“The Lemissoler Group spinoff KeelX works on delivering sustainable solutions to some of the most prominent maritime technology challenges. Aristos Philis, KeelX CEO and recipient of the Youngship Cyprus Leader Award, talks about the company’s latest project, the factors influencing the success of Startups and the growing appetite for innovation among Cypriot Shipping Companies.

What exactly is KeelX all about, and what led to the decision to establish it?”

“KeelX is a tech company with a focus on the maritime industry. Lemissoler Group has constantly invested significant resources in R&D, innovative ideas and tech solutions. As our solutions proved to be impactful for us and possibly of benefit to other companies, we took the strategic decision to form KeelX. It is an independent entity, which concentrates solely on building technologies to fill gaps in the market. To date, it has launched three programmes: KeelX Analytics, KeelX Education, and KeelX Robotics. These are focused on deep learning vessel commercial analytics, e-learning, and building robots to be carried onboard vessels, respectively. At KeelX, our approach is to aim for simplicity and sustainable profitability.”

“KeelX Robotics has recently signed a grant agreement with the Cyprus University of Technology to develop an autonomous robotic system for maritime operations. What does this innovation entail and how is it expected to benefit the maritime industry?”

“Lemissoler and KeelX are engaged in a fruitful and prolonged collaboration with CUT. One of our joint projects is, indeed the development of a robot for underwater operations. I cannot disclose much at this stage as we are currently testing the prototype but, in short, we aim to mass-produce an affordable robot that any vessel could carry permanently on board and release at any given time into the water to autonomously perform specific operations that would otherwise be costly, inaccessible and inefficient. Such operations include underwater hull surveillance and the quantification of parameters affecting a vessel’s performance. A vital element of this and all other projects undertaken by KeelX is eco-friendliness.”

“Recruiting skilled technical staff in the maritime industry is often considered a challenge in Cyprus. As a millenial professional, what incentives do you think should be given to young people to encourage them obtain an education in shipping and, subsequently, a career in the sector?”

“I am not particularly fond of incentives as I don’t believe they create lasting commitments. Incentives attract attention but, at the same time, may undermine genuine interest in the industry. The maritime industry needs more exposure among young people. Frequent private or government-backed initiatives to raise awareness about the role of shipping in the global supply chain and international trade could prove decisive for someone setting long-term career goals. Shipping is undergoing immense transformation propelled by the increasing pressure to address climate change. These changes are on track to create multiple opportunities for innovation and opportunities to witness applications of jobs of the future within such a traditional industry.”

“As decarbonization is currently a major issue facing the global shipping industry, advanced technology plays a key role in finding relevant solutions. How do you assess the current situation and how do you see it developing? Do you expect the industry to reach IMO’s goals on reducing CO2 emissions?”

“We are confident in the industry’s success in meeting its IMO goals in reducing the carbon footprint. Some of the world’s most creative entrepreneurs are part of the shipping industry and they have navigated through extreme cycles and overcame major crises over time. Although a traditional sector, shipping is continuously adapting. In the short term, we expect that it will become evident which alternative compliant fuels will dominate the market. Highly polluting vessels may become non-operational, resulting in a more competitive market. We believe that, in the next decade, a fundamental transformation in vessel propulsion mechanisms should be expected. In the meantime, there are instant and easy-to-apply mechanisms to partially reduce pollution. These methods include utilizing data science to optimize operations both on the technical and commercial sides.”

“How would you compare the use of advanced tech solutions by Cypriot shipping companies in relation to those in other countries? Are we on the right track as regards this matter?”

“There is an appetite for innovation and the adoption of technology solutions among an increasing number of Cypriot shipping companies. However, even though we are on the right track regarding this matter, the pace of change is slower than in other geographical areas, such as Northern Europe. The pandemic expedited tech advancement and offered the opportunity to spend time on innovation and operations optimization. During this time, we saw the launch of a few technological and research initiatives. Cyprus could and should accelerate its research and experimentation. An increase in subsidies, whether backed by the government or other private institutions, would be fantastic and could attract much-needed talent. Our country can potentially be the ideal place where tech development receives guidance and feedback from the industry and the two work towards the development of meaningful tech solutions.”

“Given the significant number of marine industry-focused tech startups right now, what would you advise those involved in them to do in order to distinguish themselves from competition?”

“An estimated 90% of new startups fail, and only 40% turn profitable. There are numerous reasons to back these stats. However, if I could isolate only two parameters to look out for launching a tech startup, these would be ‘timing’ and ‘execution.’ Very few startups get these two parameters right, and, in most cases, these are the ones that manage to stand out amongst the competition. If a startup launches its products too early or too late, it can be equally damaging. In addition, paying particular attention to the quality of your strategy execution is something I find extremely important. As the saying goes, “A mediocre strategy well executed is better than a great strategy poorly executed.”

“You received the YoungShip Cyprus Leader Award 2021 for your work at KeelX, what is the significance of this award to you and the company?”

“Receiving an award recognizing any part of our hard work certainly helps boost morale and motivation, especially at a time when uncertainties and logistical challenges have hammered global shipping.”