Danish start-up Portchain tackling one of container's biggest challenges

Three Danish entrepreneurs with a background from McKinsey have developed a solution for reducing delays and billion-dollar expenses in container ports. It's fundamentally about one thing, the founder of Portchain tells ShippingWatch.

Photo: PR-foto: Portchain

A container vessel is delayed by weather conditions and misses its scheduled port call to offload and load cargo.

For competitive reasons, the different players often choose solutions which help them in the short term and which cannot unleash the huge value to be found in improved coordination and collaboration.

Anders Olivarius, CPO, PORTCHAIN
The delay is not at an isolated incident which only impacts the individual ship. The impact of the delay spread like ripples in the water. Perhaps there is no berth available when the vessel reaches port. Perhaps the port loses money, because the dock is reserved for the delayed ship and others have to wait even longer. Perhaps the vessel ends up delayed along its entire service route between the major container ports.

The problem is a familiar one, but the solution is not, as communication has long been problematic between container ports and carriers. Nor is communication between the major ports up to par when issues such as ship delays arise.

"It's in the interplay between ports and carriers that we want to try to provide an optimization of port calls and effective coordination between all stakeholders," Anders Olivarius tells ShippingWatch.

Go way back

Olivarius, together with Niels Kristiansen and Thor Thorup, is one of the founders of start-up Portchain, launched in February of this year. The idea behind Portchain emerged because the three partners have previously worked together at McKinsey to optimize container shipping. They left McKinsey in January 2017.

Portchain is based in humble premises, in a courtyard in inner Copenhagen. The four rooms house nine employees and a dog who comes along for the working day, while the company has received a grant of DKK 3.3 million from a national innovation fund and support from the Danish Maritime Fund.

The start-up has estimated that altogether, EUR 8.5 billion can be saved annually across the globe by optimizing port calls via digital communication between ports, shipowners, authorities and port agents.

"There is a new value in bringing people together. It's a scenario where everyone wins if we can bring a digital solution, which facilitates communication, into the game" says Niels Kristiansen, Portchain's CEO.

European pilot project

Portchain's initial goal is to come in and work with the major European container ports and lighten their load.

More specifically, Portchain is currently operating a pilot project with one of the largest container ports in Europe. The three founders decline to reveal the port, but if the test phase shows good results, it could soon be incorporated by the port. The ambition is to save the ports huge amounts of time and money.

"We have a contract with the port and are now in the "proof of concept" phase, where we must show that our model is something more than a model, but rather something which creates value. That means that we are in constant contact with the port, its employees and are constantly seeking their help to make our solutions better," says Thor Thorup, CCO of Portchain.

If the trial is well received, the hope is to be able to sell Portchain's digital coordination solutions to other European ports and shipowners.

Although digitalization is probably the biggest buzzword in container shipping right now, Portchain only has a few direct competitors on the market. There are companies which also make digital communication platforms for ports and shipowners, but they are usually tied up with a specific carrier or port.

"For competitive reasons, the different players often choose solutions which help them in the short term and which cannot unleash the huge value to be found in improved coordination and collaboration. We are trying to change that," says Olivarius.

Portchain expects to carry out pilot projects across several ports over the next six to 12 months.

English Edit: Lena Rutkowski

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