For many manufacturers and freight forwarders, managing logistics is still a very manual process – tracking shipments with a call or online search and entering that data into an Excel spreadsheet. Portcast, which describes itself as a “next generation logistics operating system”, makes the process more efficient by collecting data from countless sources and not only tracking shipments in real time, but also predicting what could affect your progress, such as major weather events, tidal issues and pandemic.
The company announced today that it has raised $ 3.2 million in pre-Series A funding, led by Newtown Partners, through the Imperial Venture Fund, with participation from Wavemaker Partners, TMV, Innoport and SGInnovate. Headquartered in Singapore, Portcast serves clients in Asia and Europe, and will use part of its funding to expand into more markets.
Co-founders Nidhi Gupta and Dr. Lingxiao Xia met at Entrepreneur first in Singapore. Before launching Portcast, Gupta, its CEO, held leadership positions at DHL in Asia. During that time, he realized that the “inefficiencies of the logistics sector are actually an opportunity in this space to create something.” Dr. Xia, who has a doctorate in machine learning and has a background in product development and cloud computing, “was an excellent complement” and is now Portcast’s chief technology officer.
Portcast says it tracks more than 90% of the world’s trade volume traveling by ocean carriers and 35% of air cargo, and can forecast demand for 30,000 trade routes. Sources include geospatial data, such as satellite data on where the ships are, how fast and direction they are moving, which ports they are heading to, wind speed and wave height. Portcast also looks at economic patterns (for example, the impact of Brexit on UK ports and how the launch of vaccines around the world changes the capacity of airlines and ships), weather events such as typhoons and disruptions such as the lockdown. of the Suez Canal.
Other data sources include proprietary transactional data from customers, including large shipping companies and freight forwarders.
“The challenge for us is how do we let all of this data speak the same language,” Gupta told TechCrunch. “This data comes in at different frequencies, different granularities, so how do you consolidate it and make sure the machine can start to understand and interpret it?”
Portcast’s two main solutions are Currentlu Intelligent Container Visibility for real-time tracking of shipping containers, and Forecasting and Demand Management, which tracks booking patterns. Portcast does not use IoT to track containers, as it is prohibitive to put a device in each one, but it is working with IoT providers on hybrid solutions, for example, putting a tracking device in a container and then using that data to help manage the rest of the shipment.
The startup’s goal is to make predictions that help companies improve the efficiency of their operations and reduce their reliance on manual processes. “There are logistics operators with hundreds of cargo that arrive every week, they go and check this manually every day. That goes into an Excel sheet and that’s what the planning of the downstream operations is based on, ”said Gupta.
But the COVID-19 pandemic created an “urgent need for digitization, transforming supply chains from being a cost function to being the core of on-time product delivery, which is why we work with some of the largest manufacturers. as well as with freight forwarders, “he said. additional. For example, a food and beverage company in Europe sent a shipment to Taipei, a journey that typically takes about 70 days. But it took more than three months to arrive. Portcast was able to track the shipment as it moved through different ports and ships, helping its customers understand what caused the delay.
“In addition to just predicting when there will be a likely outage, we can point and say that there is a delay of X days because there will probably be a typhoon or a transshipment, and that empowers them because they can inform their transport and storage teams how many containers are going to enter. “Said Gupta. “This reduces port fees, detention charges and the number of hours spent manually checking the websites of different companies and trying to find out what happened to their supply chain.”
One of the advantages of Portcast over other logistics tech startups that want to fix supply chain visibility is that it launched outside of the Asia-Pacific region, where ships typically pass through multiple ports and have to navigate events. frequent weather conditions such as tropical storms and typhoons. The technology developed by Portcast to create shorter trips between Singapore and Malaysia (for example) is also applicable to intercontinental routes such as Asia and Europe, or Asia and the United States.
“Our technology is global in scale and that allows us to compete with other players in this market,” said Gupta. “The other thing that differentiates us is that we work not only with manufacturers, but also with shipping companies, logistics companies and cargo airlines, and that allows us to create network effects. There is a really strong synergy between what is happening in ocean and air transport, and that allows us to understand the patterns in the industry and creates an influence for any other company that enters our platform.
Portcast’s future plans include moving from predictive AI to including prescriptive AI in the next two quarters. Right now, the platform can tell businesses what is causing delays, but prescriptive AI will also allow you to make automated suggestions. For example, you can tell customers which ports are faster, other ships, and modes of transportation that can help them navigate a disruption, and how to optimize their capacity.
The company also plans to launch Order Visiblity by the end of this year, a feature that will track containers filled with a specific item. Consumer prices for many different types of products are increasing, due in part to overwhelmed supply chains. By allowing companies to track specific SKUs in real time, Portcast can not only help items arrive faster, but also show how much CO2 emissions each shipment generates.
“Carbon offsetting or carbon trading can only happen once you have visibility into how much you are actually spending, and that’s the piece we can get involved in,” Gupta said. “By allowing predictions such as, for example, if you arrive early, it is an opportunity for a shipping company to slow down and save fuel like bunker fuel, which not only provides an immense amount of savings, but also reduces emissions from CO2.