For many manufacturers and freight forwarders, managing logistics is still a very manual process: tracking shipments with a call or searching online, 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 a myriad of sources and not only tracking shipments in real time, but also predicting which could affect its progression, such as major weather events. , the tide and the problems associated with the pandemic.
The company announced today that it has raised $ 3.2 million in pre-Series A financing, led by Newtown Partners, through the Imperial Venture Fund, with participation from Wavemaker Partners, TMV, Innoport and SGInnovate. Based 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. Prior to launching Portcast, Gupta, its CEO, held executive positions in Asia at DHL. Meanwhile, she realized that “the inefficiencies in the logistics industry are actually an opportunity in this space to create something.” Dr Xia, with a PhD in machine learning with a background in product development and cloud computing, “was a perfect fit” and is now the CTO of Portcast.
Portcast says it tracks more than 90% of the volume of global trade that passes through 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 the location of ships, their speed and direction, the ports they are heading to, wind speed and wave heights. Portcast also examines economic trends (for example, the impact of Brexit on UK ports and how the deployment of vaccines around the world is changing the capacity of airlines and ships), weather events like the typhoon and disruptions such as the blockage of the Suez Canal.
Other data sources include proprietary transactional data from customers, including major shipping lines and freight forwarders.
“The challenge for us is how to 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 primary solutions currently are Intelligent Container Visibility for real-time shipping container tracking, and Demand Forecasting and Management, which follow reservation patterns. Portcast does not use IoT to track containers because it is expensive to put a device in each, but works with IoT providers on hybrid solutions, for example, put a tracking device in a container and then use that data. to help manage the rest of the expedition.
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 goods arriving every week, they are going to check this manually every day. It goes into an Excel sheet and that is what the planning of downstream operations is based on, ”Gupta said.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has created an “urgent need for digitization, and this has transformed supply chains from a cost function to the heart of delivering products on time, so we’re working with some of the biggest manufacturers. as well as with freight forwarders, ”she said. added. For example, a food and beverage company in Europe sent a shipment to Taipei, a trip that typically takes around 70 days. But it took more than three months to arrive. Portcast was able to track the shipment as it passed through different ports and ships, helping customers understand the cause of the delay.
“Besides just predicting when there will be a likely disruption, we are able to determine and say that there is an X day delay because there will likely be a typhoon or a transshipment, and that gives them power. because they can tell their trucking and warehousing crews how many containers are going to come in, ”Gupta said. “It cuts down on port charges, detention costs and the number of hours spent manually checking different companies’ websites and trying to figure out what happened to their supply chain.”
One of the advantages of Portcast over other logistics tech startups that want to improve supply chain visibility is that it was launched from the Asia-Pacific region, where ships typically pass through multiple ports and must cope with frequent weather events 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 like Asia and Europe, or Asia and the United States.
“Our technology is on a global scale and this allows us to compete with other players in this market,” Gupta said. “The other thing that sets us apart is that we work not only with manufacturers, but also with shipping companies, logistics companies and freight airlines, and that allows us to create network effects. There is a very strong synergy between what’s going on in ocean freight and air freight, and that allows us to understand industry trends and creates leverage for any other business that comes on our platform.
Portcast’s future plans include a shift from predictive AI to prescriptive AI over the next two quarters. Right now, the platform can tell businesses what’s causing the delays, but prescriptive AI will also allow it to make automated suggestions. For example, it can tell customers which ports are fastest, other vessels and modes of transport that can help them get around a disruption, and how to optimize their capacity.
The company also plans to launch Order Visibility by the end of this year, a feature that will track containers filled with a specific item. Consumer prices for many types of products are on the rise, in part due to overwhelmed supply chains. By allowing businesses to track specific SKUs in real time, Portcast can not only help items arrive faster, but also show how many CO2 emissions each shipment creates.
“Carbon offsetting or carbon trading can only happen once you have visibility into how much you’re actually spending, and that’s the element we can get involved in,” Gupta said. “By allowing predictions like, for example, if you will arrive early, it is an opportunity for a shipping company to slow down and save fuel like bunker fuel, which not only brings a huge amount of savings, but also reduces CO2 emissions.