Friday the 13th might have a scary reputation, but on this occasion at the Felix Pakhuis in Antwerp it was a cause for celebration, as PortXL Antwerp’s 2nd program concluded with 5 contracts signed by the 2019 cohort.

The event was opened by an artistic rendition of the historical Antwerp entrepreneur Gilbert van Schoonbeke which highlighted the importance of looking at the past to drive innovation in the future. A future that we all strive to improve and make more sustainable, as was reiterated by the Port of Antwerp CEO Jacques Vandermeiren in his inspiring keynote speech.

The crowd listens keenly to the pitches in the pictoresque Felix Pakhuis

What followed were exciting pitches by the innovators of the 2019 cohort and a tour of the start-up expo, where the bright future of the Antwerp port ecosystem and beyond was on display for all the guests to see. The guests ranged from local Flemish companies to as far away as Singapore. Alderman Annick De Ridder closed off the event by speaking about Antwerp’s legacy of innovators that brought upon its 16th century golden age and how modern efforts by the city are seeking to replicate that by encouraging entrepreneurship. What followed was a handing out of hand-written quill & ink parchment certificates to the innovators, in line with the historical theme, with the goal for them to be part of history one day. When looking at the future, it is important to remember where we come from.

What is the PortXL program?

PortXL is the World’s 1st Port & Maritime Accelerator, which has been running a 3-month program every year since its founding in 2015. In 2018 it brought its expertise to Antwerp’s shores and established operations in the top Belgian port with the assistance of partners Port of Antwerp, MSC Belgium, DEME & EY.

The program’s main goal is to increase the client base for start-ups entering or active in the port sector by finding a match with corporates and together tackling industry issues with the end result of building a trusted relationship and committing to a collaboration or contract, while rapidly building a network in a new environment.

The PortXL Antwerp Director (Left) and Program Manager introduce the 2019 cohort

Meet the cohort

Cnext – The Belgian company’s mission is to help organisations that are working to provide a more efficient service and improve customer contacts by speeding up processes and optimising customer interaction. They guarantee a positive impact on your business performance.

Their participation in the program bore fruits, as at Shakedown they signed a contract with MSC Belgium, who was convinced by what they saw in the three-month period. Cnext will be implementing their customer buddy solution into MSC Belgium’s processes, allowing more informed decision-making in retaining customers.

Cnext (left) after signing the contract with MSC Belgium

Evolution Energie – Energy management is complex and is becoming more and more a strategic challenge. Energy efficiency is a key performance criterion of corporations and cities around the world which requires an increase in sourcing cost scrutiny. The French company’s energy management software allows businesses and industries to manage and optimize their energy use in an effective way.

In the three months of the PortXL program, they analysed a joint business case with Port of Antwerp and DEME, resulting in a signed contract with Port of Antwerp to provide consulting in implementing a smart grid in the port.

Evolution Energie (left) after signing the contract with Port of Antwerp, with PortXL Antwerp director Cees-Willem Koorneef on the right

Mavisoft – The Rotterdam-based, but very international start-up (8 nationalities form its youthful team) builds tailor-made Artificial Intelligence solutions that conduct preventive maintenance analytics through image analysis. By using state-of-the-art Machine Vision software (Ma-vi-soft), they can pinpoint damages such as rust, corrosion, and overall structural integrity.

During the program they have explored a use case with MSC Belgium to analyse damages on empty containers. Discussion on how to proceed are still ongoing and their next milestone is set for January 2020.

Mavisoft showcasing their product during the Start-up Expo

ProcessDelight – The Belgian start-up believes that a 360° approach is the foundation of automated and stronger business processes. That’s why they take charge of entire process from start to finish and dive deeply into the assignment. They interview employees or work alongside the client for a day. This gives them clear insight into the existing processes.

They provided their services to MSC Belgium during the program to develop a digital captain’s room, meaning that the information needed for a vessel to make a port call is all centralized in one web portal. The mock-up version was developed and presented during the three-month program, however the final checks from the MSC IT department are currently ongoing.

