With a vast coastline of over 7500 km with 12 Major Ports and 187 Non-Major Ports that carry nearly 95 per cent of India’s trade volume, the maritime sector in India offers a sea of opportunities comprising ports, shipping, shipbuilding, ship repair, ship recycling, Inland Water Transport (IWT), dredging and multi-modal logistics. Will startups clutch the opportunity through sea route? Entrepreneur explores.
Taking a cue from his father’s ship repair and marine services business, Capt. Nikunj Parashar came out with the first unmanned marine surface vehicle for the Indian Navy. Launching Sagar Defence Engineering in May 2015, he is striving to meet the never ending needs of technological competency in Maritime sector, as even the smallest problem in water becomes very large and expensive to solve.
Sharing his startup story, Parashar informs, “I told my dad that I won’t be participating in the family business, as I want to work on this technology. I see a huge scale to it, especially in the commercial sector. I got my wife, my brother-in-law and my father into this venture. It’s a family owned startup.” Parsashar soon started working from his dad’s office since January 2014 in Mumbai. With the prototype being ready he plans to launch it sooner in October.
Talking about the opportunity he saw, Parashar says, “In maritime, the cost effective systems are going to come through the unmanned systems in the long run, so there is a huge scope for startups. The sector is difficult to understand, but the scope is amazing.”
He also has a team of engineers working with him. Recently Ministry of Shipping announced Sagar Defence Engineering Pvt. Ltd. as the winner of the maiden ‘MIS 2016 – DP World Prize’ contest which was organized in association with Invest India and Global trade enabler DP World. He was awarded with a prize money of INR 15,00,000 by DP World to support his project. The startup strives to meet the never ending needs of technological competency in Maritime sector.
Talking about utilizing the prize money Parashar shares, “We are completely utilizing the money on the vehicle. Our main cost goes in testing the trials for these vehicles. We need support to standby there.”
“Being a capex technology, we would require funds and are talking to investors,” he adds. Parashar is one such case, there are other startups being built exclusively for the maritime sector.
Marine Robotics Chennai-based Planys formed by Tanuj Jhunjhunwala is developing advanced Marine Robotics. This IIT Madras Incubated Company manufactures indigenous ROVs and provides underwater inspection services using them. It integrates marine robotics, advanced Non-Destructive Testing & post-inspection analysis tools. Started in June 2015, it has clients including offshore oil companies.
“Our target group includes offshore companies, ship owners, maintenance service providers or anyone who requires their infrastructure to be inspected,” shares Shori. Founded by three IIT students and two IIT Madras faculties, they instill a passion for robotics and started demonstrating more inspecting techniques.
Talking about the competition in the industry, Jhunjhunwala says, “We are targeting a kind of depth space of 20 to 200 meters. There are companies beyond 200 meters which are already operational. But, in this range cost-effective solutions are not available.”
They already have one robotic in place called Mike. The startup also raised a seed round of funding from Angel investors in Chennai and Singapore. Talking about the way forward Jhunjhunwala adds, “We are looking at more compact vehicles for the Indian environment. Quick deployment is key factor for us. Another aspect is customized vehicles; we have clients who have specific requirements. We have the capability to integrate their requirements into ours.”
Hyderabad-based entrepreneur, Surendra Lingareddy, has created a Smartport Platform offering a SAAS model (pricing per feature) which allows ports to amortize the cost over a period of time instead of investing one time, unlike other expensive enterprise software. Sharing more about his startup, Lingareddy says, “The platform that we are building is to ease the pressure on the infrastructure that we are assembling. One of the initiatives is to go paperless.
There are multiple stakeholders who require exchange of documents. The second problem is to strengthen technology that comes in place. We are planning to blend it with existing machines that can study the patterns in advance and help in prevention.” Talking about the support from the industry, he shares, “There are couple of ports in Andhra Pradesh which have given us access to understand the complexities involved. Our basic motive is to automate them.”
“We haven’t really signed up as a customer with anyone. It’s a matter of time as the authorities are really helping us build the platform,” he adds. Being a techie, Lingareddy worked in the US for 13 years before building Volteo. He plans to roll out the solutions in August. Lingareddy is confident that the change in management system will actually make life very easy for them.
An analytical platform
While travelling to Lakshwadeep, Nrupal Das was discussing about problems on an island. Soon the topic changed and he started interacting about the marine industry.
“Small ships used to ferry people from the island and these people don’t understand electronics. But, they faced problems throughout the year so the information that you gather can directly be sent to the cloud and it will take care of the information that is gathered. Generally they are losing out to these issues. We saw a viable model,” shares Das. This Bhubaneshwar based company is developing IOT devices to gather and store fuel consumption data of marine vessels in cloud data storage system.
The analytics software runs on data stored in cloud servers to find spikes, drops, unusual usage patterns to find marine fuel leakages, spillage, inefficient usage or theft. Stakeholders can access the data online and are informed via email or SMS regarding important incidents. Furthermore, Das says, “The essence of our analytics programme is that it is able to tell you how efficiently or inefficiently a ship is running.” Das has already applied for a patent of his technology.
On building more products Das informs, “In future we will have another product which monitors water level sensor, fire alarm sensor, which monitors threats and can also be brought into this platform. It can become an integrated platform where all machine related information is captured and run on analytics.” Though there are companies in Europe and US that are working on the same, but solutions developed by Das are more cost-effective.
Go with the Flow
Realizing the importance of the maritime sector for economic development, Government of India has announced a number of initiatives to facilitate and grow maritime trade. More than 150+ projects have been identified for strengthening the maritime infrastructure and increasing the total cargo handling capacity of the country both by Greenfield port development and capacity addition to existing ports. Apart from capacity addition, port efficiencies are being improved through mechanization and modernization.
Investment opportunities in Maritime Sector consist of ship building, ship repair, ship recycling, dredger/barge manufacturing, setting up of new ports and capacity augmentation of existing ports, development of inland waterways for cargo and passenger transportation, coastal shipping, passenger ferry services, lighthouse and cruise tourism, island development and aquatic resources, maritime cluster development and other services related to Indian Maritime Sector.
Speaking to Entrepreneur on the sidelines of FICCI’s ‘Make in India’ Paradigm: Roadmap for a Future Ready Naval Force, Admiral R K Dhowan, Chief of Naval Staff, Indian Navy says, “There are fair amount of opportunities for startups because the new aspects that we are looking at is of partnering with the industry that will come up from the Startup India, which is the initiative of the honorable Prime Minister.
There are large numbers of areas wherein the private sector, the MSMEs, our shipyards, our aviation sector can all partner. So, I am sure there are many opportunities for startup India for new ventures to come up in this field and with 46 ships and submarines made in India, there is a transition of Make in India in maritime sector. India is turning to the seas once again."
This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (May 2016 Issue).