The venture adventure

A.P. Moller - Maersk’s Growth organisation is taking bright ideas  and developing and commercialising them, with the  aim of supporting the company’s strategic growth agenda by creating new world-class businesses.  A new marketplace for Africa shows how it can be done.  

The venture adventure
It starts with a kidney bean in Uganda, or a bullet chilli in Kenya. And then it gets complicated. To get the product to market, the grower has to find a credible buyer, arrange transport and deal with the reams of paperwork associated with crossing borders. Finally, payment must be ensured – and cash flow maintained until the money comes in.

Fromtu, a new business based in A.P. Moller - Maersk’s Growth organisation, focuses on connecting buyers and sellers – both exporting from and importing to Africa – and helping them agree on terms, enter into a contract and make the transaction secure with verification of both parties, enabling trade and thereby helping both to grow their business.

The growth potential is considerable: Africa has 16% of the world’s population but accounts for only 3% of global trade. The population is expected to double by 2050 and by then the workforce will be larger than that of China and India.

“We believe that there are some fundamental problems we can solve with technology – building a solution that makes trade more secure and simple. And we have a good fighting chance of being able to do that with support from Maersk – a very strong brand name and an incredible network,” says Fromtu CEO Michael Wiatr.

“We are aiming to enable growth for our customers and Africa and if we do become successful, it will be a great investment for Maersk.”

Next world-class business

A.P. Moller - Maersk has outlined a new path for profitable growth as it becomes an integrated transport and logistics company. It is built on three pillars: organic, acquisitive and through digital development.

Growth, headed by Sune Stilling, has refined the process of how it can turn ideas into growth opportunities with a major impact on A.P. Moller - Maersk’s future revenue, starting with a significant customer pain point and then how that can be resolved.

This can be done in a number of ways: Fromtu is one example of building a company from scratch based on an idea, and Growth is also looking at start-up investments and collaboration at different stages as well as , and private equity plays such as cold chain, which seeks to simplify customers’ supply chains and support top-line growth using existing strengths in reefer capacity and terminals.


Growth looked at mega-trends in the world and how A.P. Moller - Maersk can tap into them. The result is four investment domains: Fight Food Waste, Secure Supply Chains, Enable Trade and NextGen Logistics


Most of Growth’s focus will probably be on investing in, helping and cooperating with existing start-ups and companies going through series A, B and C funding – the stepping stones in turning an ingenious idea into a revolutionary global company


It will also source its own business ideas from online submissions, idea campaigns, hackathons, start-up scouting or the Maersk Venture Programme, a platform which enables the most promising start-ups to work with A.P. Moller - Maersk


The next step is screening, based on an initial assessment of potential based on the existence of a pain point, strategic fit and feasibility; then incubation, from idea to business model. The main contribution of Growth kicks in with validation and building – the point at which the value starts to be delivered for A.P. Moller - Maersk

“In essence we are a mix between a start-up accelerator, corporate venture capital and a private equity fund and we currently have plays across that whole spectrum,” Stilling says. “We are experimenting in a structured manner with the whole business building process, and we are finding out which roles work best for us.”

The underlying principles are to involve the customer throughout the process – rather than delivering a finished product years later that does not meet their needs – and to fail fast (and hence cheaply). Through the process, each project is assessed on whether it still holds the potential and should be pursued, or not.

And the result? Those which make it could be the next world-class business – an APM Terminals or Damco, and in time, perhaps a new Amazon.

Open mike

From its office in Copenhagen, Growth is fostering its own way of working away from the main A.P. Moller - Maersk sites, creating a start-up environment while also using the ‘unfair advantage’ of company backing. This includes a name and reputation that can open doors to meetings that might otherwise remain closed, and the significant knowledge and reach within A.P. Moller - Maersk as a leading player in a major industry, with a large asset base and captive spend.

The aim is to unlock and reignite the entrepreneurial spirit within the existing organisation, identify promising business ideas and then execute the development and commercialisation of these into standalone businesses with a substantial impact on revenue.

Venture Adventure
The Growth office has a more informal atmosphere than the usual A.P. Moller - Maersk workplace, similar to the environment at a start-up

Overlooking the harbour, the office has a more informal atmosphere than the usual A.P. Moller - Maersk workplace. At the team meeting – Growth Corner – the microphone is open to anyone, including visitors, to talk about their projects and their potential, pitch for interest or even make a point about keeping the space tidy. Presentations are more flexible than the usual PowerPoint and questions often take the debate off in an entirely new direction, as the enthusiasm spreads around the room.

For Onur Ay, the atmosphere is very similar to that at the start-up he came from six months ago. “People are very focused and proactive. In a start-up, you have to be sharp and know the trends and threats. It’s a very innovative environment and people are cool, with so many backgrounds in one place. I love being here.”

Anne Mette Frejsel comes from a very different background, having worked for the in-house consultancy Maersk Management Consulting and the A.P. Moller - Maersk Strategy department before joining.

“What I really like is we don’t know whether things will work, so there is a lot of exploration and testing. So this doesn’t work, but this little bit of it does, so how do we use it?” she says. “But it’s not for fun. Maersk needs to find new ways to grow and I am really proud to be part of something that could be a means to help the company in a different way.”

1 in 100

The growth ideas are close to the core of the business as well as more experimental concepts, and are related to physical and digital spaces, and they should generate revenue after three to seven years. Sprints test out the thesis – packing the assessment into a short time, at low cost and with a lot of customer feedback to see whether it is worth pursuing or not.

It’s clearly an exciting environment for Sune Stilling, who bristles with enthusiasm when he talks about the current activities but he is even more excited about what’s to come – with potentially 40-50 different ventures in a year’s time, from the current five.

“My job is not to tell everyone what to do. We are trying to change the foundation of the way we operate,” he says. “You create a vision, then ensure people have the tools and empowerment to make decisions.”

Fromtu has that combination of a start-up environment, combined with the backing of a major company, which can open up opportunities that smaller operations might otherwise struggle
to grasp.

“We’ve tried a bunch of different things, getting closer and closer to getting the model right. We take ideas to customers, see if it’s what they want, test it and refine it and go back to them with a new iteration,” says Michael Wiatr, the Fromtu CEO. “We need to try the 99 things that don’t work, in order to find the one that does.”