Europe plans a Chips Act to boost semiconductor sovereignty

The EU will use legislation to push for greater resilience and sovereignty in regional semiconductor supply chains.

The bloc’s president trailed a forthcoming ‘European Chips Act’ in a state of the union speech today. Ursula von der Leyen suggested that gaining greater autonomy in chipmaking is now a key component of the EU’s overarching digital strategy.

She flagged the global shortage of semiconductors, which has led to slow downs in production for a range of products that rely on chips to drive data processing — from cars and trains to smartphones and other consumer electronics — as driving EU lawmakers’ concern about European capacity in this area.

“There is no digital without chips,” said von der Leyen. “While we speak, whole production lines are already working at reduced speed — despite growing demand — because of a shortage of semi-conductors.

“But while global demand has exploded, Europe’s share across the entire value chain, from design to manufacturing capacity has shrunk. We depend on state-of-the-art chips manufactured in Asia. So this is not just a matter of our competitiveness. This is also a matter of tech sovereignty. So let’s put all of our focus on it.”

The Chips Act will aim to link together the EU’s semiconductor research, design and testing capacities, she said, calling for “coordination” between EU and national investments in this area to help boost the bloc’s self-sufficiency.

“The aim is to jointly create a state-of-the-art European chip ecosystem, including production. That ensures our security of supply and will develop new markets for ground-breaking European tech,” she added.

The EU president couched the ambition for bolstering European chip capacity as a “daunting task” but likened the mission to what the bloc did with its Galileo satellite navigation system two decades ago.

“Today European satellites provide the navigation system for more than 2 billion smartphones worldwide. We are world leaders. So let’s be bold again, this time with semi-conductors.”

In follow up remarks, the EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, put a little more meat on the bones of the legislative plan — saying the Commission wants to integrate Member State efforts into a “coherent” pan-EU semiconductor strategy and also create a framework “to avoid a race to national public subsidies fragmenting the single market”.

The aim will be to “set conditions to protect European interests and place Europe firmly in the global geopolitical landscape”, he added.

Per Breton, the Chip Act will comprise three elements: Firstly, a semiconductor research strategy that will aim to build on work being done by institutions such as IMEC in Belgium, LETI/CEA in France and Fraunhofer in Germany.

“Building on the existing research partnership (the KDT Joint Undertaking), we need to up our game, and design a strategy to push the research ambitions of Europe to the next level while preserving our strategic interests,” he noted.

The second component will consist of a collective plan to boost European chipmaking capacity.

He said the planned legislation will aim to support chip supply chain monitoring and resilience across design, production, packaging, equipment and suppliers (e.g. producers of wafers).

The goal will be to support the development of European “mega fabs” that are able to produce high volumes of the most advanced (towards 2nm and below) and energy-efficient semiconductors.

However the EU isn’t planning for a future when it can make all the chips it needs itself.

The last plank of the European Chip Act will set out a framework for international co-operation and partnership.

“The idea is not to produce everything on our own here in Europe. In addition to making our local production more resilient, we need to design a strategy to diversify our supply chains in order to decrease over-dependence on a single country or region,” Breton went on. “And while the EU aims to remain the top global destination of foreign investment and we welcome foreign investment to help increase our production capacity especially in high-end technology, through the European Chips Act we will also put the right conditions in place to preserve Europe’s security of supply.”

“The US are now discussing a massive investment under the American Chips Act designed to finance the creation of an American research centre and to help open up advanced production factories. The objective is clear: to increase the resilience of US semiconductor supply chains,” he added.

“Taiwan is positioning itself to ensure its primacy on semiconductor manufacturing. China, too, is trying to close the technological gap as it is constrained by export control rules to avoid technological transfers. Europe cannot and will not lag behind.”

In additional documentation released today, the EU said the Chips Act will build on other digital initiatives already presented by the Von der Leyen Commission — such as moves to contain the power of “gatekeeper” Internet giants and increase platforms’ accountability (the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act); regulate high risk applications of AI (the Artificial Intelligence Act); tackle online disinformation (via a beefed up code of practice); and boost investment in regional digital infrastructure and skills.

#consumer-electronics, #digital-markets-act, #digital-services-act, #europe, #european-chips-act, #european-commission, #european-union, #fraunhofer, #hardware, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #supply-chain, #thierry-breton, #ursula-von-der-leyen

Index leads $12.2M seed in Sourceful, a data play to make supply chains greener

Supply chains can be a complex logistical challenge. But they pose an even greater environmental challenge. And it’s that latter problem — global supply-chain sustainability — where UK startup Sourceful is fully focused, although it argues its approach can boost efficiency as well as shrink environmental impact. So it’s a win-win, per the pitch.

Early investors look impressed: Sourceful is announcing a $12.2 million seed funding round today, led by Europe’s Index Ventures (partner, Danny Rimer, is joining the board). Eka Ventures, Venrex and Dylan Field (Figma founder), also participated in the chunky raise.

The June 2020-founded startup says it will use the new funding to scale its operations and build out its platform for sustainable sourcing, with a plan to hire more staff across technology, sustainability, marketing and ops.

Its team has already grown fivefold since the start of 2021 — and it’s now aiming to reach 60 employees by the end of the year.

And all this is ahead of a public launch that’s programmed for early next year.

Sourceful’s platform is in pre-launch beta for now, with around 20 customers across a number of categories — such as food & beverages (Foundation Coffee House), fashion and accessories (Fenton), healthcare (Elder), and online marketplaces (Floom and Stitched) — kicking the tyres in the hopes of making better supply chain decisions.

Startup watchers will know that supply chain logistics and freight forwarding has been a hotbed of activity — with entrepreneurs making waves for years now, promising efficiency gains by digitizing legacy (and often still pretty manual) legacy processes.

Sustainability-focused supply chain startups are a bit more of a recent development (with some category-pioneering exceptions) but could be set for major uplift as the world’s attention spins toward decarbonizing. (Just this month we’ve also covered Portcast and Responsibly, for example.)

Sourceful joins the fray with a dual-sided promise to tackle sustainability and efficiency by mapping client requirements to vetted suppliers on its marketplace — handling the buying and shipping logistics piece (including a little warehousing) — and taking a commission on the overall price as its cut of the action.

At first glance it’s a curious choice of name for a sustainability startup, given the fact that sourcing (a whole lot) less is what’s ultimately going to be needed for humanity to cut its global carbon emissions enough to avert climate disaster. But maybe the intended wordplay here is ‘full’ — in the sense of ‘fully optimized’.

The UK startup is attacking the supply chain sustainability problem from the perspective of doing something right now, arguing that making a dent in consumer-driven environmental impacts of sourcing stuff (packaging, merchansize, components etc) is a lot better than letting the same old polluting status quo roll on. 

However, given all the unverifiable ‘eco’ marketing claims being attached to products nowadays — or, indeed, other forms of flagrant ‘greenwashing’ (like bogus carbon offsets) that are cynically trying to convince consumers it’s okay to keep consuming as much as ever — there are clearly pitfalls to avoid too.

If you’re talking about packaging — which is one of the products that Sourceful is deeply focused on, with a forthcoming design capability offering that will help businesses to customize packaging designs, pick materials, size etc based on real-time data, all with the goal of encouraging ‘greener’ choices — less really is more.

Ideally, zero packaging is what your business should be aiming for (where practical, ofc). Yet Sourceful’s service will, inevitably, support demand for packaging supply and manufacture. At least in the first blush. So there’s a bit of a conundrum.

“You can put a carbon footprint score on packaging in general. So you could say packaging overall is this amount so the best thing you could do is not use any packaging. But the reality is, for most brands right now, especially for ecommerce, if you’re trying to deliver your product to the customer there needs to be some packaging — and so if packaging is unavoidable in its current form or in another form then the best thing you can then do is optimize that packaging,” argues CEO and co-founder Wing Chan, when we make the point that zero packaging is the most sustainable option.

“Right now we think the best solution is to help you optimize your packaging — the next wave will be around circular forms of packaging. Packaging that you can return back to your courier, packaging that you can reuse in another form. But we wanted to start with what is the current pain point. And the pain point is: I’m buying packaging, it’s very expensive, it’s very time-consuming and if I try and get it to be ‘green’ I either put a marketing spin on it or I don’t know how to actually make it more sustainable.

“But I definitely agree with you that long term we’ve got to think about how do I get the supply chain number as close to zero and then offset whatever’s remaining.”

For now, then, Sourceful is using data — combined with its marketplace of vetted suppliers (~40 at this stage) in the UK and China — to help companies optimize sourcing logistics and shrink their supply chains’ environmental impact.

It does this by putting a “carbon footprint score” on the product choices its brand clients are making.

This means that instead of only being able to claim “qualitative things” — such as that a product uses less plastic or a different type of plastic — Sourceful’s customers can display an actual benchmarked carbon footprint score (in the form of a number), based on its lifecycle assessment of the stuff involved in making up the finished product.

