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Airsis Technology Allows Ports to Track, Report on Ship Traffic

Airsis Inc. is barely past its second round of financing, but the small company serves some of the world’s largest oil companies with its radio frequency technology that tracks ship traffic.

With just 18 employees, that leaves plenty of room , and resources , to grow.

That’s just what the company is doing, said Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Dean Rosenberg.

The firm expects to boost its sales and marketing force to reach a total employee count of 60 in the next two years.

Airsis is encroaching upon an $800 million per year market and already serves several of the world’s major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Valero Energy Corp., track their tankers in and out of port.

Around 70 percent of the tankers in the Port of Houston, one of the world’s busiest, already employ Airsis’ PortVision technology.

Although infrastructure in the Port of San Diego allows for PortVision’s use, there aren’t any large customers here yet, Rosenberg said.

San Diego is not Airsis’ target market because the local port traffic is mostly cruise ships and military vessels, Rosenberg said. Airsis targets harbor pilots, port authorities, shippers, terminal operators and tugboat operators.

Real-Time Views

PortVision allows customers to use the Internet to get real-time views of their ships as they come in and out of U.S. ports and inland waterways. The Web-based technology uses existing communications between ports and ships, which is tied into databases maintained by Airsis.

Rosenberg said law enforcement agencies have contacted Airsis and are “well aware” of what the company does. But Airsis isn’t interested in government contracts laden with politics.

“We see the low-hanging fruit being the commercial market,” Rosenberg said, adding that the company is, however, partnering with some defense contractors.

PortVision allows companies to know more precisely when a ship will leave or arrive because the company keeps detailed records of such information.

Airsis can, for example, help attorneys investigate which ship damaged a pier or assist companies in identifying where fault lies in a late delivery.

PortVision allows maritime shippers to receive automated alerts by e-mail or cell phone, and be ready with ground transportation when ships arrive. PortVision service starts around $2,000 per year.

In 2006, Airsis earned $23 million in revenue and broke even. Rosenberg said the company expects to become profitable in 2008.

Airsis’ latest round of financing, which is not yet complete, will be up to $4 million, Rosenberg said, and the Tech Coast Angels, a California group, who invest their own money in startups, will play a big role.

Ralph Mayer, president of the San Diego chapter of TCA, is a member of Airsis’ board of directors. Mayer and Airsis executives were introduced through the local tech-transfer and networking group Connect.

Springboard Program

Airsis went through Connect’s Springboard program, which helps early-stage companies beef up their business plan and find investors.

“What (Airsis executives) thought they were going to do when they started wasn’t what they ended up doing,” Mayer said, adding that most companies undergo such changes. “The management team that can execute when the right opportunity comes along succeeds.”

Just two other companies offer a service similar to Airsis , Washington state-based Secure Asset Reporting Services Inc. and a joint venture involving two European companies, Mayer said.

Airsis was formed out of a 2005 merger of Abaris Technologies, a software firm co-founded by Rosenberg, and Applied Digital Security Inc., or ADSI, a satellite tracking company founded by James Drewett, Airsis’ chief technology officer.

Airsis formed PortVision using strengths of products from both companies. While ADSI provided fleet tracking service through the Internet to the maritime, rail and trucking industries, Abaris developed a ship scheduling software that was used by 60 percent of the ships in the Port of Houston.

By the end of 2006, the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Houston used Airsis’ PortVision. Late last month, Airsis announced it had laid the technical groundwork for PortVision service at Texas ports in Port Arthur and Beaumont.

Drewett has been in the business of remote asset management and homeland security solutions since 1998, while Rosenberg has an engineering background. One of Airsis’ customers, Mickey Landry, manager of marine docks at the Valero Refinery in Port Arthur, said PortVision has allowed his organization to improve efficiency.

“PortVision allows us to make a major change with respect to improving berth scheduling efficiency at marine terminals because we have increased visibility over the vessels that (call on) our facilities,” Landry said.

Patents for PortVision are pending, and in the meantime, Airsis is preparing to boost spending on advertising, trade shows and training salespeople.

Mayer said he could see companies such as SAIC Inc. or Qualcomm Inc. being interested in acquiring a firm like Airsis in a few years. Airsis is located in an 8,000-square-foot building in the Miramar area.

“The whole shipping industry is sort of imprecise,” Mayer said. “Who can prove the ship was late; when it actually came in and left , that’s worth millions to the oil companies.”


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