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10 Startups Making Ocean Container Shipping Easier

We’re not sure when the term sailor went out of vogue, but we now call those guy seafarers – all 1.6 million of them that pilot the 68,723 merchant ships that navigate our world’s oceans. We say “guys” because 98% of seafarers are males, a fact that may be partially explained by the fact that women are more likely to get motion sickness than men. However this article isn’t about advocating for equality in the maritime industry (there are plenty of people doing that already), but rather to talk about what sort of technology is being applied to freight and supply chain visibility. We recently wrote about International Freight Forwarding Software from Flexport and how they plan to dominate an industry that has fallen way behind when it comes to technology. Since that article, Flexport has raised an additional $210 million in funding. An article by Tech Crunch cut loose with the following factoid about Flexport:

Flexport already moves 7,000 shipping containers a month for an average of $2,000 each while taking around a 15% cut, earning it roughly $2.1 million per month from ocean freight alone

They’re not the only ones looking to get a piece of the action. Those geniuses over at CB Insights came up with a list of over +150 different startups getting involved in supply chain and logistics technology:

Let’s take a look at some of the startups that address the needs of the maritime container shipping industry.

Expedias of Shipping

Founded in 2012, Israeli startup Freightos has raised $55.9 million in funding from investors that include General Electric (NYSE:GE) to make “global trade frictionless” which all starts with providing accurate and timely cost estimates. Their software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform,”AcceleRate”, automates the quoting process for some of the world’s largest freight companies, in all continents, and across air, ocean, and ground. Dubbed the “Expedia of Shipping” by TechWorld, Freightos can give you a quote in just 2 minutes. That’s incredible when you consider that the average time it takes to get a shipping quote presently is 1-3 days with 12% of quotes being inaccurate. The Freightos platform has generated 28.24 million quotes to date.

Another startup looking to provide quick quotes for maritime shipping is a Spanish outfit called iContainers which has taken in $8.3 million in funding so far to develop a platform that covers more than 250,000 shipping routes to 300 destinations around the globe. According to TechCrunch, they’re also the “Expedia of Shipping” in an industry with “more costs built in than artificial ingredients in a TV dinner”. You can literally get a quote right now using the below form:

They offer “door-to-door” shipping between warehouses so the whole experience is hassle-free.

Yelp for Freight Forwarding

You may have heard the term “freight forwarding” before which refers to the more than 40,000 companies around the world that will help you deal with all the paperwork and hassle that you’ll encounter when you try to ship something from one port to another. If you’re looking for a tool that lets you see how all these parties have been rated by other people who have used them, then maybe you need to check out the Yelp of shipping. Founded in 2014, Portland, Oregon startup Fleet has taken in $6.5 million in funding to develop a platform that rates various freight forwarding companies along with providing quotes within 24-28 hours:

The idea is to combine ratings with quotes and target small to medium sized businesses who have been traditionally undeserved in favor of the large companies who move the majority of global freight.

Digital Shipping Platforms

Founded in 2014, San Francisco startup, Haven has raised $14 million to build an automated trade technology platform for marine freight movement. The goal is to increase pricing transparency, get rid of confusing terminology, and try and eliminate third-party interference. The end result is a 15% cost savings which represents a reduction in the time it takes to transact without the platform which would typically involve lots of spreadsheets, emails, and interactions with disparate technology systems. An added benefit of conducting all your transactions on a single platform is of course the reports that can then be generated.

Founded in 2012, Norwegian startup Xeneta has taken in $20.5 million in funding to provide pricing transparency for container freight rates across the entire industry with 35 million spot and long-term contracted rates for 160,000 different port-port pairs. Here’s an example of the different variations you can have for a single container quote using industry verbiage:

If you want to get to the bottom of what you’re paying shipping companies to send your cargo around the world then this platform is a must-have to ensure you’re paying a fair price that is reflective of marketplace conditions.

Founded in 2000, New Jersey startup INTTRA has raised $39.5 million to build the largest electronic transaction platform in the industry which processes 700,000 container orders per week, a number that represents more than 25% of all global ocean container trade. Backed by over 50 carriers and the world’s largest network of ocean shippers, INTTRA technology connects 250,000 shipping professionals who can save time and labor on by using the platform with no required IT investment. A cool feature is the ability to search 12 million shipping schedules across 250,000 location pairs. Once your container leaves the port, you can then track it to the destination. This is a good segue into our next startup which helps predict which time your container might arrive.

Predictive Analytics for Efficiency

Founded in 2014, San Francisco startup ClearMetal has raised $12 million to build a predictive logistics solution that uses artificial intelligence to crunch through loads of big data sets to figure out when containers might arrive. The company is comprised of talent from Google and Stanford University who realized that predictive analytics could help save some of the $15-20 billion spent annually repositioning empty containers, a figure that can be reduced with more accurate forecasting:

The process of shipping a container has more than 20 milestones, and ClearMetal can predict each one. As you would expect, the AI algorithms will just get better at predicting over time.

Empty Shipping Containers

Speaking of shipping empty containers, a startup called xChange has built a container exchange platform which launched in 2015, initially as a project by Boston Consulting Group, but was just spun out this month as an independent startup with an undisclosed amount of funding. xChange hopes to increase the number of containers that are exchanged among shipping companies and reduce the number of empty containers being moved around by up to 30%. On average, each interchange on xChange saves both participants $200/unit each in port costs alone.

Foldable Shipping Containers

Empty containers take up a lot of space, and one way to fix this would be to change the shipping container itself. Founded in 2008,  Holland Container Innovations is redesigning the shipping crate so that it can be folded into 25% of its original size. According to Crunchbase they had an IPO in 2008, but they seem to have gone private again. In 2013, their 4FOLD 40ft foldable container was the first to receive ISO certification:

Last year they began taking the first steps towards mass manufacturing these containers though they’re not the only ones looking to change the 60 year old shipping container. Founded in 2010, a New Jersey startup called Staxxon has raised $390,000 to develop their foldable shipping containers which use a different method but still follow the same principle. With their last funding taken in more than 5 years ago and not many updates from the company recently, it’s hard to say if they’re still in the running.

We also came across a few more providers of shipping prices online that are restricted to particular geographic areas, and there are probably quite a few more startups out there looking to make ocean container shipping easier, but we’ve given you a good look at some of the major players. Another space we’re interested in looking at is that of tracking beacons which seem like a real obvious application of technology for shipping containers. Every container should be equipped with IoT technology such that it becomes “smart”, and we’re keen to see who is making this a reality. Stay tuned.

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