“It’s a lifecycle view,” says Chan. “For example if you take packaging we look at the box, we look at what is the cardboard material, where does it come from, how far has it travelled, what type of material is it, how much material gets used, how is then transported — for example is it a manufacturer in Asia all the way to the UK — so we get an overall score. So rather than it just being comparing paper and plastic we actually help the brands to see an overall quantitive outcome.”

“We’ve built the [software] engine that allows you to make choices and see the actual output — so, for example, if you make your box bigger what does that actually do to your carbon footprint score?” he adds.

Sourceful has an internal climate science team to do this work. It is also building on publicly available data sources, per Chan — such as ecoinvent (“the market standard based data”) — but he says the public data available isn’t up-to-date, saying it’s also therefore working with researchers to update these key sources with the last five years of data.

It wants the protocol it’s devised for scoring carbon footprint via this lifecycle assessment to become a universal standard. Hence it’s currently going through an ISO certification process — hoping to have that in place before the planned public launch of its platform in Q1 next year.

“There’s two ISO standards for doing a lifecycle assessment and normally you’d get ISO approval for a specific product but we’re getting ISO approval for the whole methodology — essentially the platform that we’ve built,” explains Chan. “There’s an independent panel of people, from universities, from other consultancies, who will be reviewing this as part of that ISO review — that’s why it’s so important to us that we’re doing that.”

The vetting of the suppliers on its marketplace is something Sourceful is doing entirely by itself, though — without any outside help. So its customers still need to trust that it’s doing a proper job of monitoring all the third parties on its marketplace.

But, on this, Chan argues that’s since sustainability is core to its value proposition it is incentivized to do the vetting in a more thorough and comprehensive way than any other individual player would be.

“The key thing for us is we combine both the data capture you would do when you’re understanding a supplier — asking all the questions about how their supply chain works and all of the laws entered by the new country — but we’re coupling that with a human visit as well. So we have a team in the UK as well as a team in Asia who actually go and visit the manufacturers. So it’s an extra layer of comfort for the brands that we’ve actually spent the time to go and meet them,” he suggests.

“The second thing is, as part of our marketplace build, we’re understanding how their supply chain works — in order to build the lifecycle assessment we actually understand each stage of their manufacturing process. So we have a much deeper understanding of their way of operating than all of the other platforms would have. So, yes it’s more involved, but we think that gives better accountability and a more accurate outcome.”

“We’re taking [the vetting process] to another level,” he adds. “We didn’t find anyone that was going into the same level of depth as us — so that’s why we’ve done it ourselves.”

Pressed a little more, Chan also tells TechCrunch: “Supply chain risks never disappear but the thing is how much investment are you making to learn more about it? And for us because we’re capturing this data on lifecycle assessment it’s part of that process of understanding the supplier. So rather than it being another cost that we pay to go visit the manufacturer, we see it as part of our data gathering — a key part of the platform.

“So rather than it being a cost to minimize, which is why a lot of companies end up in trouble because they don’t visit [their suppliers] enough, we’re invested in making sure that data is as accurate and up-to-date as possible. And the manufacturers see that because they want to have a score that’s good, they also want to understand where their footprint could be improved. So it’s a partnership, rather than it just being a bunch of tick boxes to check — which is what a lot of the audits are… We’re here to try and understand their process better.”

Zooming out to look at the driving forces pressing for supply chain sustainability, Chan suggests demand for greener sourcing by businesses is being driven by consumers themselves — who are certainly more aware than ever of environmental concerns. And can, to a degree, vote with their wallet by choosing more eco products (and/or by putting direct reputational pressure on businesses, such as via social media channels).

There is some regulatory pressure, too — such as existing sustainability and carbon reporting requirements (typically for larger businesses). Along with the overarching ‘net zero’ targets which governments in Europe and elsewhere have signed up for. So there should be increasing ‘top down’ pressure on businesses to decarbonize.

Chan also points to another swathe of environmental laws coming in — such as those banning things like single use plastics — which he says are creating further momentum for businesses to re-evaluate their supply chains.

Nonetheless, he believes the biggest source of pressure for companies to decarbonize is coming from consumers themselves. So — the premise is — brands that can present the strongest story to people about what they’re doing to reduce their environmental impact — backed up by a certified lifecycle assessment (assuming Sourceful gets its ISO stamp) — stand to win the business of growing numbers of eco-minded buyers, at the same time as netting cost efficiencies by optimizing their supply chains.

(And, indeed, part of the team’s inspiration for Sourceful’s business was to challenge the idea that consumers are to blame for the world’s environmental problems — given the lack of choice people so often have over what they can buy, not to mention the paucity of information to inform purchasing choices.)

“In the absence of government regulation on [lifecycle assessment] we’re actually saying to the brand, you’ve got existing products, we’ve measured the material, production, transport, all of these things — given you a carbon footprint score, and actually when you go and look at alternatives we can quantitatively assess the difference between those options. So rather than just pandering to the latest marketing buzzword you get a quantitive view on that,” he says.

“So what we’ve been showing is you can move to a more sustainable outcome — from a quantitative point of view — but also save money. So we’re tackling both problems. The supply chain itself is not very efficient so we can save money and the supply chain is not very transparent so we can give them better visibility into their actual carbon footprint.”

“Every brand that we’ve met that has been started in the last two years, their founder or their premise of the brand had sustainability involved — it’s such a hot topic that if you start a fashion brand or a beauty brand or food brand you have to have somewhere in your mission statement/founder story about your commitment to sustainability. So we thought that’s where the market is going to be. But actually we saw more established companies had the same view — that their consumers are also asking for there to be change in how they talk about their products, how they understand their lifecycle journey. So actually I think the government drive on regulation is of course important but it’s still far behind and actually consumers are driving more of a change,” he adds.

Sourceful’s offering includes a warehousing ‘managed service’ component — where it’s using a predictive algorithm to power auto-stocking so that brands can store (non-current) inventory in its warehouses (to save space etc) and have the goods shipped to them as they need them.

Being able to source supplies like components or packaging in bulk obviously reduces purchasing costs. But depending on how it’s done, it may also mean you can optimize things like transportation requirements, which could limit shipping emissions, so there are potentially efficiency and sustainability strands here too.

“Sea freight is several times more energy efficient than air freight so if we can organize more shipments to go via sea freight than air then that’s a major win. The[n] if we can fill the container up with different client orders so that you end up with one very full container, rather than lots of containers with half of it empty, you’re also going to save a lot of energy too. And so that’s another part of the journey that we do,” says Chan. “The other thing is because were aggregating orders with the manufacturer — they actually have better utilization as well, which is more efficient for them. So all of these things are really important to driving the overall cost as well sustainability score down.”

“The more we thought about it, the more there are so many parts of the supply chain which haven’t been optimzied,” he adds. “So many times you order 2,000 boxes it comes in these air freight shipments and someone has to courier it to you in one trip — there’s so many places where aggregating and being smarter about data you can save so much footprint.”

 

#carbon-footprint, #carbon-offset, #danny-rimer, #e-commerce, #eka-ventures, #environmentalism, #europe, #fundings-exits, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greentech, #logistics, #product-management, #sourceful, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #sustainability

Logistics startup Stord raises $90M in Kleiner Perkins-led round, becomes a unicorn and acquires another company

When Kleiner Perkins led Stord’s $12.4 million Series A in 2019, its founders were in their early 20s and so passionate about their startup that they each dropped out of their respective schools to focus on growing the business.

Fast-forward two years and Stord — an Atlanta-based company that has developed a cloud supply chain — is raising more capital in a round again led by Kleiner Perkins.

This time, Stord has raised $90 million in a Series D round of funding at a post-money valuation of $1.125 billion — more than double the $510 million that the company was valued at when raising $65 million in a Series C financing just six months ago.

In fact, today’s funding marks Stord’s third since early December of 2020, when it raised its Series B led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, and brings the company’s total raised since its 2015 inception to $205 million.

Besides Kleiner Perkins, Lux Capital, D1 Capital, Palm Tree Crew, BOND, Dynamo Ventures, Founders Fund, Lineage Logistics and Susa Ventures also participated in the Series D financing. In addition, Michael Rubin, Fanatics founder and founder of GSI Commerce; Carlos Cashman, CEO of Thrasio; Max Mullen, co-founder of Instacart; and Will Gaybrick, CPO at Stripe, put money in the round.

Founders Sean Henry, 24, and Jacob Boudreau, 23, met while Henry was at Georgia Tech and Boudreau was in online classes at Arizona State (ASU) but running his own business, a software development firm, in Atlanta.

Over time, Stord has evolved into a cloud supply chain that can give companies a way to compete and grow with logistics, and provides an integrated platform “that’s available exactly when and where they need it,” Henry said. Stord combines physical logistics services such as freight, warehousing and fulfillment in that platform, which aims to provide “complete visibility, rapid optimization and elastic scale” for its users.

