"Android for boats with the intuition of Apple and the dynamism of Tesla," is how Aidan Foley, chief executive of technology start-up, Raceix, describes his company's new operating system for the marine leisure sector.
“In short what we’re building is game-changing,” he says. “Our aim is to provide clear, current, navigational data that is easy to use with information that can enrich the boating experience on top. Imagine Waze (Google’s GPS navigation system) for boats, but with many more features such as the option to ‘shoot and share’ your adventures with friends or to find out what points of interest or marine life is in the area.
“There is currently no other platform that can support, enhance and inform boating activities to the same extent as ours can. People’s lives have been changed by their smartphones and we’ve already seen this connected technology moving into their cars. Now Raceix is doing it for the marine leisure sector which has been lagging way behind.”
Raceix was set up towards the end of 2017 and is based in Waterford. Its initial target market is the United States and the power boat segment for vessels of eight metres and under in particular. This is often the type of craft favoured by leisure users who may not have the well-developed navigational skills of dyed in the wool sea dogs and need some help to get around safely. However, Foley stresses that the Raceix system is applicable across the entire marine leisure sector and will gradually be rolled out to other market segments.
The company's founders have all been involved in the sport of powerboat racing for some time. "In the early 1970s powerboat racing and F1 were similar in terms of their profile and investment levels, but then Bernie Ecclestone came along and F1 moved into another league. That didn't happen with power boat racing so there have always been a lot of people involved who volunteer on the sidelines," Foley says.
"A few years ago, we were involved in an event that saw boats go from London to Monaco. The tech put together to support this trip inspired us to think about developing a commercially available consumer-facing solution for the sector. There was a real need for this as right now people have to use dozens of different smartphone apps, terrible on-board tech and some firmly crossed fingers to travel in safety.
"People think being on a boat is like being in a car but this only holds true if you remove all the roads, all the fields and all the other barriers and let drivers take their cars wherever they want. However, if in this space there are thousands of ‘landmines’ such as rocks, wouldn’t you like to know how to avoid them? Raceix helps boaters to do so.”
A crucial part of the Raceix offering is up-to-date mapping. The marine landscape is continually changing because weather events can lead to significant movement of sandbars for example. However, Foley says it’s not unusual for people to be using and relying on data that is years out of date.
Foley is a former marketing executive who transitioned into the tech industry in 2011. His co-founder, Stuart Walker, comes from the commercial side of international sports events such as the Fifa World Cup and Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic Challenger record attempt.
The company's third co-founder, Ross Walker, is a licensing specialist who has worked with organisations such as Manchester United and Nike. Raceix has recently made two key hires, CTO Sam Santi and head of data Vicki O'Donell, an experienced marine data specialist. The company's head of marine testing is champion powerboat racer, Peter Dredge, who is the Royal Yachting Association's former powerboat racing and motorboat manager.
The company’s partner on the technology side is Beneteau, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of sail and motor boats. Foley says it was a big feather in the company’s cap to bring Beneteau on board and it will be putting Raceix’s technology into its Barracuda 8 sport fishing vessel for testing over the coming months. Beneteau is French owned but also has a base in the US which is a crucial market for Raceix which opened an office there in February of this year. Raceix currently employs eight people with more jobs to come. The company will primarily make its money from licensing fees and updates.
"The connection to Beneteau came through our links to the two major international organisations in our space, the European Boating Industry and ICOMIA which is the voice of the recreational marine industry," Foley says. "People already knew that existing mapping only uses around 20 per cent of the marine data available. They also knew that Ireland has a very strong international reputation for its gold standard mapping by the Irish Marine Institute, so both of these factors were in our favour. In addition, we were on people's radar because we had come up with a way of unlocking this data that no one was doing anything with and creating a commercial product from it that would be of big benefit to the pleasure user. Beneteau was aware of that.
"From our perspective as a very small, very early stage company we needed a significant partner to work with us to give us credibility in international markets and we couldn't have done better than Beneteau," Foley adds. "Beneteau will be fitting our system in its boats and this will be our primary route to market. We will officially unveil the technology in 2020 and in the US alone there are an estimated 12.5 million boats in our launch sector. Ultimately, there is no reason why our system can't be extended into sailing vessels and put into boats we see in races such as the Volvo Ocean Race or the Vendée Globe. The United Nations decade of the ocean kicks off in 2021 and we will be involved in this in conjunction with the Marine Institute in Galway."
While Raceix is essentially a software company, Foley says it will also offer a hardware element as not all boats are fitted with the marine equivalent of a car’s ECU (electronic control unit) which typically controls the vehicle’s electronic systems. To this end it has struck an agreement with Dell which will supply and support the hardware element.
Development costs to date have been about €250,000 with the money raised from a combination of sources including founder funding, private equity, support from Enterprise Ireland's New Frontier's programme and from the NDRC via its accelerator at ArcLabs research & innovation centre at Waterford IT. The company's next big push will be a €1 million fundraising round which is scheduled to begin shortly.