Israel’s Windward raises $10.8M to secure the sea – and profit from it
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Photo Credit: Windward

The maritime big data platform will launch a financial product alongside its tool for catching bad guys

Windward, an Israeli startup that has developed maritime tracking and predictive technology, has raised $10.8 million strategic investment from Hong-Kong based Horizon Ventures to take the mystery out of the high seas. According to a recent and quite shocking company report, there are many security concerns regarding maritime transport. Here are the most stunning examples:

  • On average, ships only report their final destination 41% of the time.
  • Fifty-five percent of ships misrepresent their port of call, or nearby port, for most of their voyage.
  • GPS manipulation has risen a whopping 59% over the last two years.

Even though Winward has been focused on intelligence and security applications, it now plans to launch a product aimed at the financial industry. The fast-growing company, which counts government agencies among its clients, will also add two new advisors to its board: Tom Glocer, the former CEO of Thomson Reuters and Ret. Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, the former IDF Chief of Staff and former head of the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

The five-year-old company founded by Ami Daniel and Matan Peled previously raised $5 million in a 2013 Series A funding round led by Aleph, which also participated in the current round.

Into the mystic

“Throughout the centuries people only knew where ships were when they entered the shoreline and they saw them,” Ami Daniel, CEO of Windward explained to Geektime.

“Whatever happened in the middle of the sea remained a mystery.”

As recently as five years ago, says Daniel, companies may have known where their own ships were if they happened to communicate with them, but there was no one with a big picture view of who was traveling where across the oceans. This seems surprising, especially since air traffic controllers have had knowledge of airplanes for over 50 years.

“The difference,” explains Daniel, “is that with planes, they have to land within 18 hours. Ships don’t. They can keep on floating. Because it’s not a safety issue, it was never solved, as simple as that.”

But in the last five years, the amount of digital data about ships has proliferated. “New satellites have been launched, we can pick up on chip transmission. Port agent reports have been digitized. Data about who is the owner of a ship, who is the charterer, where is it registered.” Some of this data is publicly available, and some can be purchased, explains Daniel. In fact, there are hundreds of millions of data points per day.

“But the data is fragmented. Windward’s goal is ‘to build the biggest database ever of global shipping and cargo movement.’”

The devil and the deep blue sea

Though ships are mandated by international law to transmit signals about their identity, ships only report their final destination 41% of the time, 55% of ships misrepresent their port of call for most of their voyage (many by shutting off their GPS), and about 1 percent of all ships falsify their information to hide illegal activity.

“It’s very easy to manipulate that system,” explains Daniel, “you can either shut it off completely, or transmit false information.”

Why would they do that?

Not all ships are carnival cruises, explains Daniel, who was a career naval officer for seven years before becoming a hi-tech entrepreneur.

“There is no legal reason to do it,” he explains. But approximately one percent of ships are involved in illegal activity: smuggling, illegal fishing, drug trafficking, arms smuggling, terrorism or merely ships that want to save money by bypassing customs.

“Let’s say you want to import tropical fruits to Europe, you have go through customs make sure there are no biological threats to agriculture, or you want to import over quota.”

Big data is big money

Not only can Windward ferret out bad guys, but they can help hedge fund managers predict which countries will grow. Since 90 percent of trade is conducted by ship, Windward can look at how much iron ore and coal a country like China is importing, instead of relying on China’s self-reported growth figures. “That’s a leading indicator of how fast they are growing.”

In a recent presentation to the AIPAC conference, Daniel gave two dramatic examples of how the Windward platform works.

He told the story of a ship that had been turned into scrap metal. One year later the ship “reappeared” and made suspicious stops in India, Iran, Somalia, and Oman without attracting the scrutiny of over 50 NATO warships guarding the Gulf of Aden. The ship attracted Windward’s attention because it was using a fraudulent identity as well as docking in ports that were too small for it.

Another example is “floating storage” of oil. When the price of oil is low, some oil producers will hold back on shipping the commodity until the price goes up again. Sites like Bloomberg and Reuters give you an official number of “floating storage” vessels but Daniel showed how Windward estimated the number to be much higher.

Winward will use some of the money from its funding round to launch its financial platform FORESEA, which is currently in beta testing. Daniel thinks it will be useful to commodities traders for whom more information provides a competitive advantage.

“Windward is a game changer because it is bringing a data sciences perspective to today’s maritime data and making it accessible and relevant for the entire ecosystem,” Glocer said in a press release.  “Financial institutions, the next market for Windward’s unique data platform, are hungry for advanced data solutions that can provide valuable trading opportunities by extracting faint trading signals from noisy datasets such as maritime information.”

As poet Lord Byron once wrote, “Man marks the earth with ruin / His control stops with the shore.” As technology and big data progress, that is no longer so true.

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Simona Weinglass

About Simona Weinglass

I’m an old-school journalist who recently decided to pivot into high-tech. I work in high-tech marketing as well as print and broadcast media covering politics, business culture and everything in between.

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