About two months ago, Stord announced the opening of its first fulfillment center, a 386,000-square-foot facility, in Atlanta, which features warehouse robotics and automation technologies. “It was the first time we were in a building ourselves running it end to end,” Henry said.

And today, the company is announcing it has acquired Connecticut-based Fulfillment Works, a 22-year-old company with direct-to-consumer (DTC) experience and warehouses in Nevada and in its home state.

With FulfillmentWorks, the company says it has increased its first-party warehouses, coupled with its network of over 400 warehouse partners and 15,000 carriers.

While Stord would not disclose the amount it paid for Fulfillment Works, Henry did share some of Stord’s impressive financial metrics. The company, he said, in 2020 delivered its third consecutive year of 300+% growth, and is on track to do so again in 2021. Stord also achieved more than $100 million in revenue in the first two quarters of 2021, according to Henry, and grew its headcount from 160 people last year to over 450 so far in 2021 (including about 150 Fulfillment Works employees). And since the fourth quarter is often when people do the most online shopping, Henry expects the three-month period to be Stord’s heaviest revenue quarter.

For some context, Stord’s new sales were up “7x” in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year. So far in the third quarter, sales are up almost 10x, according to Henry.

Put simply, Stord aims to give brands a way to compete with the likes of Amazon, which has set expectations of fast fulfillment and delivery. The company guarantees two-day shipping to anywhere in the country.

“The supply chain is the new competitive battleground,” Henry said. “Today’s buying expectations set by Amazon and the rise of the omni-channel shopper have placed immense pressure on companies to maintain more nimble and efficient supply chains… We want every company to have world-class, Prime-like supply chains.”

What makes Stord unique, according to Henry, is the fact that it has built what it believes to be the only end-to-end logistics network that combines the physical infrastructure with software.

That too is one of the reasons that Kleiner Perkins doubled down on its investment in the company.

Ilya Fushman, Stord board director and partner at Kleiner Perkins, said even at the time of his firm’s investment in 2019, that Henry displayed “amazing maturity and vision.”

At a high level, the firm was also just drawn to what he described as the “incredibly large market opportunity.”

“It’s trillions of dollars of products moving around with consumer expectation that these products will get to them the same day or next day, wherever they are,” Fushman told TechCrunch. “And while companies like Amazon have built amazing infrastructure to do that themselves, the rest of the world hasn’t really caught up… So there’s just amazing opportunity to build software and services to modernize this multitrillion-dollar market.”

In other words, Fushman explained, Stord is serving as a “plug and play” or “one stop shop” for retailers and merchants so they don’t have to spend resources on their own warehouses or building their own logistics platforms.

Stord launched the software part of its business in January 2020, and it grew 900% during the year, and is today one of the fastest-growing parts of its business.

“We built software to run our logistics and network of hundreds of warehouses,” Henry told TechCrunch. “But if companies want to use the same system for existing logistics, they can buy our software to get that kind of visibility.”

#atlanta, #cloud, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ilya-fushman, #kleiner-perkins, #logistics, #ma, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #stord, #supply-chain, #venture-capital

GrubMarket gobbles up $120M at a $1B+ pre-money valuation to take on the grocery supply chain

When people talk about “online food delivery” services, chances are that they’ll think of the Uber Eats, Instacarts and Getirs of this world. But today a startup that’s tackling a different aspect of the market — addressing the supply chain that subsequently turns the wheels of the bigger food distribution machine — is announcing a big round of funding as it continues to grow.

GrubMarket, which provides software and services that help link up and manage relationships between food suppliers and their customers — which can include wholesalers and other distributors, markets and supermarkets, delivery startups, restaurants, and consumers — has picked up $120 million in a Series E round of funding.

The funding is coming from a wide mix of investors. Liberty Street Funds, Walleye Capital, Japan Post Capital, Joseph Stone Capital, Pegasus Tech Ventures, Tech Pioneers Fund are among the new backers, who are being joined by existing investors Celtic House Asia Partners, INP Capital, Reimagined Ventures, Moringa Capital Management, and others, along with other unnamed participants

Mike Xu, GrubMarket’s founder and CEO (pictured, above), tells me that the company is currently profitable in a big way. It’s now at a $1 billion annualized run-rate, having grown revenues 300% over last year, with some markets like New York growing even more (it went from less than $10 million ARR to $100 million+).

With operations currently in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, and some 40 warehouses nationwide. GrubMarket had a pre-money valuation of over $1 billion, and now it will be looking to grow even more, both in terms of territory and in terms of tech, moving ahead in a market that is largely absent from competitors.

“We are still the first mover in this space,” Xu said when I asked him in an interview about rivals. “No one else is doing consolidation on the supply chain side as we are. We are trying to consolidate the American food supply chain through software technologies, while also trying to find the best solutions in this space.”

(And for some context, the $1 billion+ valuation is more than double GrubMarket’s valuation in October 2020, when it raised $60 million at a $500 million post-money valuation.)

Longer term, the plan will be to look at an IPO provisionally filing the paperwork by summer 2022, Xu added.

GrubMarket got its start several years ago as one of many companies looking to provide a more efficient farm-to-table service. Tapping into a growing consumer interest in higher quality, and more traceable food, it saw an opportunity to build a platform to link up producers to the consumers, restaurants and grocery stores that were buying their products. (Grocery stores, incidentally, might be independent operations, or something much bigger: one of GrubMarket’s biggest customers is Whole Foods, which uses GrubMarket for produce supply in certain regions of the U.S. It is currently is the company’s biggest customer.)

As we wrote last year, GrubMarket — like many other grocery delivery services — found that the pandemic initially provided a big fillip, and a big rush of demand, from that consumer side of the business, as more people turned to internet-based ordering and delivery services to offset the fact that many stores were closed, or they simply wanted to curtail the amount of shopping they were doing in-person to slow the spread of Covid-19.

But fast forward to today, while the startup still serves consumers, this is currently not the primary part of its business. Instead, it’s B2B2C, serving companies that in turn serve consumers. Xu says that overall, demand from consumers has dropped off considerably compared to a year ago.

“We think that restaurant re-openings have meant more people are dining out again and spending less time at home,” Xu said, ” and also they can go back to physical grocery stores, so they are not as interested as they were before in buying raw ingredients online. I don’t want to offend other food tech companies, but I think many of them will be seeing the same. I think B2C is really going to slow down going forward.”

The opening for GrubMarket has been not just positioning itself as a middleman between producers and buyers, but to do so by way of technology and consolidating what has been a very regionalized and fragmented market up to now.

GrubMarket has snapped up no less than 40 companies in the last three years. While some of these have been to help it expand geographically (it made 10 acquisitions in the Los Angeles area alone), many have also been made to double down on technology.

These have included the likes of Farmigo, once a Disrupt Battlefield contender that pivoted into becoming a software provider to CSAs (an area that GrubMarket sees a lot of opportunity), as well as software to help farms manage their business staffing, insurance and more: Pacific Farm Management is an example of the latter.

GrubMarket’s own in-house software, WholesaleWare, a cloud-based service for farmers and other food producers, saw its sales grow 3,500% over the last year, and it is now managing more than $4 billion in wholesale and retail activity across the U.S. and Canada.

There will be obvious ways to extend what GrubHub does deeper into the needs of its customers on the purchasing end, but this is in many ways also a very crowded market. (And not just crowded, but crowded with big companies. Just today, Toast, the company that builds software for restaurants, filed for a $717 million IPO at potentially a $16.5 billion valuation.) So instead, GrubHub will continue to focus on what has been a more overlooked aspect, that of the suppliers.

“I am focused on the food supply chain,” Xu said. “Operators in the food supply chain business most of the time don’t have any access to software and e-commerce technology. But we are not just a lightweight online ordering system. We do a lot of heavyweight lifting around inventory management, pricing and customer relations, and even HR management for wholesales and distributors.” That will also mean, longer term, that GrubMarket will likely also start to explore connected hardware to help those customers, too: robotics for picking and moving items are on that agenda, Xu said.

“GrubMarket has built a profitable, high-growth business underpinned by its best-in-class technology platform that’s reinventing how businesses access healthy, fresh foods,” said Jack Litowitz, director of strategic investments at Reimagined Ventures, in a statement. “We’re proud to support GrubMarket as it continues to expand into new regions and grow its WholesaleWare 2.0 software platform. At Reimagined Ventures, we always seek to invest in businesses that are disrupting inefficient industries in innovative ways. Mike Xu and the GrubMarket team have built one of these businesses. We’re excited to back their vision and work in making the food supply chain more efficient.”

“GrubMarket is transforming the trillion-dollar food distribution industry with unprecedented speed by implementing advanced digital solutions and operational discipline. The company’s scale, growth, and profitability are extraordinarily impressive. Pegasus is delighted and honored to be part of GrubMarket’s exciting journey ahead,” added Bill Reichert, partner at Pegasus Tech Ventures.

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Is India’s BNPL 2.0 set to disrupt B2B?

