Maritime accelerator puts down anchor in Haifa

Ocean of opportunity awaits Israeli start-ups riding the wave of tech-driven revolution in global shipping.

Ashdod Marina (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Ashdod Marina
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Israeli start-up Pick a Pier is bringing the Airbnb concept to boat marinas. Another Israeli start-up, Loginno, built a smart container-tracking solution to monitor location and cargo conditions.
These are two of the seven companies in the first cohort of theDOCK, an Israeli innovation hub and accelerator that has set sail on a big blue ocean of opportunities for maritime innovation.
They were chosen from more than 60 enterprises vetted by theDOCK founders Hannan Carmeli and Nir Gartzman.
“There are many signs that the maritime sector globally is undergoing a technology-driven revolution and we believe that will grow,” Carmeli tells ISRAEL21c.
Two particularly significant signs propelled the new venture.
“First, each maritime shipping company has started hiring a vice president of innovation,” says Carmeli. “Even companies with a heritage of more than 100 years are realizing that their competition in the coming years is Amazon, not other shippers.”
“Second, Israel has many relevant technologies for this upcoming revolution: big data, AI, deep learning, cyber, drones. But we are missing in action in the maritime sector – with the exception of maybe 10 startups, such as Freightos and Windward. That doesn’t really move the needle. We founded theDOCK to make Israel the Start-Up Nation for that sector as well,” he says.
Launched in July 2017, Carmeli and Gartzman gathered stakeholders from three directions: promising entrepreneurs, interested investors and global shipping/maritime corporates as potential business partners.
“We are talking to 15 to 20 very large leaders in this space at any given time, which shows their interest in innovation,” says Carmeli. “Three of them already signed formal partnership agreements with us, giving them a ticket to relevant Israeli creative startups matching their business challenges.”
“These business partners are crucial to our startups, providing in-kind value like access to their data, equipment and knowledge experts. They can host beta programs and become design partners,” he says.
The three are Denmark-headquartered Maersk, the world’s largest container ship and supply vessel operator; Lloyd’s Register of London, an international provider of classification, compliance and consultancy services to the marine and offshore industries; and the Finnish company Wärtsilä, which provides smart technologies for marine vessels.
Ran Merkazy, Lloyd’s Register vice president of product and services innovation, explains that “Israel, although it has a lot to offer in areas such as cyber, UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], vision analytics, IoT [Internet of things], autonomous vehicles and more, has not focused on the marine industry as a key innovation area. TheDOCK Innovation Hub represents the early signs of a new innovation avenue for the local ecosystem. [Lloyd’s Register] would like to support this fully.”
In addition to Pick a Pier and Loginno, the initial portfolio of theDOCK includes Haystack Magic (tagging and mapping), AiDock (customs clearance using an artificial intelligence process), ORCA (autonomous capabilities for vessels), FAST (professional network for freight forwarders) and Tiidan (online monitoring of suppliers).
Carmeli says that its vertical focus on maritime, ports and logistics allows theDOCK to provide its portfolio startups with accurate mentorship and go-to-market strategy assistance during the four-month accelerator, as well as a seed investment of up to $100,000 apiece.
“Since we have equity in the portfolio companies, we still stay in close contact with alumni because their success will be our success,” says Carmeli.
The hub set up a micro-fund for investors to become limited partners, as well as a network of venture capitalists, angels and venture arms of large corporations in the sector. Some have made initial investments and the hub has enough micro-funding for 10 to 12 startups at this point.
The ecosystem growing around theDOCK’s Haifa headquarters also includes government entities, such as the Israel Innovation Authority, EcoMotion innovation community, National Fuel Choices and Smart Mobility Initiative, and Israeli universities with maritime-related academic programs.
In addition, theDOCK is involved in a new joint program of the Finance Ministry and Israel Innovation Authority that provides incentives for government-owned companies – like Ashdod Port, Haifa Port, and Israel Ports – to pilot technologies from Israeli startups to increase efficiency.
Carmeli says he knew of only one other maritime innovation hub in the world, in Rotterdam, when theDOCK got started. It was in this Dutch city that theDOCK’s “DockTech” team won first place in the World Port Hackathon in September 2017.
In the year since then, a few other maritime hubs have opened in Europe and the United States.
“We are making friends with them. We see them as force multipliers rather than competitors. We have no competition as far as sourcing technology in Israel,” Carmeli emphasizes.
Aside from 15 mentors and advisers, theDOCK has a full-time staff of three and student interns from IDC Herzliya, a private research college.
Looking ahead, theDOCK intends to drift intentionally into related waters.
“Today we focus on commercial maritime vessels, freight forwarders and ports. We’ve started discussions with partners in recreational maritime like yachts and marinas,” says Carmeli. “Cruise ships are being built in large numbers, so a lot is going on there. And many opportunities exist in apps for travelers.”
Israeli maritime startups are already rocking the boat in an old industry. Pick a Pier, for instance, is creating a marketplace to address berthing-rental shortages for boaters, simultaneously throwing a new economic lifeline to marina operators. The company has launched its first paying pilot, with the Tel Aviv marina.