Unafix brings port relations into focus
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Unafix brings port relations into focus

The maritime sector in the Netherlands is very vibrant, with several smaller as well as large shipping companies based in the northern provinces. In Eemshaven, with the help of a group of investors and partners, a technology start-up has recently been established that will focus on that vibrant maritime sector.

Local representatives in ports

There is a lot of use of local representatives in the "wet sector." This makes sense, because with ships coming to the farthest corners of the world, as a ship owner you lean heavily on local service providers who arrange certain things for you in those corners of the world. And this is exactly where Jeroen Wolthuis, one of the founders of Unafix, saw opportunities: "Shipping companies often rely heavily on their existing address database, built up over time. So there are huge opportunities to expand your network of acquaintances. We are jumping into that gap with our online platform Unafix.".

First steps

"When we started Unafix, it was an exciting time. The step from a permanent job to independence is a big one, and we were only at the beginning of the funding process. Fortunately, we immediately received a warm welcome: through Groningen Seaports and the MOI Offshore Energy Foundation, we quickly had incredibly beautiful office space in Eemshaven at our disposal. This also brought us into contact with the Growth Fund of the EBG.". After initial discussions with the Growth Fund, they were warm to the idea. "This combined with an extensive guidance trajectory from Flinc, resulted in conclusive funding for the project.".

The gap in the market

Unafix is a supply and demand platform focused entirely on the niche of maritime service providers. Those who tap into Unafix's platform will find relationships they didn't even know they had. Service providers in the most distant corners of the world can be found on the platform. Wolthuis: ,,That is an enrichment of your network. There is currently a lot of potential in terms of contacts. With Unafix you unlock thousands of new relationships. Because of the increased transparency in the procurement process, you may find service providers who are more cost-efficient or better suited to your needs."

All 'males' in ports are mapped

All the "males" in the ports have been mapped by Unafix. From shipping agents, to consultants and lawyers. The supply side is partly self-filled by Unafix on the basis of "listing," or a no-obligation and free listing of all parties offering services. For example, if a shipowner is looking for a party, three to five parties may submit an offer. Unafix receives a premium from whoever receives the order.

Wolthuis: ,,As a shipowner, you can also call the regular guy at the port, but regular guys drive up the price and the process is not very cost-efficient. If you enter a port where you normally never go, nothing works as fast as Unafix. And in all ports, nothing works as cheaply as Unafix, either.''

Modern solution in a traditional sector

Shipping is often seen as a traditional industry, where technological innovation lags behind many other industries. The founders of Unafix see it differently: "You see younger people in the chartering department at a shipowner who have grown up with platforms. They book their hotel there, they buy their house and their meals there. But come into the office they have to drop that experience. There was simply no platform operating in this niche before Unafix. That frustrates, it also feels inefficient, whereas at work you want to be efficient.''

So Unafix has the younger staff along for the ride. Wolthuis knows the maritime sector from the insurance business where he worked until now. He knows the ins and outs. ''Freight revenues have been low for years,'' he says, ''so you have to look at the costs. Unafix can add to that.

Does the maritime sector lend itself to a platform solution?

Wolthuis laughs. And dives into history for a moment. Suppose, he says, you had said 20 years ago: I'm going to start Funda and sell houses on it. Then there would have been amazement. ,,But nowadays we do everything on these kinds of platforms. It's the most common thing in the world. For vacations, we have become our own travel agency.''

In short, Unafix must break into a market that should embrace the platform but does not know the platform - and its own contacts in the phone do. Wolthuis: ,,People are really going to see that we are advantageous, we are going to a kind of tipping point and we are happy that we have found partners who are willing to support us in this in the long run.''

'Flinc has been great help to us'

Wolthuis and Unafix have since raised money from investors and have also managed to bring two so-called informal investors (in addition to money, contributions of knowledge and experience) on board. It was clear to him from the beginning that money had to come from outside. The platform was built externally from his own resources. It is a so-called MVP (minimal viable product). ''It takes you from A to B and then you look at what you missed on that journey,'' explains Wolthuis. After testing, the real Unafix was developed. ''Good and comfortable,'' Wolthuis said.

At that stage, Wolthuis came into contact with Flinc, part of NOM. Flinc offers innovative startups support in preparing the business plan and then makes the match with an investor. In doing so, Flinc has its own 'platform': a broad funding network. These investors can often add network, knowledge and experience in addition to capital. ''Flinc has been a great help to us,'' Wolthuis says. ''We even had to go back to the drawing board at some point to make the platform even better.''

Tip: engage Flinc as soon as possible

It is also one of the lessons that was well spent on Wolthuis. ''If I've learned anything, it's to not be afraid to deviate from the path you have in your mind,'' he now knows. ''Often signals are already there, but you have to be open to them. You also have to learn to see what your weaknesses are and that you gather the right people around you.''

Jeroen Wolthuis therefore has a tip for starting entrepreneurs: "Engage Flinc as soon as possible, they approach you critically to determine whether the business case has sufficient potential. Once Flinc is convinced of that, they immediately add value by providing you with expert advice that will sharpen your plans."

Bjorn Redmeijer, project manager of Flinc

Bjorn: ,,Unafix is a platform that ensures that the process of finding, comparing and appointing different services in the maritime sector is simplified. The maritime sector is quite traditional, Unafix aims to break this. As such, it is disruptive, innovative and scalable. In addition, the maritime sector is a global market. Finally, its founder, Jeroen Wolthuis, has a background in the maritime world and an important partner has been found in the form of Holwerda Shipmanagement. All this makes Unafix have a lot of potential".

Subsequently, Unafix connected with the Flinc funding network. This resulted in two informals joining, adding network, knowledge and experience in addition to capital. The Growth Fund also stepped in. Bjorn: , "This mix of investors offers Unafix more than just capital, which should enable Unafix to grow quickly."

Veronique Jeunhomme, investment manager of the GROEIfonds, part of Economic Board Groningen

''I got to know entrepreneur Jeroen Wolthuis through the MOI Offshore Energy workplace in Eemshaven. I got talking to Jeroen about Unafix during a New Year's reception and we made an appointment. Through Flinc, the business plan was refined and informal investors became interested. Together with co-founder Wessel Holwerda, a great team has emerged that will definitely take Unafix further. The maritime sector is in the process of digitization, and Unafix's platform will certainly make a positive contribution to that. The system is scalable, good and low-threshold, you only pay Unafix if you are awarded the contract. The question is not if but when it will be embraced. From the GROEI Fund we are happy to contribute to this.