Both as a term and as a financial product, “buy now, pay later” has become mainstream in the past few years. BNPL has evolved to assume various forms today, from small-ticket offerings by fintechs on consumer checkout platforms and marketplaces, to closed-loop products offered on marketplaces such as Amazon Pay Later (which they are now extending for outside use as well). You can also see some variants offered by companies that want to expand the scope of consumption and consumer credit.

Globally, BNPL has seen the most growth in the consumer segment and has driven retail consumption and lending over the past few years. Consumer BNPL offerings are a good alternative to credit cards, especially for people who do not have a credit history and can’t get credit from banks. That said, a specific vertical of BNPL products is gaining traction — one targeted toward small and medium enterprises (SMEs). This new vertical is known as “SME BNPL.”

BNPL can be particularly useful when flow-based underwriting or transaction-based underwriting is used to offer credit to small businesses.

B2B commerce in India is moving online

E-commerce has seen tremendous growth in India over the past decade. Skyrocketing smartphone and internet penetration led to rapid growth in e-commerce across large cities and smaller towns alike. Consumer credit has also taken off in parallel as credit cards and digital lending spurred credit-based consumption across offline and online stores.

However, the large B2B supply chain enabling the burgeoning retail market was plagued by bottlenecks and inefficiencies because it involved a plethora of intermediaries and streamlining became a big problem. A number of tech players responded by organizing the previously disorganized B2B commerce market at various touch points, inserting convenience, pricing and easier product access through tech-enabled logistics and a modern supply chain.

Online B2B and B2C penetration in India in 2019

Image Credits: Redseer

India’s B2B e-commerce space has developed rapidly since 2020. Small businesses have moved from using paper to smartphone apps for running a significant part of their day-to-day business, leading to widespread disruption in how businesses transact today. The COVID-19 pandemic also forced small businesses, which were earlier using physical means to procure goods and services, to try new and online models to conduct their affairs.

Graph depicting growth of India's B2B retail market

Image Credits: Redseer

Moreover, the Indian government’s widespread promotion of an instant payments system in the form of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has changed how people send money to each other or pay merchants for their goods and services. The next step for solving the digital B2B puzzle is to embed credit inside every transaction and invoice.

Investments in online B2B in india 2016-19

Image Credits: Redseer

If we compare online B2B transactions to the offline world, there is only one missing link: The terms offered to small businesses by their supplier/distributor or vendor. Businesses, unlike consumers, must buy goods and services to eventually trade them, or add value and sell to consumers or others down the value chain. This process is not immediate and has a certain time cycle attached.

The longer sales cycle means many small businesses require credit payment terms when buying inventory. As B2B commerce scales and grows through digital means, a BNPL product that caters to the needs of SMEs can support their growth and alleviate the burden on their cash flows.

How does consumer BNPL differ from SME BNPL?

An SME BNPL product is a purchase financing product for small businesses transacting with suppliers, distributors, aggregator platforms or B2B marketplaces.

#asia, #bnpl, #column, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #ec-india, #ec-indian-subcontinent, #finance, #india, #online-lending, #online-shopping, #retail, #small-business, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc

6 tips for establishing your startup’s global supply chain

Startups are hard work, but the complexities of global supply chains can make running hardware companies especially difficult. Instead of existing within a codebase behind a screen, the key components of your hardware product can be scattered around the world, subject to the volatility of the global economy.

I’ve spent most of my career establishing global supply chains, setting up manufacturing lines for 3D printers, electric bicycles and home fitness equipment on the ground in Mexico, Hungary, Taiwan and China. I’ve learned the hard way that Murphy’s law is a constant companion in the hardware business.

But after more than a decade of work on three different continents, there are a few lessons I’ve learned that will help you avoid unnecessary mistakes.

Expect cost fluctuations, especially in currency and shipping

Shipping physical products is quite different from “shipping” code — you have to pay a considerable amount of money to transport products around the world. Of course, shipping costs become a line item like any other as they get baked into the overall business plan. The issue is that those costs can change monthly — sometimes drastically.

At this time last year, a shipping container from China cost $3,300. Today, it’s almost $18,000 — a more than fivefold increase in 12 months. It’s safe to assume that most 2020 business plans did not account for such a cost increase for a key line item.

Shipping a buggy hardware product can be exponentially costlier than shipping buggy software. Recalls, angry customers, return shipping and other issues can become existential problems.

Similar issues also arise with currency exchange rates. Contract manufacturers often allow you to maintain cost agreements for any fluctuations below 5%, but the dollar has dropped much more than 5% against the yuan compared to a year ago, and hardware companies have been forced to renegotiate their manufacturing contracts.

As exchange rates become less favorable and shipping costs increase, you have two options: Operate with lower margins, or pass along the cost to the end customer. Neither choice is ideal, but both are better than going bankrupt.

The takeaway is that when you set up your business, you need to prepare for these possibilities. That means operating with enough margin to handle increased costs, or with the confidence that your end customer will be able to handle a higher price.

Overorder critical parts

Over the past year, many businesses have lost billions of dollars in market value because they didn’t order enough semiconductors. As the owner of a hardware company, you will encounter similar risks.

The supply for certain components, like computer chips, can be limited, and shortages can arise quickly if demand increases or supply chains get disrupted. It’s your job to analyze potential choke points in your supply chain and create redundancies around them.

#column, #ec-column, #ec-hardware, #ec-how-to, #ec-manufacturing-and-supply-chain, #hardware, #logistics, #manufacturing, #semiconductors, #startups, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management

Samsung seemingly caught swapping components in its 970 Evo Plus SSDs

You can't see the part number which distinguishes the newer, slower drive from the older, faster one on the box—you need to check the PN field in the top center of the label on the drive itself.

Enlarge / You can’t see the part number which distinguishes the newer, slower drive from the older, faster one on the box—you need to check the PN field in the top center of the label on the drive itself. (credit: Jim Salter)

Recently, major SSD vendors Crucial and Western Digital have both been caught swapping out TLC NAND in their consumer SSDs for cheaper but much lower-performance, lower-endurance QLC NAND. Samsung appears to be joining them in the part-swapping corner of shame today, thanks to Chinese Youtuber 潮玩客, who documented a new version of the Samsung 970 Evo Plus using an inferior drive controller.

Although the consumer-facing model number of the drives did not change—it was a 970 Evo Plus last year, and it’s still a 970 Evo Plus now—the manufacturer part number did. Unfortunately, the manufacturer part number isn’t visible on the box the SSD comes in—as far as we’ve been able to determine, it’s only shown on a small label on the drive itself.

Falling off the write cliff

We tested the 970 Evo Plus (alongside the 980, and the older 970 Pro) in March, clocking it at write speeds of 1,600+ MiB/sec on 1MiB workloads. Our benchmarking was done with he old version, part number MZVLB1T0HBLR. The newer version—part number MZVL21T0HBLU—is considerably slower. According to 潮玩客’s test results, the newer version only manages 830MiB/sec—half the performance of the original.

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#crucial, #pandemic, #parts-swap, #samsung, #ssd, #supply-chain, #tech, #western-digital

Construction tech startup Agora raises $33M in Tiger Global-led round amid 760% YoY ARR growth

Agora, a startup that has built a materials management platform for contractors, has raised $33 million in a Series B round of funding led by Tiger Global Management.

8VC, Tishman Speyer, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, Michael Ovitz, DST, LeFrak and Kevin Hartz also participated in the financing, which brings the startup’s total raised since its 2018 inception to about $45 million.

Construction tech is one of those sectors that has not historically been considered “sexy” in a startup world that often favors glitzier technology. But construction fuels the commercial and real estate industries, which in turn impacts all of us in one way or another.

Meanwhile, the $10 trillion construction industry has long been plagued with productivity challenges. In fact, according to McKinsey, labor productivity growth in the industry has been stagnant since 1947.

Image Credits: Agora

Maria Rioumine and Ryan Gibson founded Agora with the mission of making it easier for commercial trade contractors to order and track materials, automate manual data entry and give everyone involved in the procurement process a single platform by which they can communicate with each other.

The end goal is to help projects move along faster, and contractors to avoid unnecessary delays by reducing building costs. The bigger picture impact, Agora hopes, is that its SaaS platform can help make the “built environment faster and more efficient to build,” and thus help make cities “more affordable and accessible to all.” 

San Francisco-based Agora is tackling the problem in a very specific, niche way that is proving to be popular both with contractors and investors alike. Rather than attempting to be a blanket solution for all trades, Agora is focusing on specific trade verticals, one by one. For example, it started out with electrical and is now moving into mechanical.

“Last year, there was more than $101 billion worth of electrical work done. Our customers work on all types of products,” Rioumine told TechCrunch. “For example, we have customers that do power stations, some that build hospitals and others that build school classrooms and university campuses, and still others that build churches and casinos. The work that these contractors do is so essential.”

