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Exclusive: Maritime Startups, Investment & Innovation Post COVID-19

PortandTerminal.com, May 14, 2020

“Nothing is sacred anymore and everything is faster” | An exclusive one-on-one interview with Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder and CEO of theDOCK Innovation Hub and Peter Stewart, Chief Editor, PortandTerminal.com.

HAIFA, ISRAEL – PortandTerminal.com had the opportunity to interview Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder and CEO of the theDOCK Innovation Hub, a Venture Capital firm investing in and providing industry expertise to startups developing technologies for Ports, Shipping and Logistics sectors.

When we spoke with Hannan he and the team at theDOCK had just wrapped up the third in a series of four webinars that they organized for investors, startups and maritime industry leaders to discuss maritime innovation and startups in a post-COVID19 world. The following are edited highlights of our discussion.

Peter Stewart, Chief Editor of PortandTerminal.com speaking with Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder and CEO, theDock

PS: Hannan, before we get started, maybe just a few words about theDOCK and where you are today as a VC/Accelerator in the maritime space for those who may not already be familiar with your business model.

HC: Yes of course. theDOCK has been active for 3 years now and has a portfolio of promising startups we have invested in and a network of global partners – all leaders in various key verticals within the maritime transportation industry. Without question, we have built the strongest CRM out there of companies, startups, technologies and investors in the maritime space.

Three people arm in arm. Water in background.
theDOCK Co-Founder and CEO Hannan Carmeli [R], CMO, Noa Schuman [C], Co-Founder and COO, Nir Gartzman [L]. (photo credit: theDOCK)

PS: What led to the webinar series? I am guessing it was a fallback thanks to the impossibility of doing conferences and in-person meetings thanks to COVID19?

HC: Yes, that’s it exactly. Typically each year we host annual events and face-to-face panel discussions – those, for now, are obviously impossible. The webinar series was designed to replace them. They are hosted for the same group of people – maritime corporates, startups and investors. Just a different way of getting everyone together.

Each of the webinars paired a major industry corporate with an up and coming startup, for example, the first was with the shipping line ZIM and Wave, one of the startups in our portfolio that ZIM is already doing business with. That was the format for each webinar – a major industry player with a startup that has meaningful, in-market traction.

PS: Alright. Let’s get to the meat of this sandwich. What did you learn?

HC: We learned that we live in a very special era. An unprecedented one really. No man-made event could have had even a remotely close effect to what the COVID19 pandemic has. The special circumstances which now dictate our personal and business lives are still unfolding. One sure thing is that the future “business-as-usual” is NOT going to be usual at all.

PS: Meaning?

HC: Look – we see already that innovations which up until a couple of weeks ago were considered adventures – maybe something “nice to have” and therefore waiting for the “right time”, are being embraced in a heartbeat today. And it’s not just in the maritime space. Look at video conferencing with Zoom. Zoom has existed for years, but look at how the pandemic has catapulted it from being a “nice to have” to today, a “need to have”.

Nothing is a sacred cow anymore. Autonomous vessels? Can you imagine the discussions that are taking place right now about accelerating their development? Tracking software on our smartphones to warn us of safe social distancing and contact tracing? Before COVID19, can you imagine introducing such a thing quickly? Now the question is “How fast can it be implemented?”

Nothing is sacred anymore and everything is faster.

From left to right, Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder and CEO theDOCK, Jesper Praestensgaard, theDock Advisory Board Member, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder and COO, theDOCK, Noa Schuman, CMO, theDock (photo credit: theDOCK)

PS: How do you get things done, projects funded and implemented now? Is it more difficult?

HC: As I said earlier, these are early days and we are learning our way through this. What we see so far is that in some ways, it seems to be getting easier and other ways more challenging.

We’re seeing the approvals process in the large corporates that we work with getting easier. There’s less red-tape. Companies are actively looking for immediate solutions to the new problems that they are facing and shortcutting much of the old tender/bid processes we are used to working with.

Dr. Rolf Wirtzman, CEO, thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (on left) and Hannan Carmeli, Co-founder & CEO, theDock (right) signing cooperation agreement last July, 2019.

PS: You said that it is also getting harder? How so?

HC: Implementation of new technologies by our startups can be more challenging. Now, due to COVID19, getting access to customer’s premises and vessels to fine-tune and implement new technologies is more difficult. Startups need to focus much more on making installation of their solutions as frictionless as possible.

PS: Anyone other insights from the webinars? I know that you hosted two others – the second with Liberty & Orca AI and the third with UPS Israel & AiDock.

HC: Yes exactly. For anyone who is interested, we have put the recordings and takeaways of each session up on our website. From a big picture perspective, I would emphasize that, if you’re a startup, although challenges do exist, these are exciting times. Things are moving faster, getting done faster. You have a window of opportunity right now – seize it.

Coronavirus has helped major companies to become much more adaptable and open to change. Startups now should strive for their project to stay away from the title of an “IT project”, and rather one that is now viewed as MISSION-CRITICAL.

Sponsors still matter just as much. To collaborate with a corporate, startups need a good SPONSOR from the corporate side and be ready to accommodate design requirements

And finally, remember what we talked about with making implementation as frictionless as possible. Focus on making on-boarding as FAST and simple as possible.

NOTE: Recording and Key Takeaways from all three of the webinars can be found by clicking here.

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