Leveraging competitive edge through cooperation and innovation

Roughly ten years ago the interest for new approaches to innovation and R&D started to emerge in the regional maritime cluster of Rotterdam. The former RDM shipyard was transformed into a vibrant innovation hub (Innovation Dock) where companies, educational and research institutes work side by side on creative innovative products and solutions. Soon, many other initiatives followed, initiating a solid and modern maritime innovation ecosystem that adds to the position of Rotterdam as maritime capital of Europe. Carolien Vat, Director and Co-Founder of PortXL, elaborates on her vision and experience in accelerating maritime innovation and the added value of the ecosystem to the competitive advantage of the regional maritime cluster.

Learn more about the innovation ecosystem in the Rotterdam region.

Carolien, can you tell us more about the role of PortXL as accelerator for start-ups and scale-ups in the maritime arena?

“Innovation always played a large part in the success of the port of Rotterdam and creating its competitive edge. At the same time, the port and maritime industry are known to be slightly conservative.

PortXL was founded in 2015 as the first port and maritime accelerator in the world. It is our goal to cultivate a spirit of innovation within the maritime industry. We connect real life industry challenges to creative start-ups and scale-ups. Our focus lies on creating tangible business value by helping start-ups to validate business propositions and bringing them to market. Our corporate partners are committed to help scale-ups grow.

Think about assistance to streamline products or how to increase their client network for example. This approach helps to attract talent, creativity, and investments to the regional maritime cluster. It provides opportunities for maritime innovation. Furthermore, it strengthens the position and competitiveness of the regional maritime cluster, including adjacent industries.”

Obviously, the regional maritime cluster is affected by the oil and corona crisis. What does this mean for the innovation ecosystem and which opportunities do you see that might help the industry to come out stronger?

“Unfortunately, the industry is faced with challenging circumstances indeed. We see that projects are put on hold. Investors are hesitant and hold back as well. This is a massive issue for start-ups and scale-ups as they need funding to stay afloat. Consequently, it poses a risk for the industry as well. This has to do with the industry’s large dependency on innovation to gain a competitive edge.

At the same time, crises provide fertile conditions for disruption. Entrepreneurs are forced to try different approaches and can truly benefit from innovation. I believe the industry can come out stronger if they embrace and accelerate innovation even more than before. Apart from a healthy innovation ecosystem the Rotterdam region offers another strategic advantage:

Rotterdam is a strong and recognised brand, it harbours an open business culture, and the way the industry is organised in combination with the right (cooperative) mindset provides a competitive edge that is difficult to copy. This is supported by local and regional governments that are dedicated to facilitating the industry and the system. They act swiftly and decisively, which is especially important in times of crisis.

Therefore, as we manage to cultivate and activate the innovation ecosystem during these challenging circumstances, we can create unforeseen opportunities. It will attract talent as well as investors and help the regional maritime industry to come out stronger.”

How can the network of Rotterdam Maritime Capital of Europe help to capitalise on these opportunities?

“Personally, I believe the network can play a substantial role. The entire regional maritime industry is involved and committed. If we work together and come up with out-of-the-box, marketable innovations, the industry will create opportunities that can be capitalised upon. We need to maximise the potential of the innovation ecosystem to the fullest.

I urge the industry to address challenges and bring them to the table. Challenges that need to be resolved to navigate out of this crisis, or even survive for that matter. This is where the strength of PortXL kicks in. We find and match creative game changing start-ups and scale-ups to these challenges and bring them to Rotterdam. Talented entrepreneurs who are looking for opportunities to validate and bring ideas to market. The level of success and the competitive edge of the regional maritime industry can really be leveraged through the network of Rotterdam Maritime Capital of Europe.”