Agora’s annual recurring revenue has grown 760% year over year while its customer base is up 6x during the same time frame, according to the company. It has also tripled its headcount to 45 people and today is processing $140 million in annualized materials volume for its customers.

The startup wasn’t actively raising for the Series B — instead, investors were proactively offering term sheets, Rioumine said.

“A few investors that knew us well approached us about preempting the round,” she told TechCrunch. “Twelve days after the first conversation, we had multiple term sheets.”

Tiger Global Partner John Curtius said he was drawn to Agora’s “unique” trade-specific approach.

In his view, the startup is “defining the future of procurement in construction.”

“Agora is solving a huge and critical problem,” Curtius wrote via email. “Billions of dollars a year are wasted because of inefficient procurement processes and breakages in the supply chain.”

The platform specifically does things like give contractors the ability to: customize templates, create pre-approved materials lists and easily reorder frequently needed items, order from a catalogue that offers more than 400,000 SKUs and eliminate manual data entry, which reduces errors and automates basic processes.

By bringing both field and office teams onto one digital platform, Agora claims it saves office teams 75% of the time they spend processing purchase orders, and field teams 38% of the time their foremen spend on materials management. In total, the company said its technology can provide up to $300,000 of potential annual savings for its average customer.

The company plans to use its new capital to hire across a number of teams, as well as continue to expand beyond 30 states and into other trade verticals.

“There has been this really heavy underinvestment in tech in construction for a long time,” Rioumine said. On average, the technology spend as a proportion of revenue in construction is about 1.5%, “which is actually the lowest of the industries out there where the median is 3.3%,” she added.

“So when we think about just how large this industry is and how little productivity improvements there have been recently, I think now we have this amazing opportunity to really invest in technology and bring it on to the job sites and into trade contractors’ hands.”

#agora, #construction, #construction-tech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #jerry-yang, #kevin-hartz, #michael-ovitz, #procurement, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #saas, #san-francisco, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc, #tiger-global, #tiger-global-management, #venture-capital

5 ways AI can help mitigate the global shipping crisis

With the fourth quarter now upon us, every industry faces a challenge in managing a holiday production calendar that will deliver the goods. The key for startups looking to defend the quarter from disruptions is to adopt a proactive, data-driven approach to inventory management.

Here are five methods we’ve been counseling clients to adopt:

  • Use data and analytics to identify and map out the inventory being affected by the global shipping crisis. If you don’t have the data about what is on a ship transporting your materials, then use this crisis as an opportunity to justify prioritizing supply chain digital transformation with data, IoT and advanced analytics (e.g., machine learning and simulation). You need to know the location of your goods all times if you are going to successfully gauge what impact a shortage will have on your operation.

    Ultimately, AI will help startups understand how myriad disruptions affect their supply chain so they can better respond with a Plan B when the unthinkable happens.

  • If you don’t have the data readily available, then you need to partner with a vendor and use a secure environment to share second-party data to deliver AI-driven actionable insights on the business impact on all parties involved, from startup to retailer to the consumer.
  • Simulate and forecast the impact of these supply-side issues on the demand side. Conduct scenario planning exercises and inform critical business decisions. If this ability is not in place, an emergency like a pandemic, civil unrest or an uncontrollable rate hike will wreak havoc on your business plan. Use this situation as an opportunity to put a disaster management program in place to prepare for the potential risks.

    #analytics, #artificial-intelligence, #business-intelligence, #column, #ec-column, #ec-manufacturing-and-supply-chain, #internet-of-things, #logistics, #machine-learning, #startups, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management

Checkmarx acquires open source supply chain security startup Dustico

Checkmarx, an Israeli provider of static application security testing (AST), has acquired open-source supply chain security startup Dustico for an undisclosed sum. 

Founded in 2020, Dustico provides a dynamic source-code analysis platform that employs machine learning to detect malicious attacks and backdoors in software supply chains. 

The acquisition will see Checkmarx combine its AST capabilities with Dustico’s behavioral analysis technology to give customers a consolidated view into the risk and reputation of open-source packages, and as a result, a more comprehensive approach to preventing supply chain attacks. 

The deal comes amid a sharp rise in supply chain attacks, in which threat actors slip malicious code into a trusted piece of software or hardware. Last December, it was revealed that Russian hackers had breached software firm SolarWinds to plant malicious code in its IT management tool Orion. This allowed the hackers — later identified as Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) — to access as many as 18,000 networks that used the Orion software.

Dustico’s technology, which is similar to that offered by Sonatype, analyses open source packages using a three-pronged approach. First, it factors in trust, providing visibility into the credibility of package providers and individual contributors in the open-source community, and then it examines the health of packages to determine their level of maintenance. Finally, Dustico’s advanced behavioral analysis engine inspects the package and looks for malicious attacks hiding within including backdoors, ransomware, multi-stage attacks, and trojans. 

This insight, coupled with vulnerability results from Checkmarx’s AST solutions, aims to give organizations and developers greater insights for managing the risks associated with open-source and the supply chains dependent on them, according to the two companies.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Dustico and its team to Checkmarx as the Israeli tech ecosystem continues to push the boundaries of cybersecurity innovation and talent,” said Emmanuel Benzaquen, CEO of Checkmarx. “Blending Dustico’s differentiated approach to open-source analysis with Checkmarx’s security testing capabilities will bring disruptive value to our customers as they manage the challenges with securing software supply chains.”

The acquisition of Dustico comes after Checkmarx was bought by private equity firm Hellman & Friedman at a valuation of $1.15 billion in March 2020. Prior to this, in 2015, the company was sold to Insight Partners with an $84 million investment. 

#backdoor, #ceo, #checkmarx, #computer-security, #computing, #cryptography, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #developer, #hellman-friedman, #insight-partners, #ma, #machine-learning, #security, #software, #solarwinds, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-attack, #supply-chain-management, #united-states

Finite State lands $30M Series B to help uncover security flaws in device firmware

Columbus, Ohio-based Finite State, a startup that provides supply chain security for connected devices and critical infrastructure, has raised $30M in Series B funding. 

The funding lands amid increased focus on the less-secure elements in an organizations’ supply chain, such as Internet of Things devices and embedded systems. The problem, Finite State says, is largely fueled by device firmware, the foundational software that often includes components sourced from third-party vendors or open-source software. This means if a security flaw is baked into the finished product, it’s often without the device manufacturers’ knowledge. 

“Cyber attackers see firmware as a weak link to gain unauthorized access to critical systems and infrastructure,” Matt Wyckhouse, CEO of Finite State, tells TechCrunch. “The number of known cyberattacks targeting firmware has quintupled in just the last four years.”

The Finite State platform brings visibility to the supply chains that create connected devices and embedded systems. After unpacking and analyzing every file and configuration in a firmware build, the platform generates a complete bill of materials for software components, identifies known and possible zero-day vulnerabilities, shows a contextual risk score, and provides actionable insights that product teams can use to secure their software.

“By looking at every piece of their supply chain and every detail of their firmware — something no other product on the market offers — we enable manufacturers to ship more secure products, so that users can trust their connected devices more,” Wyckhouse says.

The company’s latest funding round was led by Energize Ventures, with participation from Schneider Electric Ventures and Merlin Ventures, and comes a year after Finite State raised a $12.5 million Series A round. It brings the total amount of funds raised by the firm to just shy of $50 million. 

The startup says it plans to use the funds to scale to meet the demands of the market. It plans to increase its headcount too; Finite State currently has 50 employees, a figure that’s expected to grow to more than 80 by the end of 2021.  

“We also want to use this fundraising round to help us get out the message: firmware isn’t safe unless it’s safe by design,” Wyckhouse added. “It’s not enough to analyze the code your engineers built when other parts of your supply chain could expose you to major security issues.”

Finite State was founded in 2017 by Matt Wyckhouse, founder and former CTO of Battelle’s Cyber Business Unit. The company showcased its capabilities in June 2019, when its widely-cited Huawei Supply Chain Assessment revealed numerous backdoors and major security vulnerabilities in the Chinese technology company’s networking devices that could be used in 5G networks. 

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#articles, #battelle, #ceo, #columbus, #computer-security, #computing, #cto, #cyberwarfare, #energize-ventures, #firmware, #funding, #hardware, #huawei, #internet-of-things, #open-source-software, #security, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #technology

Apple, AMD, and Intel shift priorities as chip shortages continue

Cartoon hands reach for a cartoon computer processor being dangled above them.

Enlarge / Sure, it’s cheaply produced clip art… but it’s also a disturbingly accurate picture of the current state of supply and demand in the semiconductor product market. (credit: tommy via Getty Images)

2021’s infamous chip shortages aren’t only affecting automakers. In a post-earnings conference call Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “We’ll do everything we can to mitigate whatever circumstances we’re dealt”—a statement that likely means the company will ration its chip supplies, prioritizing the most profitable and in-demand items such as iPhones and AirPods, at the expense of less profitable and lower-demand items.

