On Friday 8th February, more than 100 people gathered in Port of Antwerp’s brand new Wagenzaal venue to listen to start-up stories and their experiences working with corporates in the port cluster.

What is PortXL?
The main goal of PortXL is to increase the client base for start-ups entering or active in the port sector by scouting new products and technologies, finding a match with corporates and together tackling industry issues. Finding solutions for challenges the maritime corporates face, building a trusted relationship and committing to a collaboration or contract, and in the meantime quickly building a network in a new environment, that’s what PortXL stands for.

Aim of the event
Six start-ups presented their technology and products to an audience of entrepreneurs, innovation managers and teams, stakeholders from the Antwerp port cluster and C-levels from various organisations such as DEME, MSC, Port of Antwerp, BASF, Aertssen, Brabo, ESPO, ING, Engie and EY.

This edition also put a number of PortXL’s international participants in the spotlight, showcasing a number of technologies around emissions reductions, blockchain and inland barging.

After Alain Bernard, DEME Group Director, shared his vision on innovation and how DEME is addressing the global challenges, Jan Peter Balkenende took the floor and spoke about his passion for innovation and start-ups and his views on collaboration between the Ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. Patrick Verhoeven from the International Association for Ports and Harbors drew the event to a close, stressing the need for resilient infrastructure, attention for the climate and environment and building a strong network of ports and businesses.

Start-up presentations

Enervalis – flexible energy monitoring/ trade-off supply and demand

Offering a software that allows to make smarter decisions about energy management, Enervalis sparked the attention of both DEME and Port of Antwerp.

By nature, this type of product requires a dedicated effort and time investment to create buy-in with a corporate. Moreover, it is difficult to consider this technology as a stand-alone, isolated solution – for energy monitoring to be successful, it has to take into account the corporate’s long term vision for sustainability and energy economics.

Throughout the three month period, Stefan Lodeweyckx, the founder and CEO, was able to accelerate conversations with both POA and DEME energy and facility management teams, resulting in a clear action plan for implementing a common energy monitoring and reporting platform around two assets in the port, allowing standard definitions for measuring real-time energy usage.

Esoptra – providing the simplest way to innovate your data into value

In this use case, Esoptra builds virtual data flows as separate add-ons, making complex processes more productive with limited impact to the process itself.

Paul Carpentier and Tobit Wijnant from Esoptra demonstrated great sportsmanship when MSC decided to postpone their dangerous goods process use-case with Esoptra. After an intense few weeks of co-designing a Proof of Concept (POC), the MSC team judged the timeframe was too limited to come to a viable business case in using the proposed solution. But after an internal progress review at MSC, it was decided to get back together again to pick up the conversations and finetune the solution concept.

Peripass – automating and digitising access management and control

Road logistics reception comes with on-site truck chaos, communication in a multitude of languages, no real-time overview and a gap in current company processes, this is what Peripass fixes.

The Peripass team truly approached this journey as a sales opportunity, demonstrating great maturity in exploring use-cases and investing a lot of time qualifying them with our partners.

Working with mentors from both Port of Antwerp and DEME, Leander Naessens, Tom Lierman and Pieter Dalving quickly turned high-level ideas for use-cases into tangible designs and concepts.

With Port of Antwerp, they are proud to announce they will equip a mobile construction site with their technology, allowing better visibility, improving safety and pre-registering (contractor) workforce.


Seafar – unmanned shipping

Seafar develops technology to operate and manage unmanned barges and small vessels. By automating ship owners’ vessels and connecting them to a shore control centre, the unmanned vessel can navigate detailed routes and via the control centre and a shore captain intervenes when necessary.

DEME approached Seafar to equip and operationalise one of their newly purchased tugboats with their technology. For DEME, this fits in their vision to operate a fully unmanned vessel on the short term, and in the long term, to test the scalability of this technology for future projects.

Waylay – joint cloud aggregation

Waylay’s flexible integration platform with easily configurable business rules, convinced DEME to start exploring a use-case around connecting and unlocking data sets on and between ships.

The sophistication and complexity of what they do, and capacity constraints at DEME, meant it took longer to agree a use-case. Still, being used to sales cycles of 9-12 months, CEO Piet Van Daele was able to quickly turn around a mock-up to show the DEME IT and Technical Departments how their advanced integration and business rules tool can be brought to life on a vessel or other vehicles.

Xetal – behaviour monitoring using temperature sensors

After a few trials in the healthcare sector, Francesco Pessolano and his team decided to use the PortXL program to start conversations in the maritime sector, seeing potential for their technology in the container business and port assets.

Xetal explored a couple of opportunities with DEME to install their sensors in buildings and heavy machinery to help monitor human presence and energy usage.

XETAL was able to convert a first paid offer with DEME, and started delivery and installation of the sensors a couple of weeks ago. Based on the results of this first pilot, DEME might consider a second order in the second half of this year.


Feedback from partners

For all three of PortXL corporate partners, the PortXL journey proved to be quite challenging. On the one hand, the program provided a rhythm and pace that gave the corporates a nudge to think creatively and be inspired by new technology and solutions provided by these start-ups. A small push or attempt to try something new sometimes leads to quicker decisions and the courage to be disruptive.

On the other hand, no miracles can be achieved in three months. Internal buy-in, operational readiness and capacity constraints are important and all of the partners have been very open and honest about the feasibility of new solutions and ability to absorb change in their organisation.

Committing to work with these start-ups means real business and real impact to operations – strong leadership from all three partners has helped to pace the start-ups.

PortXL continues on its journey and for future programs, more time will be spent working together searching and selecting new Belgian and international start-ups.


Overall, the PortXL journey helped all of their start-ups pave the way into large corporate players in a sector new to them. Some were able to sign an offer and start execution, others have built a significant pipeline of opportunities that haven’t come to fruition yet but have the potential to start future collaborations.

The start-ups showed examples of what is possible in three months, both successes and learnings. PortXL hopes these examples have conveyed a kind of enthusiasm to other entrepreneurs and companies that innovation is possible in a conservative ecosystem.

What’s next

After this first program in Antwerp, 2019 planning is being prepared. Start-ups will be scouted and selected and after the Summer break the 3 months accelerator starts, ending in December 2019. Meanwhile more Corporate players will need to be attracted and convinced to participate. A wider variety of partners (a focus on Antwerp’s chemical corporates) will attract other new start-ups in this maritime eco-system. Connecting with other communities in innovation in Antwerp, is another ambition of PortXL Antwerp.