‘PortXL surpassed all expectations’

Column by Mare Straetmans, Managing Director of PortXL
One hundred days, 12 start-ups and 180 mentors. Throw in some sharks, drones, smart software, container locks and a number of 3D printers. Blend it all together during a big ‘shake-down’ and what do you get? PortXL 2016. The first edition of our start-up accelerator programme yielded five client contracts. As such, it surpassed all my expectations. We’ve definitely set a standard for next year!

Over the course of 100 days, the participating start-ups were helped to raise their concepts to the next level, with workshops, market surveys, the elaboration of business models, one-on-one coaching, networking, pitching and fine-tuning. When we started on this programme in October 2015, we said that we would only consider PortXL a success if it demonstrably contributed to the port and the economy. But the fact that five of the twelve participating start-ups have presently signed a contract is more than we had ever dared hope for.

Partnership contracts

The fruits of this year’s hard work? STC will be setting to work on Pingle ’s credential management platform. Vopak and PortCall will be collaborating on the optimisation of the ship handling process. The Port of Rotterdam Authority will be deploying the robots of Ranmarine to collect plastic waste in the port’s basins and waterways. The logistics platform Lotebox has entered into an agreement with a Chinese party, and the Greek firm XYZ will also be teaming up with Vopak. And the other PortXL participants are also making good progress.

Innovative port

People occasionally call our port conservative. But looking at PortXL, you find overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Over 180 mentors have associated themselves with the programme; our partners (Van Oord, Port of Rotterdam Authority, EY, ECE, Vopak, First Dutch, Uniper, Damen, Rabobank, Boskalis, IQ and Heineken) have strongly committed themselves to the initiative, and over 500 people attended the finale event. It’s good to see innovation so enthusiastically received. And personally, I believe it is the only way in which as a port, we can continue to play a significant role in the longer term.

Participants from all over the world

And we have given the lie to other prejudices besides. When you hear the word start-up, you tend to picture slick young guys with trendy beards and complicated bikes. But this image has proven a misconception. According to our calculations, the average age of the PortXL participants was 39.8 years. They are enthusiastic individuals who have been working in the port for years – and who have experienced first-hand which aspects could be improved. They left their homes, jobs and families behind to participate in PortXL and bring their ideas to fruition. The participants came from across the planet: Colombia, the United States, South Africa, Brazil, Portugal, Greece, Croatia and the Netherlands.

Rotterdam to remain home base

The start-ups have all indicated that they intend to stay on in Rotterdam in some form or other. Which is great news, of course. For them, Rotterdam is the FC Barcelona of the port industry. I expect that ultimately, five or six of the start-ups that participated in PortXL 2016 will develop into successful SMEs, and that one or two even run a chance of becoming very big indeed.

Interested in applying for PortXL 2017

The success of the first edition has definitely raised the bar for next year’s programme. And indeed, we are already hard at work, searching for promising start-ups that could make their mark in PortXL 2017. We can’t wait to welcome numerous international start-ups to the port of Rotterdam. Start-ups with a port-related programme that are interested in taking part can register via the PortXL website: Companies that are interested in contributing to PortXL as a mentor or partner are also referred to this website.

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