CFRA analyst Angelo Zino told Reuters that Cook’s somewhat cryptic statement “largely reflects the timing of new product releases”—specifically, new iPhone releases in September. Counterpoint Research Director Jeff Fieldhack speculates from the flip side of the same coin, saying the company will likely direct supply chain “pain” to its least lucrative products. “Assuming Apple prioritizes the iPhone 12 family, it probably affects iPads, Macs, and older iPhones more,” Fieldhack said.

Processor manufacturer AMD has also been carefully managing its supply chain in response to pandemic-induced shortages. With flagship products that finally outperform rival Intel’s, AMD is focusing on the more profitable high end of the market while leaving the economy segment—until a few years ago, its strongest performer—to Intel. “We’re focusing on the most strategic segments of the PC market,” CEO Lisa Su told investors on a conference call.

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#amd, #apple, #chip-shortage, #intel, #pandemic, #supply-chain, #tech

Field Intelligence targets 11 African cities to expand its pharmacy inventory-management service

Pharmacies in Africa struggle with access to finance, but inventory management is really what bogs them down. How do pharmaceutical retailers know how much stock they need? How do they know which products to stock at a given time? How do they know what products aren’t selling?

At the moment, there’s not enough data to answer these questions. Cash gets tied up; there are more or fewer products than are needed at a particular time. If it’s the former, they run a risk of selling expired products. If it’s the latter, patients can’t get what they need.

Field Intelligence is digitizing this supply-chain process to help African pharmacies sell better. The company, which started in 2015, was government-focused and tried to tackle the challenges facing the public health supply chain in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja.

Co-founder and CEO Michael Moreland said he noticed that independent pharmacies in Abuja faced similar challenges to the government-owned ones. After building a SaaS platform to manage complex and large-scale pharmaceutical distribution for the government, the company decided to branch out into the private space.

In trying to solve that supply-chain problem, Field Intelligence shifted from strictly being a software company to become a pharmaceutical distributor using technology to reimagine how the value chain works

Field Intelligence launched Shelf Life in 2017 as the standalone product to handle this transition. Up until now, they had operations in Abuja, Lagos and Nairobi. The product aims to solve the inventory problem across Africa’s $65 billion pharmaceutical market. Today, the company announced its expansion into 11 cities across Nigeria and Kenya. The seven cities in Nigeria include Delta, Edo, Enugu, Kaduna, Kano, Kwara and Rivers. In Kenya, it’s Eldoret, Kisumi, Mombasa and Naivasha. The expansion will build on Field Intelligence’s more than 700 existing pharmacies, which have served over 1.4 million patients so far.

Shelf Life takes the burden and risk of inventory off the pharmacies. It manages forecasting, quality assurance, fulfillment and inventory management via a subscription service. Pharmacies sell Shelf Life-supplied goods on consignment through a pay-as-you-sell program, avoiding expiry risk and accessing a cheaper alternative to working capital finance. The company claims that this model allowed pharmacies to grow an average of 25% CAGR.

“We launched Shelf Life in 2017 to allow pharmacies to outsource their supply chain to us. And it really just grew very organically from there,” Moreland said. “And as we built up, we expanded down to Lagos and eventually to Nairobi to see if it would work in East Africa in that context, and it did. We haven’t looked back since then. The future of the business is in the private pharmacy market.” 

Field Intelligence concluded its first round of outside capital in March last year, a $3.6 million Series A. The money was raised for expansion, but the pandemic stalled that plan. Field Intelligence went back to work by the end of Q4 2020 and planted the initial seeds of what has grown until this moment.

Importance of data in Field Intelligence’s operations

This expansion comes a year after the company experienced rapid sales and Shelf Life membership subscriptions. Sales grew by 47% in Nigeria and 65% in Kenya, selling over 586,950 products in 63 different product categories.

By using data to optimize predictions and identify irregularities in the market, Field Intelligence met the demands for prescription and over-the-counter drugs. But how does it receive and aggregate this data?

“We see that as a math problem. And that starts with having really great data about what’s selling across a wide number of locations and different seasons, across a wide formulary of products,” the CEO said.

Shelf Life

A Shelf Life agent

When Field Intelligence introduces Shelf Life to a pharmacy, it takes over its supply chain and inventory management processes. The company has fulfillment partners to manage the pharmacy’s stock counts, inventory management and merchandising.

Data about stock positions and movements at the retail level comes from a wide array of locations. Thus, the company can build a proprietary dataset that shows pharmacies in real-time, providing insights into demand. With that, Field Intelligence provides visibility and control of pharmaceutical procurement and inventory management. This eliminates frequent over- and understocking; pharmacies can change products or prices based on the information available.

The fulfillment partners operate an asset-light model, which Moreland said allowed the company “to build a scalable and intelligent distribution service that operates lean but yet creates a lot of value for the patients and retailers.”

“I can say that our level of the value chain here as sort of this tech-enabled distributor, there’s nobody that operates at this level of the supply chain in so many cities,” he added. 

Shelf Life is currently being used in more than 700 pharmacies across Nigeria and Kenya. The company says Nigeria has more than 4,500 registered pharmacies and over 15,000 drugstores; while Kenya has 6,000 registered pharmacies. So there’s plenty of market share to capture. By next year, Field Intelligence plans to surpass 2,000 Shelf Life pharmacies and drugstores. By 2025, the company is targeting 12,000 pharmacies and drugstores.

Moreland said that the company has grown 5x in terms of recurring revenue, adding that Shelf Life has sold more drugs and served more patients in the last three months than its first three years of business. 

While Field Intelligence is looking to tackle inventory management with Shelf Life, Moreland believes the company is also effectively solving a finance problem too because it provides an alternative to traditional financing options by lowering the cost of running a pharmacy.

“One of the big value propositions for us is that because we are selling on consignment, we free up a lot of working capital for the retailer. So in the market, we’re broadly seen as a financial services provider and a form of alternative finance for our pharmacies. And I think it’s a big part of our story because when you compare the cost of joining Shelf Life to accessing the equivalent amount of working capital from microfinance or traditional bank, even concessionary lenders, we can be 60 to 80% cheaper with far more value-added services,” he said.

#africa, #health, #inventory-management, #kenya, #nairobi, #nigeria, #online-pharmacy, #pharmacy, #supply-chain, #tc

Colvin raises €45M Series C led by Eurazeo to disrupt the cosy flowers industry

Something very interesting is going on with supply chains, and has been for a while. But it’s clear the pandemic has accelerated the trend. Tech startups are once again cutting out the middle man, but this time at the supply chain level. The opportunity is to replace supply chains with platforms – it’s the ‘platformization of supply chains’ if you will.

The latest example of this is Colvin, a platform for the ‘floriculture’ industry, which has now raised a €45M Series C led by Eurazeo, a private equity and venture capital firm out of France which has invested other marketplaces such as Farfetch, Glovo or ManoMano. Also participating was Capagro, and AgTech and FoodTech VC also out of France.

Launched as a direct-to-consumer brand (which is still maintained) Colvin has now created a B2B category aimed at professionals.

Sergi Bastardas, cofounder of Colvin said: “2020 has been a year of acceleration for Colvin, a turning point that will set the pace for our growth over the coming years… Our goal at Colvin is to lead the transformation of the industry at a global level”.

Chloé Giard, Investment Director at Eurazeo said: “Colvin’s trajectory in the flower delivery market has been outstanding. They have proved they could grow both fast and profitably, while expanding into new geographies. This is only a first step in their ambition to build the future of the flower industry: as more and more B2B categories are switching online (see the recent announcements of Ankorstore, Choco or Sennder), the timing is unique to bring a new standard to the flower wholesale market. Colvin is leveraging years of industry expertise, a scalable supply chain, and a global network of trusted growers to seize this $ billion market opportunity.”

Over a call, Bastardas told me: “The Netherlands has a monopoly on the flowers and plants market. Some 65% of all flowers and plants in the world have to pass, physically, through a huge auction that sits in the Netherlands, regardless of where they were cultivated. This is because the industry is not digitalized. So that’s the problem we were solving: connecting the stakeholders in a more direct way.”

He said they’d started by connecting growers with customers with a b2c platform: “We’ve now started to build out our b2b solution, where we connect our growers, as well as wholesalers directly with retailers, avoiding unnecessary intermediaries, with technology.”

I asked him if he will annoy the industry: “The intermediaries are going to be mad with us, yes.”

#agtech, #business, #cofounder, #colvin, #distribution, #e-commerce, #eurazeo, #europe, #farfetch, #france, #management, #netherlands, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #venture-capital

Freightify lands $2.5M to make rate management easier for freight forwarders

Freight forwarders often keep track of rates on spreadsheets they email to customers, but the pandemic has made that difficult because prices are constantly fluctuating. Freightify, a startup that refers to itself as the “Shopify for maritime freight,” provides white-label rate management and e-booking tools that freight forwarders can use to set up online stores, reducing the time they need to spend on administrative work.

