After years of sailing in the Mediterranean waters, Jaume Viñola Pañella and his friends decided it was time to create a greener form of nautical tourism. Decades of frequent and usually unregulated boat moorings have damaged seagrass meadows. As a result, the amount of photosynthesis has also dramatically dropped, hurting the primary source of food that supports billions of tons of life in the submarine ecosystem. IP Buoys was established in 2019 to build intelligent mooring systems for a more sustainable and efficient management of nautical activities.
Amid a €566bn blue economy in Europe, IP Buoys plans to offer its smart mooring equipment and services in Italy, France, Greece and Croatia – regions that traditionally pioneer sustainable forms of nautical tourism. Over 48m in Europe enjoy recreational maritime activities yearly, according to a European boating industry report. The peak periods, with high concentrations of tourists in confined recreational areas, have been especially damaging for the local marine ecosystem.
“Not that long ago, boat tourism was accessible to a limited number of people. Today, the industry has grown but the space available for mooring stays the same,” Viñola, COO of IP Buoys, told CompassList at the recent IQS TechFest 2020. As a solution, his company is turning traditional buoys into smart ones to offer an inexpensive way of upgrading mooring and buoy management. This in turn will translate into more efficient operations for buoy operators, boat owners and maritime authorities, and less energy used.
Bootstrapped with capital of about €30,000, the Barcelona-based startup will soon be launching Mooring 4.0 smart buoys to save the Mediterranean seaweed from damage caused by nautical tourism. The Posidonia, known as the “lung of the Mediterranean,” forms a vital part of the marine ecosystem. IP Buoys is finalizing its first prototype in collaboration with research firm Sarti, part of the Polytechnic University of Catalunya (UPC) that specializes in remote data acquisition and data processing systems.
It's just three months to go before boat owners will get to test the intelligent mooring system. “By the time the pilots are finished, we'll have validated our business model and gathered sufficient metrics to look for more funding to support our international expansion,” Viñola said. The startup's other co-founders include CEO Pablo Nuñez Torres, CFO Oriol Mahiques and CTO Enric Archs Roig.
Digitalizing outdated processes
Sailors and enthusiasts of recreational marine activities have a deep affinity and respect of the maritime environment. However, the increased accessibility to nautical tourism has significantly changed the way it's perceived and enjoyed.
“The biggest problem we're trying to address is the preservation of the marine environment and the Posidonia,” Viñola said.
The Posidonia, one of the most common marine plants in the Mediterranean, is also one of the slowest growing. The huge beds of seagrass maintain the quality of water and the oxygenation needed to feed 1,000 species of marine animals and to breed over 400 species of marine plants.
There are 6m boats sailing throughout 70,000 km of the European coastal line, according to the European boating industry. The local authorities are ultimately responsible for anchorages in the coastal areas and must provide sufficient buoy options like using lighter materials such as elastic instead of heavy metal chain moorings that damage the seabed.
“When boats leave ports, they'll generally moor in coves using buoys belonging to private associations. The management of these buoys is pretty outdated and rudimentary. We're looking to digitalize such processes,” Viñola said.
IP Buoys is also in the midst of discussions with the Spanish maritime authorities to start testing the smart mooring solution this summer season.
“Such partnerships are crucial to accelerate our growth and profitability,” he said “Our model and technology are highly scalable, not only at national level but also internationally. We've been contacted by potential clients in Helsinki who're interested in deploying our solution in lakes.”
Hardware, SaaS and app
Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) is a type of enterprise resource planning (ERP) for the maritime industry. It's an example of the efforts made toward the digitalization and optimization of complex management issues in the coastal area. The European Commission defines it as a dynamic, multidisciplinary and iterative process to promote the sustainable management of coastal zones, covering a full cycle from information collection and planning to monitoring and management.
IP Buoys could provide a key solution to help integrate the ICZM process. The startup's prototype can be used to convert a traditional buoy into an intelligent device. Its smart converter enables data transmission and consumes just enough power to work throughout the peak season with nearly zero maintenance cost.
“Our turnkey solution does not limit boat tourism. We can help to meet the demand for berths without impacting the natural environment,” Viñola said.
Besides the hardware development, IP Buoys is also working on a SaaS and a mobile app to provide a digitalized map of buoy fields that can be updated in real time through sensors. The map is accessible by laptop or app to facilitate the remote management of the buoys.
IP Buoys uses “pretty basic” sensors, with reduced power consumption, “just enough to transmit the data needed to know the real- time occupation of each buoy,” Viñola said. “We'll also harness IoT technology to provide additional services on top of what we already offer, such as Wi-Fi connection, real-time reservations and in-app payments.
“We want to integrate the whole process, including the communication between buoy operators and boat owners.”
The company hopes to start testing the new technology and their business model in June 2020. The pilots will be done in collaboration with operators and authorities in Costa Brava, Costa Dorada and Balearic Islands.
“These pilots will provide us with the metrics needed to iterate our technology and to optimize the services offered to our clients,” Viñola said.
The company will earn income from transaction fees charged for each buoy reservation and any additional services that boat owners want to use. Revenue will also be generated from the SaaS licenses and installations of the smart buoys.