$10m to turn S'pore into Silicon Valley of maritime world

Tech start-ups in the sector can tap grants of up to $100,000 in bid to grow their numbers

Maritime start-ups can look forward to grants of up to $100,000, as Singapore steps up its bid to become the "Silicon Valley of the maritime world".

A new Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) grant, called Mint-Startup, was announced yesterday, part of $10 million earmarked by the authority to drive the growth of maritime technology companies here.

This aims to grow the number of such start-ups from the current 30 to 100 by 2025, through both supporting cash-strapped beginners and attracting more technology firms to Singapore's shores.

Mint-Startup will grant start-ups that have completed certain programmes up to $50,000 to pilot their projects. Firms that already have promising solutions and are looking to scale up can apply for project grants of up to $100,000.

The $10 million, from the Maritime Innovation and Technology (Mint) Fund, will be used in part to link maritime and venture capital companies with start-ups, and to develop what the MPA called a playbook to guide start-ups looking to tap schemes and support programmes here.

Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Transport Chee Hong Tat announced the new schemes yesterday, calling these essential to building an ecosystem that encourages experimentation.

Speaking at Singapore Maritime Week, which will run till Friday, he said: "It is not about avoiding failure completely. It is about providing safe space to fail, so that companies and individuals have a conducive environment to try new ideas...

"This approach 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."

The week-long Singapore Maritime Week conference is themed around decarbonisation, digitalisation and talent attraction, and is expected to have an international audience of 6,000 people, with most tuning in online.

It comes as both Covid-19 and the Suez Canal blockage last month have disrupted the industry, focusing attention on the importance of keeping shipping lanes open and supply lines intact.

In line with its theme of digitalisation, the MPA is also pushing for wider industry adoption of electronic bills of lading (EBLs), which are digital copies of the documents used to provide proof of ownership of cargoes during transit.

Mr Chee said Singapore and Rotterdam ports successfully trialled the EBL during a shipment from Vietnam to the Netherlands via Singapore in January. This reduced the documentation process from six to 10 days for hard copy documents to less than 24 hours.

Mr Chee said: "The processing of physical copies of bills of lading has been a bottleneck against greater efficiency in the maritime sector. EBLs, like their paper counterparts, need to be commonly recognised and accepted by industry and across borders.

"Only then can there be widespread adoption of EBLs... (The trip) marks a milestone towards the digitalisation of the important Europe-Far East trade route, which these two major transhipment ports serve."

Although EBLs were introduced in the 1990s, only 0.1 per cent of bills today are issued electronically. Current EBLs from different systems are also not interoperable.

To catalyse the global adoption of these electric bills, the MPA is issuing a call for industry players to propose ways to help develop and pilot the use of these bills for cross-border trade.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2021, with the headline '$10m to turn S'pore into Silicon Valley of maritime world'. Subscribe