Last year, at Hong Kong Maritime Week, Portcast won the inaugural Captain’s Table, an initiative launched by the Young Professionals in Shipping Network. This award provides a platform for young innovators and entrepreneurs to connect with the industry and showcase their ideas, resulting in a cash prize and business mentorship from LR.

Portcast, a machine learning platform, uses real-time external data to predict cargo flows, which helps logistics companies with demand forecasting, automated pricing and capacity utilisation. Co-founder and Director Nidhi Gupta spoke to Horizons about the company’s success at the Captain’s Table and how the platform can transform maritime’s cargo predictability.

Please explain a little more about Portcast and what challenges it helps to solve?

Portcast makes shipping companies profitable by predicting the cargo demand and arrival times accurately. We combine internal transactional data from shipping companies with real-time external variables and proprietary machine learning to predict the cargo volumes, impact on pricing, capacity optimisation and estimated arrival at the port of discharge. Using our technology, shipping liners and forwarders can plan the capacity and shortfall ratios and price more dynamically. Also, manufacturers and forwarders can track their vessels and containers in real-time, at any port in the voyage. We’ve seen accuracies of over 90%, saved thousands of hours and uncovered revenue potential for every customer we’ve worked with.

Where did the idea for Portcast come from?

I have worked for a decade in the logistics industry as part of DHL Asia Pacific in various roles, including management consulting, business development and strategy. So I’ve seen the inefficiencies, or rather opportunities, that the industry has and where technology has a role to play. In discussions with my co-founder, Lingxiao Xia, whose background is data science and product development, we found a niche within the logistics and shipping industry where data science can help companies be more profitable. We spoke with more than 30 companies to validate the problem statement and how the technology could help them. That’s how Portcast started.

How did you find the team to work on the technology?

I met my co-founder, Lingxiao Xia, at the Entrepreneur First Singapore accelerator. His tech background complemented mine and we decided to validate our idea, business model and technology with customers. We then hired the right team of data scientists and software developers to help us build this product.

How has your professional background helped you with Portcast’s concept?

Serving the logistics market requires a deep understanding of the domain in order to build the right product that fits customer needs. One also needs to be most effective in communicating the value proposition to customers. That’s where my work experience in the industry has helped.

Other Captain’s Table 2019 finalists included Quaychain, Tow-botic Systems, SeaRoutes, Irwin Rotational Lining and Marified. Each presented a solution to different industry problems, ranging from the automation of the bunkering process to a safer alternative to traditional tugs and towlines.

‘A leader needs to show the ambition to bring change'

When talking about her team and previous roles, Nidhi describes a strong leader as showing clear ambition to bring change, while creating a vision that aligns people and then empowers them to help achieve that vision. At Portcast, she looks for those who are not simply focused on their role description, but also incentivised by the vision and opportunity of bringing change and being responsible for building a transformational product end-to-end. This follows Nidhi’s biggest decision of her career – starting her own company after spending a decade in a corporate environment. It’s a daily rollercoaster and a vast learning curve for Nidhi as an individual and a professional. Having to handle a two-year-old start-up and a nine-month-old baby means Nidhi’s work-life balance is a challenge. Yet it has been helped by Portcast’s flexible work environment and a strong support structure in her home life.

For shipping in general, Nidhi believes the availability of data has meant the wider industry has a much better understanding of world trade and economic patterns. Accompanied by technological innovation, this has meant digital providers are poised to bring transformational impact on how the industry works. Going forward, Nidhi sees the maritime value chain echoing how airlines operate today with online booking (no brokers), dynamic pricing, seamless tracking, international data standards, predictive (and prescriptive) control towers and insurance products to safeguard against delays.