Starting in 2020, e27 noticed that more and more investors in the Southeast Asia tech startup ecosystem were investing in the regional maritime tech scene. The latest of such investment was a US$800,000 funding for maritime-focussed cybersecurity startup OceanShield; there was also the launch of a maritime tech fund by Rainmaking. These developments indicated a fresh opportunity for industry players to seize.

Signal Ventures is one example of such players that are actively seizing investment opportunities in maritime tech.

In February, the firm announced that it is seeking startups in the sector to join its portfolio. As an investment arm of Signal Group, it is founded by Greek entrepreneur Ioannis Martinos, a prominent figure in the Greek shipping community and CEO of the group.

Outside of the maritime tech sector, Signal Ventures has invested in autonomous vehicle startup Nutonomy and SaaS platform Omnition.

“The maritime tech space has grown significantly over the past three years, but 2021 will see more opportunities than ever before,” says Martinos in a press statement.

With a focus on B2B SaaS, advanced analytics, optimisation and artificial intelligence technologies for the maritime and trade sectors, Signal Ventures offers startups access to unique data processing capabilities, vessel port calls, emissions, port and weather information, venture capital, mentoring and hands-on team-building support.

It also drives incorporation, accounting, legal and HR activities, enabling founders to focus on product development.

Also Read: Maritime tech startups to get US$36M investment from SEEDS Capital

The firm has named Nikolas Pyrgiotis, formerly of McKinsey, as its VP of Technology Ventures. In an email interview, Pyrgiotis explains to e27 their investment philosophy and strategy.

Setting the sail

Pyrgiotis begins by explaining that the firm does not have a “strict mandate” on how it is going to deploy its funds. It favours investments where it can add value and have the flexibility to accelerate or decelerate the deployment.

“High-level, we are targeting at least four deals annually with other startups and initiate one or two more incubation projects over the next 18 months along with the two ongoing ones. Maritime technology startups are spread in shipping, logistics and financial hubs around the world, so following that trend we are investing globally,” he says.

So far, the firm has incubated companies such as UK oil analytics company OilX; invested in and collaborated with Bunker Metric, a bunker procurement optimisation startup; and Swedish weather data provider Storm Glass. They also have two entrepreneurs-in-residence working in a venture studio to develop and take new products to market.

“We’re looking for people and teams whose ideas can be accelerated by our resources, network and investment. The startups we’ve invested in so far have been able to leverage off each other and benefited from access to our unique data processing capabilities, data including vessel port calls, emissions, port and weather information,” Pyrgiotis elaborates.

“But most importantly, we focus on driven and resilient founders, experts in their field, with a long term vision of how their ideas can enhance the maritime markets,” he continues.

When asked about their investment philosophy, Pyrgiotis describes it as “simple”: They invest in what they understand and where they can add value.

Also Read: These are the top three startups chosen by PIER71, offering latest maritime tech solution

“We understand the international maritime, commodity and logistics markets; we understand the synergies in data and technology: we’ve built our own AI platform, the Signal Ocean Platform, which fuses multiple complex data sources and is used in the ship chartering market. We understand how to get the best from entrepreneurs and programmers: we have a growing ecosystem of maritime-related businesses which collaborate together to build new products,” he explains.

Considering its status as a tech and maritime hub, Southeast Asia is certainly a lucrative target for Signal Ventures.

“We see lots of interesting opportunities in Southeast Asia, with companies such as PortCast, GreyWing and Quantship, as well as several serious efforts to promote the maritime tech ecosystem there: Pier71, Innoport, the Techstars/EPS accelerator, Rainmaking, Captain’s Table and Betatron just to name a few,” Pyrgiotis details.

Nikolaos Pyrgiotis, Vice President of Technology Ventures. Image Credit: Signal Ventures

“We see ourselves as a springboard for entrepreneurs in the region to reach the global shipping market and expect several of our portfolio companies in the near future to come from there,” he stresses.

Next destination

According to data by Inmarsat, in 2019, the overall maritime tech sector was estimated to be worth US$106 billion and it is expected to rise to US$278 billion by 2030.

This highlights the potential that investors such as Signal Ventures can pursue, and the firm believes that the potential will continue to grow.

“We see 2021 as a year in which digitisation in the shipping industry continues to accelerate. We want to grow our ecosystem of businesses and focus on our venture studio to successfully bring new, transformative solutions to the market,” Pyrgiotis closes.

Image Credit: Rinson Chory on Unsplash


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