Written by Sven Goyvaerts, PortXL Antwerp Program Manager

“If you would be brave enough, what would you do then?”

This is written on a card I drew from a deck of cards. The cards are based on Storytelling In 12 Steps by Mieke Bouma, a handbook for crafting your own story. The book can also be applied to your company’s story and even to your customer’s journey.

Bouma’s book is modelled after the monomyth, a story structure shared by countless cultures around the world and explained by Joseph Campbell back in 1949 in his most well-known work The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This myth or hero’s journey involves a hero who goes on a quest and – in a decisive crisis – wins a victory, before coming home changed and transformed.

What are the right questions to ask when we want to come up with new solutions to challenges in the port?

This is what concerns me most in my role as Program Manager for PortXL Antwerp. We do matchmaking between corporations in the port ecosystem and start-ups or scale-ups, thereby facilitating the validation of practical use cases within a certain timeframe.

You can say that we drive innovation in doing so. We also mitigate disruption by allowing corporations to co-develop new business models together with younger companies. However, both these notions of innovation and disruption do not fully cover the service we provide as an accelerator.

What we really enable, I would argue, is exploration. What do we find when we go looking beyond the world we know?

Explorers of all ages

“Exploration is the act of searching for the purpose of discovery of information or resources.” (Wikipedia)

Ever since we were born, we have been exploring the world around us. It is in our nature.

In the maritime world, the act of exploration has a rich history. We can for instance recall Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition of roughly a hundred years ago. His job description for the ship’s crew is the stuff of legend: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” Shackleton famously failed at his goal to cross Antarctica when his ship got crushed by ice.

Another example – and Belgian national hero – is the figure of Gerard Mercator, the 16th century cartographer. Although he did not venture out to explore new territories, he took the task upon himself to map the known world by following up on discoveries made at sea. His so-called Mercator projection is still used to this day as an aide in maritime navigation and in space.

Nowadays explorers no longer chase the far limits of the seas and the earth. Our PortXL partner companies and start-up participants instead explore new technologies and how these can be applied to businesses in the port sector. Our role as PortXL is to help accelerate that exploration for companies and we chart the discoveries made in the process.

The Special World

Our annual PortXL program mirrors the 12 steps of Campbell’s hero’s journey, from Call To Adventure to Resolution. Each year we call port companies away from their day-to-day business towards a Special World so they may reap the rewards and use them in the Ordinary World. Similar to the spices found on distant shores in centuries past, the PortXL start-ups and scale-ups bring value to corporations with their novel products and business propositions.

Here are some examples of PortXL alumni that we come across in this Special World:

Hailing from the US, green hydrogen startup sHYp will be conducting a pilot of their electrolyzer solution with the Port of Rotterdam in the latter part of 2020. Their solution allows them to produce green hydrogen from seawater at a negligible cost, which has passive potential to scale as the energy transition beckons. They are currently discussing a demo of their technology with the Port and the University of Antwerp.

The Israeli wave energy startup Eco Wave Power had closed the PortXL 2019 program with LOIs from Vopak, Port of Rotterdam and Port of Taranto and has since moved to Sweden, got listed on Swedish Nasdaq, did an IPO and made plenty of progress in their facilities in the Port of Jaffa and Gibraltar. They have been featured in the media on multiple occasions, such as in our recent PortXL podcast.

Dutch condition monitoring / predictive maintenance scale-up Semiotic Labs has signed two contracts at the 2019 Rotterdam Shakedown, with Royal IHC and Vopak. Since then, they have been increasing their partners exponentially, the most notable one being ArcelorMittal. See video.

Part of the PortXL Rotterdam 2019 program, Indian underwater ROV inspection scale-up Planys Technologies completed various pilots and signed 4 contracts at 2019 Shakedown, with partners City & Port of Rotterdam and Vopak, as well as North Sea Port. See video.


As evidenced by the international examples mentioned above, PortXL scouts the entire globe for start-ups, scale-ups and their innovations. At the same time we onboard port authorities worldwide to our Port Innovation Atlas, giving an overview of challenges they are facing.

Mercator created the world’s first atlas over 400 years ago. He did so because he believed that the world represented by older maps did not correspond with reality. At PortXL we share that same belief. We want to map an undiscovered world bearing new possibilities for business.

We call on port companies to embark on a journey to that Special World. We need people willing to weather the Trials at sea and a moment of Crisis before reaching the Treasure and Return with a Result. Perhaps you are a port company waiting for this kind of opportunity to come along. The question is: are you brave enough?

Reach out to info.antwerp@portxl.org so we can make preparations for the next roundtrip.