Process Delight pitching their solution

Romware – The local Antwerp based start-up makes industrial sites safer, more secure and cost-efficient through plug-and-play wearables and Internet of Things technology. The Romware wearable device detects emergencies in lone worker situations, send alerts in case of evacuation and its proximity detector lets the worker know if he/she is crossing into a restricted area or if there is danger lurking around the corner.

Their use case exploration with the Port of Antwerp was a successful one, as they signed not one, but two contracts with the Port authority. One is to ensure the safety of tugboat operators, while the other concerns detection of lone worker situations.

Romware (left) signing their contract with Port of Antwerp // Photo credit: Jonas Verhulst

Smart-Ship – The Dutch start-up incubated by YesDelft! aims to revolutionize ship control. They apply haptics on the controls of vessels, thereby increasing operator performance and making maritime operations safer and easier.

Their solution has impressed DEME, leading to a signed contract that will see the dredging giant implement the Smart-Ship force feedback technology into their simulator to let their captains test it, with the final goal of installation onto their fleet.

Smart-Ship (left) & DEME signing the contract with the old-fashioned feathered quills. // Photo credit: Jonas Verhulst

The Ecosystem

The PortXL Antwerp corporate partners that make this program possible are:

Port of Antwerp – The Antwerp Port Authority manages and maintains the docks, bridges, locks, quay walls and land. It is also responsible for the efficient passage and safety of the shipping traffic in the Antwerp port area. It provides tugs and cranes, carries out dredging work and promotes the port in Belgium and abroad.

EY – A global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. The insights and quality services we deliver help build trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies the world over. They help clients to capitalize on new opportunities and assess and manage risk to deliver responsible growth. Their high-performing, multidisciplinary teams help them fulfil regulatory requirements, keep investors informed and meet stakeholder needs. PortXL Antwerp and EY have engaged in a service partner collaboration.

MSC Belgium – A world leading maritime shipping agency that facilitates the transportation of containerized cargo to and from all 5 continents with weekly scheduled sailings and arrivals to and from the Port of Antwerp. Moreover, except the traditional shipping agency services, MSC Belgium offers today, via its intermodal partner, modern and innovative door-to-door tri-modal services (truck, rail, barge).

DEME Group – The dredging, environmental and marine engineering group DEME is an international market leader for complex marine engineering works, providing its clients with integrated, global solutions. Building on more than 140 years of experience and know-how, DEME has organically moved into several related sectors, such as the financing of marine engineering and environmental projects, executing complex EPC related marine engineering projects including civil engineering works, the development and construction of renewable energy projects, providing services for the oil, gas and energy sector, the decontaminating and recycling of polluted soils and silts and the harvesting of marine resources, etc.

No ecosystem is complete without support from the community, hence without the community partners’ valued contribution the program would not have the same value.

The Beacon – Community partner who provided the venue for the Selection Days and has been a home base for the selected companies during the program. They are an innovation hub that brings tech entrepreneurs, corporates and researchers together in the domains of smart cities, industry 4.0 and smart logistics.

UAntwerpen – The third largest university in the Flanders region of Belgium is PortXL Antwerp’s newest community partner. They share the mutual goal of bringing new technologies to the market, with a particular focus on digitalization and hydrogen technologies.

Group picture of the 2019 cohort, the corporate partners & the PortXL team following the contract signings. // Photo credit: Jonas Verhulst

Next steps

Following a weekend of deserved rest, the 2019 Antwerp cohort will be back in action to start fulfilling their freshly signed contracts and to continue scaling their business by following up with any newly acquired contacts during Shakedown.

The PortXL Antwerp team would like to thank the partners that made the event possible, everyone that attended and all the companies that were involved in the process – without them, none of this would have taken place.

Exciting times are afoot for PortXL Antwerp, whose team will be bolstered soon by a new addition, with which planning for the 2020 program and all its exciting new developments will start… stay tuned!