The port ecosystem is complex. There’s not one person or one department that an entrepreneur can turn to. It’s real simple – build relationships with anyone and everyone that is part of the broader port community. And remember, if you know one port, you only know one port.
Cleaner, greener, more efficient. That was the basis for the screening criteria we used at a port technology business incubator where I once worked. True enough. Ports worldwide are always looking for innovations that fit this description. But opportunities for entrepreneurs are vast within the port ecosystem, and startups wanting to do business "at the port" must look beyond their preconceived notions.
So how do you determine whether your solution is applicable in a port environment?
Follow the Money
Grants, pilot programs, hackathons, accelerators … look for any programs, events and activities that ports are funding or sponsoring that can inform you of their particular priorities. Follow the sources of funds.
- For example, the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles jointly manage the Technology Advancement Program (TAP) to fund development and demonstration of emission-reduction technologies in support of the Ports’ Clean Air Action Plan.
- The Port of Rotterdam helps fund PortXL, an accelerator program that focuses on energy, transport and logistics, chemicals and refinery, and maritime solutions.
- Ports around the globe are supporting industry innovation through ocean and maritime cluster initiatives and innovation centers like AltaSea in Los Angeles and The Centre for Ocean Ventures & Entrepreneurship (COVE) in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
- And Georgia Ports Authority is a long-time sponsor of Ocean Exchange, a program that awards entrepreneurs with sustainable shipping and ocean solutions.
Stormwater filtration, ballast water treatment, air pollution reduction … whatever problems your technology solves, research federal, regional and local regulations, both current and upcoming, that identify opportunities for your solution to become the “best available control technology.” In the U.S., regulations vary greatly from state to state. Location matters. Focus your business development activities where regulation supports your efforts.
If you think your startup will be implemented at the heart of port operations just because it’s "the best new tech," think again. Ports, like any other business, are risk-averse. They’re much less likely to implement technology from a startup when it directly impacts day to day operations. And they’re less likely to test new technology if there is a reasonable solution being offered by a large corporation. At Braid Theory, we advise companies to look for opportunities on the periphery… rabbits and squirrels. Wearables and IoT solutions that improve workplace safety, air and water quality monitoring and analysis tools, and environmental remediation technology are just a few examples.
Look Beyond the Port Authority
Terminal operators, trucking companies, refineries, utility agencies, exporters, freight forwarders, construction companies, shipping companies, industrial real estate developers, warehousing and distribution companies… When it comes to potential customers in the port ecosystem, the list is nearly endless. Start with the customer discovery process. Ask questions.
Oh, by the way, partnerships and networks matter!
We constantly get inquiries from startups asking us to make introductions to "someone at the port." The port ecosystem is complex. There’s not one person or one department that an entrepreneur can turn to. It’s real simple – build relationships with anyone and everyone that is part of the broader port community. And remember, if you know one port, you only know one port.
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