The startup announced today it has raised $2.5 million in pre-Series A funding led by Nordic Eye Venture Capital, with participation from Tradeworks VC, Venture Catalysts, 9Unicorns and Blume Funders Fund. The round also included returning investor Vinod Kumar Talreja.

Freightify currently serves customers in 10 countries and plans to use part of its funding to expand into the United States and Europe. Its customers are freight forwarders who range in size from handling 250 shipments a year to more than 100,000.

The company was founded in 2016 by Raghavendran Viswanathan, its chief executive officer. Freightify started out as FreightBro, a freight marketplace, before its technology evolved into Freightify’s automated rate management system.

Freightify says the platform has handled more than $400 million in freight revenue for customers and corresponding gross merchandise volume of $2 billion.

Freightify can be integrated with freight forwarders’ existing transport management systems, which track the movement of cargo. Once freight forwarders set up an online store with Freightify, their customers use it to compare rates, ask for quotes, book online and track shipments. Freightify draws pricing data from the APIs of ocean carriers like Maersk, CMA-CGM and Evergreen or automates the entry of offline contract rates from carriers without APIs.

Viswanathan told TechCrunch that before the COVID-19 pandemic, freight rates were relatively static, so freight forwarders were able to share them with customers through spreadsheets. But the pandemic created a host of new challenges.

“The ocean freight transportation industry is going through a flux right now,” Viswanathan said. “The industry went into a downward spiral since the start of the pandemic. Freight rates have been hitting record numbers for four straight quarters,” with rates up 500% since the beginning of 2020.

Furthermore, other factors, like the Suez Canal blockage by the Ever Given and pandemic-related port delays, have made supply chains even less predictable.

Freightify solves some of these challenges by giving freight forwarders and their customers a live pricing platform like the ones used by travelers to compare airfares, showing real-time rates on a single screen.

“Freight forwarders are like the travel agents for the global trade,” Viswanathan said. “However, air travel is not as complicated as global trade. Supply chains require experts to manage cargo throughout the entire lifecycle and freight forwarders play a vital role in greasing the wheels.”

Freightify is working on a new product where its customers can share data with one another, making it easier to communicate across timezones while reducing the amount of emails they need to send. A closed group product pilot is expected to happen at the end of this year.

In a statement about the funding, Nordic Eye investment manager Ib Drachmann said it’s “exciting to follow a dynamic and ambitious organization that has great chances of making a huge digital impact in international freight forwarding.”

#freight-forwarders, #freightify, #fundings-exits, #logistics, #maritime, #ocean-freight, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc

Indonesian B2B marketplace GudangAda raises more than $100M in new funding

A photo of GudangAda founder and chief executive officer Stevensang

GudangAda founder and chief executive officer Stevensang

GudangAda, a Jakarta-based marketplace that brings wholesalers closer to retail stores and other buyers, announced it has closed a Series B of more than $100 million. The company says the round was oversubscribed, passing its initial target of $75 million. The funding was led by Asia Partners and Falcon Edge, with participation from Sequoia Capital India, Alpha JWC and Wavemaker Partners.

This brings GudangAda’s total raised so far to about $135 million. Its last funding was a $25.4 million Series A last year, led by Sequoia Capital India and JWC Alpha Ventures.

Founded in January 2019, GudangAda is now used by half a million SMEs and covers 500 cities in Indonesia. Before raising its Series B, it had already grown to $6 billion in net merchandise value on $35 million of funding. Principal manufacturers and distributors on the platform range include food products company Sido Muncul, seasoning maker Sasa and British multinational consumer goods group Reckitt Benckiser.

Founder and chief executive officer Stevensang spent more than 25 years in Indonesia’s fast-moving consumer goods and retail industries before starting GudangAda. Over the past 10 years, Stevensang told TechCrunch that logistics costs in Indonesia have increased to among the highest in the world, impacting the whole supply chain, especially SME buyers.

GudangAda helps lower operational costs by connecting principal manufacturers, distributors and retailers, and handling almost all aspects of B2B buying, including deliveries. Its mobile app includes a point-of-sale system and it can also be used to manage orders, track logistics and make payments.

Stevensang said GudangAda focuses on several things to make buying inventory easier for SMEs. One is optimizing inventory turnover to increase working capital for businesses on the platform. The company also provides market research and data for products and gives retailers a large selection of goods. Being connected to multiple suppliers on the same platform also lets small retail stores that sell a large selection of items, but don’t have the buying volume to order directly from distributors, to purchase inventory at competitive costs.

To keep logistics costs down, GudangAda partners with third-party vehicle and warehouse providers to build its coverage throughout Indonesia. For its logistics partners, it provides transportation and warehouse management systems to help them digitize their operations.

GudangAda also partners with banks to provide working capital for SMEs, enabling them to apply for loans using their data on the platform.

The funding will be used to expand GudangAda’s product categories, which now include fast-moving consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, packaging, homeware and stationery. It also plans to develop AI-based tools that can provide personalized recommendations for merchant customers. For example, during COVID-19, the platform suggested how much disinfectants a store should stock.

In a statement, Falcon Edge co-founder Navroz D. Udwadia said, “GudangAda is definitively the largest SME e-commerce marketplace in Indonesia with best-in-class metrics. Our research and conversations with stakeholders (principals, wholesalers and retailers) has given us confidence on GudangAda’s distinctive ROI and value addition to the entire ecosystem.”

#asia, #asia-partners, #b2b-marketplace, #falcon-edge, #fundings-exits, #gudangada, #indonesia, #smes, #southeast-asia, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc

Austin-based Fetch Package secures $60M in equity & debt after tripling ARR in 2020

Fetch Package, a last-mile package delivery company for apartment communities, has raised $50 million in a Series C round of funding and closed on a $10 million venture debt facility.

Michael Patton founded Fetch in May 2016 after being frustrated by having packages lost at the apartment community in which he was living. 

“I took the time to research how communities were handling packages. What I found was that some communities are receiving up to 300 to 400 packages a week and trying to manage that volume manually, adding a significant time burden on the team,” he told TechCrunch. “I knew there had to be a better way and that solution needed to be one that could easily handle the future of package delivery as e-commerce was gaining significant traction.”

Fetch launched its operations in Dallas in February of 2017 with the goal of solving “the package problem” for apartment communities. The startup, which later moved its headquarters to Austin, has seen impressive growth.

By the end of 2017, the SaaS company was servicing approximately 2,000 apartments in the Dallas area. Over the next three years that number grew to almost 150,000 doors being serviced out of 25 warehouses in 15 markets, including Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Orlando, Portland, Phoenix, Arizona and Seattle.

Fetch currently has just over 200,000 doors, or around 700 communities, across the country under contract. It says it works with seven of the top 10 nationally recognized apartment management companies in the country, in addition to “a majority of the largest owners and developers.” Last December, it inked a national preferred vendor agreement with management giant Greystar. Fetch delivered about 3.5 million packages in 2020, and hit the 2.5 million mark for volume in June 2021. The company says it’s currently on track to deliver more than 8 million packages by the end of the year. 

While the company would not disclose hard revenue figures, Patton says it tripled its year-over-year ARR (annual recurring revenue) in 2020 and GAAP revenue grew 6x year-over-year. Over the last two years, Fetch has seen “record sales,” he added, and is on pace to surpass 300,000 units by year’s end. Austin-based Ocelot Capital led its Series C round, which also included participation from Greenpoint Partners, Alpaca VC and Rose Park Advisors. Existing backers Iron Gate Capital, Signal Peak Ventures, Venn Ventures, Pando Ventures and Seamless also put money in the round. 

In addition to the equity raise, Signature Bank provided the company with a $10 million venture debt facility. The latest financing brings Fetch’s total funding to more than $92 million, and triples its valuation from its $18 million Series B raise last August.

Andrew Townsend, managing member at Ocelot Capital, believes that Fetch is “solving for a major bottleneck within the supply chain that is often overlooked.”

“We expect e-commerce delivery volume to continue to grow for the foreseeable future and Fetch is the only scalable solution available to multifamily operators,” he said. 

What makes Fetch stand out, in his view, is that the company can “efficiently” manage the fluctuations in package volume in ways that traditional parcel storage solutions cannot. It also provides apartment residents with the “unique convenience of on-demand doorstep delivery that aligns with the varied schedules of apartment dwellers,” Townsend added.

All packages at Fetch’s client communities are sent to the company’s facilities using a unique code identifier. The company then coordinates scheduled, direct-to-door delivery with residents directly via its app in a time frame that it says “works best for their schedule.”

“This takes the property out of the package management business and provides residents with a convenient amenity,” Patton said.

Fetch works with a mix of W2 employees as well as 1099 contractors to fulfill their service. On the W2 side, Fetch has had a 50% increase in total employees since the middle of last year, with about 350 employees today. This is in addition to the “thousands” of independent contractors/gig economy workers who also serve as drivers in all their markets.

