Background and Context
Founded in 2018, Neptune aims to remove biofouling cargo ships in the world, which could reduce fuel consumption by around 15%, which represents tens of billions in fuel savings and a reduction over one hundred million metric tons of CO2. Biofouling is organic matter in the ocean, like algae and barnacles, that accumulates on the bottom of cargo ships, causing drag as ships move through the water. Today, human divers remove biofouling in a time-consuming, dangerous process. Neptune automates the work with robotics.
Q&A with co-founder and CEO Elizabeth Chan
Why did you found Neptune Robotics?
When we first came across the issue of bottom fouling on cargo ships, it was immediately obvious to us just how massive the opportunity was to make an impact on both climate but also on the shipping industry. Having grown up near some of the largest shipping ports in the world in Hong Kong, it was easy to see how quickly a business with an impact like ours could scale, and the more we spoke with customers, the more we realized that now was the time to do this.
What did you achieve during the HAX Program?
When we joined HAX, we already had a robot that was able to achieve some underwater inspection and analysis. What really changed was the speed and quality of prototyping. All we did for the first few months was build and test new versions of the robot. Operating in underwater environments like the sea is much harder than it looks, and our customers are incredibly strict about the performance they want to see. This required pretty complex development on our control systems and underwater vision system. To move even quicker, we actually worked with the team to install a pool in the HAX office. We had to bring in thousands of liters of seawater to fill it, because testing with clean water wasn’t going to validate our results to the level of rigor we needed. The smell was terrible, but this was crucial to build a robot that was capable of performing in port conditions. Within the first year, we had made enough technical progress and had enough comercial traction to close a significant seed round.
How did your recent Series A come together? What were other investors excited about?
Following our Seed round, we were extremely focused on scaling pilots with customers. We had made huge strides on the product itself, and had completed a significant amount of testing in ports. When we were in the later stages of conversations with some of the largest ports in the world, it was clear that an injection of cash would help us inflect the business and meet the scale we thought we could achieve. We were incredibly excited to bring Sequoia China and Matrix on board to support our growth, and to continue to receive support from SOSV’s HAX as well.
It was immediately obvious to us just how massive the opportunity was to make an impact on both climate but also on the shipping industry.
How are you thinking about your climate impact?
By reducing fuel use in one of the single biggest areas of fossil fuel consumption, marine shipping, we will be able to make an outstanding impact. Neptune is also a great example of climate robotics. There are all of these manual tasks that humans could do to reduce our impact on the environment, but there is an inherent limit to our ability to do them, either because of labor supply constraints or human constraints to operate in harsh or dangerous environments.