Learnings from Smart Port Challenge: Four Months On

Winning isn't everything. Growth is.
From the Team
January 18, 2024
Learnings from Smart Port Challenge: Four Months On

It’s been four months since MarinaChain concluded its journey with Smart Port Challenge 2022 organized by PIER71. For those not in the know, Smart Port Challenge is an annual competition organized by MPA & NUS to support and accelerate early stage Maritime Start-ups by providing mentorship, knowledge and most importantly, access to key industry figures in leading maritime companies to rapidly validate and iterate through their ideas.

So what did we takeaway from this accelerator? Like all start-ups, we dreamt of winning, raising lots of money from VCs and then experiencing that hockey stick growth — all of which did not happen at all. But maybe framing the main takeaways as such misses the point. Perhaps the biggest takeaway was our journey of “leveling up” as a team and the support that PIER71 has given — more on that later. So, even though SPC has ended, we still find ourselves leveraging on what we have learnt:

  • Always keeping the customers’ needs in view
  • Focusing on delivering features to test the hypothesis
  • …or at least continually building on our learnings (insights) of both our customers and industry (a small shipowner has very different needs and cost requirements to that of medium to large shipowners!)
  • Documentation has also now become a core process and we always try to get feedback from our users!
  • And the list of countless other wisdom learnt goes on and on!

On the human side of the equation, our team grew plenty. Our team members were exposed to the challenges of managing a start-up for the first time. The program environment of having mentors closely guiding us on validating hypotheses and “forcing” us to talk to our users was akin to an immune system being exposed to new antibodies, which evolved our system and way of thinking. We all had to recognize our problems and change some wrong assumptions we had about our users. One such realization was that our key users were in fact small- to medium-sized shipowners and not large shipowners (and that these groups of people were not easily found in Singapore!).

Though PIER71 may be a competition, being alongside other maritime start-ups brought a sense of comfort that there was a community of others — foolish or mavericks — trying to bring change into an industry that is traditionally slow to adopt innovation, especially that of technology. Of course, we must give a shoutout to the PIER71 team, Jerline, Ning & Brian. Even after the program ended, they would still invite us back for events, send good opportunities and business contacts our way — essentially our small squad of external cheerleaders!

While we may not have emerged as Champions or walked away with a big funding round, we did walk away more rugged and resilient, with a sharper focus on our direction and converting clients to customers.

Sean Lew