Singapore unveils startup fund to fuel maritime digital transformation

Grants will be offered to help startups pilot their projects and a new zone has been dedicated to testbed drone technologies for maritime applications, as the country aims to be "Silicon Valley of the maritime world".

Singapore is offering funds to help startups pilot projects for the maritime industry, which can also access sandboxes to test new technologies. A new zone also has been dedicated to testbed drone technologies for maritime applications, as the country navigates its ambition of becoming a global maritime startup hub. 

Technology had played an integral role in keeping the sector resilient during the COVID-19 outbreak and would continue to do so in a post-pandemic era, said Chee Hong Tat, Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Transport. To help the industry navigate this, it needed an environment that supported risk-taking and experimentation as well as collaborations with internal and external partners, Chee said. 

Speaking Tuesday at the Singapore Maritime Technology Conference, the minister said market players needed a conducive environment to test out new ideas and "a safe place [for experiments] to fail". 

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"This supports our vision of becoming the Silicon Valley of the maritime world. where ideas and talents come together to develop innovative maritime solutions that can transform the industry," he said. 

To further fuel its ambition, he added that the government hoped to attract more technology companies to Singapore and collaborate with maritime companies to develop products and services for the sector. 

Specifically, through its PIER71 startup programme, it is targeting to boost its local maritime technology startups from 30 to 100 by 2025. The PIER71 initiative was jointly set up by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and National University of Singapore's NUS Enterprise arm, and had previously hosted participants from Denmark, Canada, and Japan. 

According to Chee, MPA would park SG$10 million ($7.51 million) from the Maritime Innovation and Technology Fund to fuel the development of maritime startups here. 

A new grant, called Mint-Startup, also would be established to help startups and scale-ups, or startups that already had validated their technology and ready to scale up their products. 

Startups that had completed PIER71 or other maritime acceleration programmes in Singapore would be able to apply for up to SG$50,000 to fund their projects. Scaleup would be able to apply for up to SG$100,000 under the programme. 

Designated drone testing zone

Sandboxes also would be provided so new technology could be tested in a safe environment and assessed for potential risks and commercial viability, said Chee. This included the launch of a designated area in which drones for maritime applications could be piloted. 

Noting that interest in the use of drones had been growing, the minister said these devices could be used in various ways across the sector, such as shore-to-ship supply deliveries and remote ship inspections. Drones could enable ports in Singapore as well as globally to be more efficient, he added.

Located near Marina South Pier with close proximity to the anchorages in the country, the new Maritime Drone Estate would facilitate the development of drone applications through a sandbox for testbedding technologies and operations, said MPA. The agency added that drone applications could enhance productivity and reduce the need for manpower as well as cut costs.

It noted that the sandbox was part of the Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map to invest in new port capabilities by tapping emerging technologies. 

According to MPA, nine companies already had conducted tests at the drone estate. These included pilots for shore-to-ship deliveries, drone surveillance, and on 5G networks to support maritime drone operations. 

Singapore's Infocomm Media Development Authority in June 2019 announced various initiatives aimed at spurring innovation and adoption of 5G in the country, which included a SG$40 million ($30.04 million) pot to build up the supporting ecosystem. They also comprised of efforts on six key verticals, such as maritime, smart estates, and urban mobility, which were tagged for their potential to showcase 5G use cases that could be championed globally. 

Last July, MPA also inked agreements with five global organisations to develop and adopt data standards and API (application programming interface) specifications. It hoped such efforts would support data exchange for service transactions in the sector. 

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