How Singapore startup Aespada seeks to safely transport workers
How Singapore startup Aespada seeks to safely transport workers

How Singapore startup Aespada seeks to safely transport workers

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In Singapore, it is not uncommon to see migrant workers being ferried on the back of lorries with few safety precautions.

The Road Traffic Act states that goods vehicles are allowed to be used for passengers, if it includes employees who are carrying out the business of the owner or hirer of the vehicles.

This mode of transport is a more common option for smaller firms that are budget-conscious, as the same goods vehicle can be used to ferry both materials and workers.

workers ferried on the back of lorries
Workers ferried on the back of lorries / Image Credit: ResearchGate

Although safety improvements have been made in 2009 and 2010 such as implementing a Maximum Passenger Capacity, ensuring side railings of lorries are approved by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), and enforcing that seated passengers should not be higher than 1.1 metres from the deck of the lorry, accidents in recent years have brought the effectiveness of these safety measures into question.

In 2021, 10 migrant workers who were ferried on the back of a lorry got injured after the lorry overturned along Upper Bukit Timah Road. Another accident that also occurred in 2021 occurred on the Pan Island Expressway between a lorry ferrying migrant workers and a stationary tipper truck resulting in 15 injured, and two fatalities.

This spate of accidents is a testament that ferrying workers on the back of lorries are still very unsafe. Since safety measures for ferrying workers on lorries are questionable, and buses and vans are too costly for some firms, how can this issue be resolved?

Aespada, an on-site construction logistics management software startup incorporated in 2018, seeks to be the answer.

“Aespada is proactively converting construction companies from using lorries to buses, by not only providing easy access to a network of buses on adhoc or scheduled basis, but by talking the same language as construction companies, which is the language of money,” says Jean Christophe Li, co-founder of Aespada.

The ‘Uber’ of the construction industry

Co-founders Jean Christophe Li and Charles Ng first met each other while doing a two-year part-time Masters of Science programme.

Both of them are Nanyang Technological University (NTU) graduates, and hailed from the construction industry. With a combined experience of 25 years, the duo identified some gaps that need to be filled.

There is an increasing rate of injuries and fatalities on our road each year involving lorry accidents, as the workers do not wear seat belts and are left exposed to the danger of unsafe transportation.

– Jean Christophe Li, co-founder of Aespada

They found this very concerning, and went ahead to work on a solution to solve this as part of a business plan competition in NTU. Their solution won third place, which became Aespada’s foundation of solving the issue of unsafe workers’ transportation in Singapore.

Aespada has since introduced digitalised logistics for the construction industry, offering two such products around this.

The first product, called AespadaSL, connects construction companies to a network of under-utilised heavy vehicles for their material and workers transportation. By consolidating over 300 heavy vehicles and making them available at the click of a few buttons, AespadaSL helps to save about 75 per cent of the time required traditionally.

With AespadaSL, customers can also trace real-time whereabouts of the heavy vehicle and view its estimated time of arrival to construction sites .

In November last year, AespadaSL onboarded a big fleet of buses so construction companies can easily book them on an ad-hoc basis to ferry their workers.

ferrying workers by bus
Using buses to transport workers / Image Credit: Aespada

The second product is AespadaDMS, which acts as Aespada’s site Traffic Control centre. It helps main contractors in managing, scheduling and tracing all their incoming deliveries to the construction sites through digitalisation.

With the ease and convenience of booking transport digitally for construction companies’ workers while also being able to track the vehicle’s whereabouts, it definitely resembles that of an on-demand booking platform. This is why Jean refers to Aespada as the “Uber” of the construction industry.

How does Aespada’s solution benefit companies?

With the understanding that the usual bus and van mode of transport is not a popular option among companies due to their higher costs (as compared to lorries), Jean highlights that Aespada offers these modes of transport at relatively affordable rates.

“Companies are able to save 14 per cent of their daily transportation costs and [are] able to send more workers faster to the construction sites.”

He adds that Aespada is open to helping customers find and customise the services that they’re looking for.

“We work with these companies on customising a unique package depending on their requirements such as number of workers, pick up and drop off time, and frequency of trips. By using our technology, we ensure that we can provide the best solution for each customer.”

aespada mobile app
Aespada mobile app / Image Credit: Aespada

Besides cost savings, another benefit of using Aespada’s services ties into environmental protection.

“With AespadaDMS, the main contractors are able to reduce traffic congestion and bottlenecks on site by 50 per cent by reducing [the] queueing time of lorries, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions”.

However, despite these benefits, Jean and Charles revealed that they struggled in gaining support for Aespada’s mission.

The adoption in the ground has been challenging. The customers’ management can be receptive, but eventually the team on the ground is the one who will be using the technology, so if they are not keen or they are very focused on doing their traditional method, it can be very difficult to try to push the technology adoption in these companies.

[W]e faced a lot of rejections and doubts as we were trying to change how people have been traditionally used to operate. It took us some time to help customers to jump from [an] existing method to [a] digital one.

– Jean Christophe Li, co-founder of Aespada

He further shares that they had to personally help every customer place orders digitally to convince them that using Aespada’s digital services is actually easy.

“We have to convince the end user that we are not here to create more headaches for them, but that the product will help them to alleviate their troubles on site instead”.

It has secured six figures’ worth of contracts

Just when things were picking up, Covid-19 struck during the launch of Aespada’s products.

“[W]e didn’t have enough partners on the platform yet, and it was challenging to reach out to potential customers,” lamented Jean.

Regardless, the co-founding duo managed to seek opportunities in troubling times.

By participating in the Built Environment Accelerate to Market Programme (BEAMP) — initiated by the Building and Construction Authority, JTC Corporation and Enterprise Singapore to push forward innovative solutions for the construction industry — Jean and Charles managed to get a six-figure grant which helped in Aespada’s products’ development.

The BEAMP’s connection also helped to open more doors for them.

Jean Christophe Li, co-founder of Aespada
Jean Christophe Li, co-founder of Aespada, at the BEAMP / Image Credit: Aespada

Now, Aespada is back on track to bill over S$500,000 and cover its monthly expenses by the end of this year and turn profitable next year.

Jean highlights that since the start of year 2022, Aespada’s transactions have grown by 300 per cent and has secured six-figures in long-term contract deals.

Currently, Aespada is in the midst of raising a seed funding round that closes this coming September. Through this, they seek to strengthen their position and resources to further their growth and continue their development to acquire more market share in terms of workers transportation.

Additionally, they aim to become the largest platform offering a fleet of buses. Once that has been achieved, Aespada will look to expand regionally.

“Our ultimate goal is that Aespada has contributed massively to solve the issue of unsafe workers transportation in Singapore and has digitalised the logistics for the construction industry”.

Featured Image Credit: Build SG Magazine

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