systems on a seagoing vessel. Their invention makes ships more sustainable and their maintenance more budget-friendly. Permanent data exchange also means efficiency gains for the crew members, the shipping company, and the cargo itself.

Sealution is the brainchild (est. 2021) of CEO and former maritime officer Sebastian Hamers, CFO Ruben Verplancke, and CTO Romeo Martens. In total, the three co-founders are now raising €1,315,000 with their start-up. Of that amount, €800,000 came from an equity round with Venture Studio Miles Ahead and investment fund Angelwise, and €200,000 via convertible loans from investment platform Techstars, and various business angels. Sealution also raised €315,000 in subsidies through Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO) in September 2022. The entire capital will be used to switch from development to production (lines).

‘The Apple Home of an ocean liner’

What exactly does Sealution do? It works with a network of receivers or ‘gateways’ – one in each room – that allow data signals to pass through the walls of ocean-going vessels above and below deck. The gateways, which can easily be installed by the crew, receive and send the retrieved data via existing cabling – no need for new cabling – to a central module. This module analyses, filters, and ranks the data and transmits it to a server that can display it visually on the bridge or in the control room.

The marine vessel’s devices and systems exchange valuable data 24/7 thanks to their Internet of Things (IoT) solution. “So feel free to compare our internal network of receivers to the Apple Home of a ship at sea,” says Sealution CEO Sebastian Hamers. “By the way, we use Bluetooth to connect those new sensors. Bluetooth uses less energy than Wi-Fi, for example. Moreover, classical wireless networks don’t get through the steel walls of ocean-going vessels anyway, especially below deck.”

Data sharing promotes sustainability, finance, and efficiency

Such internal communication has numerous benefits for the shipping industry. Not least in terms of sustainability. Thanks to machine data collection, the system monitors certain values. With that info – and the help of models with machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) – the ship can eventually sail on less fuel. The more data analysed, the greater the fuel savings. And that’s truly necessary: Europe will prohibit ships’ emissions of CO2 at the quayside as from 2030, and will require them to be carbon neutral by 2050.

The data also facilitates maintenance, which has an impact on the financial aspect of shipping. Right now, that maintenance is still preventive: the crew knows perfectly well when to send a technician. Under the motto ‘prevention is better than cure’, Sealution – via an AI algorithm that delves into the data – aims to even predict future maintenance. Shipping companies often now stay ashore for six weeks to improve or replace things. They will be able to drastically reduce that time because they have a much better and quicker view of which part will need what maintenance.

Furthermore, internal communication means efficiency gains for the crew members, the shipping company, and the cargo itself. Currently, someone still has to go in person to look at all the counters, on a ship that is sometimes as long as 400 metres, and write it down in a logbook. All information is transmitted automatically with Sealution’s system. The shipping company in turn gets more insights for the shipper such as the condition and position of the cargo. The cargo also benefits: IoT technology continuously monitors the temperatures of container cooling systems.

Thanks to Sealution, seafaring is also safer for crew members. For example, if someone falls overboard, an alarm is automatically triggered that immediately notifies other crew members via the wearables. This wouldn’t happen without the data exchange between upper and lower decks.

Tailor-made software for ocean-going vessels

In January 2023, Sebastian Hamers and Romeo Martens tested the full installation for the first time on the high seas with Dutch shipping company Seatrade. The connectivity system was fully on point, to the far end of the ship, with no loss of speed or data. “We strongly feel that we can revolutionise data sharing and innovation on ocean-going vessels with Sealution,” adds CFO Ruben Verplancke. “Why? Our technology is extremely reliable, applicable to large ocean-going vessels, and can be adapted by software engineers according to the specific needs of a fleet. The sea is the limit.”

About Sealution

Sealution – a contraction of sea and solution – is a B2B start-up from Sint-Martens-Latem that used its IoT technology to develop a proprietary internal network of receivers that enables internal communications on ocean-going vessels. The three founders are CEO Sebastian Hamers, CFO Ruben Verplancke, and CTO Romeo Martens. In total, the team consists of six people, including Gilles Montyne as CIO, and back-end developer and AI expert Anthony Vancauwenbergh. Peter Vuylsteke – who has almost 30 years of experience in the shipping industry – also recently joined the team as Head of Business Development.

Sealution was officially established in June 2021, after participating in the entrepreneurial competition Start-It @KBC in March 2021. In addition, Sealution participated in PortXL’s acceleration program in 2021, where they had a chance to showcase their business solution to the corporate partners. In May 2022, the start-up was voted “Best Win” out of all 75 start-ups that graduated from Start-It @KBC. In September 2022, Sealution won the final of the unofficial Belgian Enterprise Championship, organised by Voka – Chamber of Commerce West Flanders. The start-up will therefore represent Belgium’s honour at the World Enterprise Championships in Saudi Arabia, from 7-11 March 2023.

About Miles Ahead

Miles Ahead is a Ghent-based Venture Studio that helps early-stage founders of Deep Tech & AI startups grow faster by producing and funding their business within a stimulating environment.

About Angelwise

Angelwise is an early stage investment fund whose main focus is to provide maximum support to startups and young companies to the next stage of their growth, preferably together with business angels or other early stage funds. The fund’s main shareholders are PMV, COI, BAN Flanders and over ninety business angels. Established in 2021, the fund has raised €20 million to build an ecosystem of companies that can help realise the digital transformation of society. For more information, visit www.angelwise.be.

About Techstars

Techstars is a global investment firm and one of the largest pre-seed investors in the world. It provides access to capital, one-to-one mentoring, a global network and customised programming for early-stage entrepreneurs.

About Venture Campus

Venture Campus is the leading partner for Flemish companies seeking to apply for innovation-related grants. It guides its clients from A to Z, according to the ‘no-cure, no-pay’ principle. Venture Campus was founded in 2013, has a multidisciplinary team of 20 employees and has since had more than 150 successful grant applications on the counter.

About PortXL

PortXL is the world’s first port accelerator and is unique in its kind, with a global network of leading companies and experts. The objective of PortXL is the acceleration of innovative technologies for the green energy, maritime, logistics and process industry in port regions across the world. In doing so, PortXL activates the largest possible ecosystem to stimulate entrepreneurship for all involved parties. The PortXL ecosystem consists of start-ups and scale-ups, investors and partners, and market leading companies such as lead partners Van Oord and Port of Rotterdam, as well as partners Boskalis, Damen, Shell, Deltares, City of Rotterdam, InnovationQuarter, and Provincie Zuid-Holland. PortXL was launched in 2015 with the ambition to bridge the gap between innovative entrepreneurs and the established port industry. PortXL is the linking pin between these two worlds. PortXL is in its sixth year of operations and so far has executed 12 programs, accelerated more than 100 start-ups and scale-ups, and facilitated the signing of over 220 contracts. For more information: www.portxl.org