Looking ahead, Fetch will use its new capital primarily to expand into new markets, with plans to launch in South Florida, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Nashville, Minneapolis and a “few other markets” over the next two quarters. Over the next 18 months, the company intends to launch around 20 new markets. The money will also go toward investing in its tech stack and operational infrastructure, Patton said.

#apps, #atlanta, #austin, #e-commerce, #fetch, #fetch-package, #funding, #fundings-exits, #houston, #logistics, #minneapolis, #ocelot-capital, #package-delivery, #phoenix, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #saas, #seamless, #series-c, #signal-peak-ventures, #startup, #startups, #supply-chain, #venture-capital

Collectiv raises $16M Series A to connect food producers directly with kitchens

In the modern world, we tend to like to know where our food comes from and this has massively influenced professional kitchens. For decades, food suppliers have sat on one side and distribution channels (restaurants and the like) on the other. But large wholesalers in the middle have traditionally crushed producers on prices and late payments. Professional kitchens can circumvent this by going direct to food producers. But they can’t manage hundreds of direct relationships. It’s just not been possible. Until the Internet.

Collective Food is a new startup that addresses this with a new take on the food supply chain model. It directly sources products from suppliers, unlocking price advantages for both suppliers and buyers, it says. Its competitors include Brakes, Bidfood, and Transgourmet.

It’s now raised £12M / $16M in its Series A funding round led by VNV Global, along with VisVires New Protein (VVNP), Octopus Ventures, Norrsken VC, and existing investors, including Partech, Colle Capital, and Mustard Seed. Frontline Ventures was the earliest investor in 2017.

Launched in 2019, Collectiv so far operates in the UK and France. It operates by sourcing food directly from producers, disintermediating the wholesaler middleman, and delivering straight to professional kitchens. Customers include restaurants, hotels, catering firms, meal-kit companies, and dark kitchens. The company claims that this approach generates 50% less CO2 emissions than traditional supply methods better prices, fresher products, transparency, traceability, and more reliable service.

Customers include Big Mamma Group, The Hush Collection, Dirty Bones, Megan’s, Crussh, Butchies, Cocotte, Tossed, and Fresh Fitness Food. 

Collectiv founder Jeremy Hibbert-Garibaldi said in a statement: “We’re being pushed by a combination of strong tailwinds: end-consumers demanding a better understanding of provenance; cities implementing air pollution regulations that limit large freight; a post-Covid hospitality industry desperate to improve margins but with limited staff availability to facilitate this in-house. Combined with our innovative model, we’re able to set our sights on not only becoming a European leader in food distribution over the next few years, but even a global one.”

Björn von Sivers, Investment Manager at VNV Global, said: “Collectiv’s innovative managed marketplace connects a fragmented supply of producers with the very fragmented demand of professional kitchens, creating improved transparency amongst other clear network improvements for all stakeholders.”

In his former profession as a Forensic Accountant, Hibbert-Garibaldi came across the business model for Collective after he investigated one of the largest supermarket chains in the UK and their food wholesale leg, mainly for violations of codes of conduct, such as how they were behaving with their suppliers. “I quickly realized that food supply chains were broken, with too much opacity and malpractice, and at the end of the day not benefiting any sides of the marketplace,” he said.

Engrained with a passion for food from his French and Italian origins, he quit his job and spend months in restaurant kitchens to understand the problems they faced: “I wanted to understand why it was so hard for them to source good products, know exactly where their food was coming from, and receive these products reliably and sustainably whenever they needed them. Using this I built my case study to get out to investors and start the business.”

It remains to be seen if Collectiv can scale, or take a chunk out of the vast food supply chain industry, but if it ends up appealing both to suppliers and distributors it will be very interesting to watch.

#bjorn-von-sivers, #brakes, #europe, #food, #france, #frontline-ventures, #investment-manager, #leader, #octopus-ventures, #series-a, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #united-kingdom, #vnv-global

Singapore-based Tinvio raises $12M Series A to build financial services for supply chain merchants

First created to give supply chain merchants a streamlined way to communicate with buyers, Tinvio is now preparing to launch financial services, including financing and credit card issuing. The Singapore-based startup announced today it has raised a $12 million Series A to build out its B2B transactions platform. The round was led by AppWorks Ventures, with participation from strategic investor MUFG Innovation Partners (MUIP), a venture capital firm for collaborations between startups and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group.

All of Tinvio’s existing investors—Sequoia Capital India’s Surge, Global Founders Capital and Partech Ventures—also returned for its Series A, which brings Tinvio’s total raised to $18.5 million.

Tinvio’s last funding announcement was a $5.5 million seed round in April 2020. The company was founded in July 2019 by Ajay Gopal, whose prior professional experience included leading initial public offering and merger and acquisition transactions as a fintech investment banker for Credit Suisse in London.

Since its seed funding, Tinvio says its client base has increased four times to over 5,000 businesses in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and other Asian markets. Gopal told TechCrunch that as its user base grows, it is acquiring more new customers through word-of-mouth and referrals. For example, Southeast Asian F&B supplier QQ Group onboarded all of its merchants onto Tinvio and now uses the platform for all trade orders.

One of the reasons Tinvio focuses on F&B businesses is because they deal with a lot of perishable goods and constantly need to manage orders and inventory. Gopal said the company also has clients in the healthcare and automotive sectors, but plans to keep targeting growth in F&B.

Tinvio app was originally launched as a way to consolidate orders from different places, including email, SMS and WhatsApp, and let suppliers keep real-time digital ledgers.

It recently entered financial services by adding a digital payments collection and reconciliation features. Gopal says many suppliers still take payment in the form of bank transfers or cash and paper checks on delivery, making it difficult to keep manage their cash cycles. So Tinvio launched a “super dirty pilot” for on-platform payments late last year in Indonesia, and after validating it, added B2B payments to its core product. Tinvio supports payments through credit cards, direct debits and automated bank transfers, and is integrated with regional payment gateways. Over the last two months, 95% of suppliers on the platform have continued to use Tinvio to collect payments from their merchants.

“It’s only been live for a couple of months, but we’ve already gotten so much feedback from our users and we’re sprinting to unlock new capabilities such as real-time payments and credit,” said Gopal.

The company has a 12-month roadmap for its other financial services, including transaction financing, credit card issuing and invoice factoring, with pilots planned for the next two quarters. “In this Series A, we’ve teamed up with MUFG bank,” Gopal said. “This sets us up in a fantastic position to go-to-market even sooner with our financial technology stack that we’ve been building.”

In a statement, AppWorks Ventures managing partner Jessica Liu said, “Tinvio’s focus on modernizing B2B trade with a seamless user experience has seen it onboard and digitalize thousands of merchant and supplier teams without disrupting their daily routines or procurement workflows. Despite COVID-19, we still see great growth momentum, led by increasing network effects, leaving Tinvio well positioned to dominate this category.”

 

#asia, #financial-services, #fundings-exits, #inventory-management, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc, #tinvio, #wholesalers

Microsoft confirms it’s buying cybersecurity startup RiskIQ

Microsoft has confirmed it’s buying RiskIQ, a San Francisco-based cybersecurity company that provides threat intelligence and cloud-based software as a service for organizations.

Terms of the deal, which will see RiskIQ’s threat intelligence services integrated into Microsoft’s flagship security offerings, were not disclosed, although Bloomberg previously reported that Microsoft will pay more than $500 million in cash for the company. Microsoft declined to confirm the reported figure.

The announcement comes amid a heightened security landscape as organizations shift to remote and hybrid working strategies.

RiskIQ scours the web, mapping out details about websites and networks, domain name records, certificates and other information, like WHOIS registration data, providing customers visibility into what assets, devices and services can be accessed outside of a company’s firewall. That helps companies lock down their assets and limit their attack surface from malicious actors. It’s that data in large part that helped the company discover and understand Magecart, a collection of groups that inject credit card stealing malware into vulnerable websites.

Microsoft says that by embedding RiskIQ’s technologies into its core products, its customers will be able to build a more comprehensive view of the global threats to their businesses as workforces continue to work outside of the traditional office environment.

The deal will also help organizations to keep an eye on supply-chain risks, Microsoft says. This is likely a growing priority for many: an attack on software provider SolarWinds last year saw affected at least 18,000 of its customers, and just this month IT vendor Kaseya fell victim to a ransomware attack that spread to more than 1,000 downstream businesses.

Eric Doerr, vice president of cloud security at Microsoft, said: “RiskIQ helps customers discover and assess the security of their entire enterprise attack surface — in the Microsoft cloud, AWS, other clouds, on-premises, and from their supply chain. With more than a decade of experience scanning and analyzing the internet, RiskIQ can help enterprises identify and remediate vulnerable assets before an attacker can capitalize on them.”

RiskIQ was founded in 2009 and has raised a total of $83 million over four rounds of funding. Elias Manousos, who co-founded RiskIQ and serves as its chief executive, said he was “thrilled” at the acquisition.

“The vision and mission of RiskIQ is to provide unmatched internet visibility and insights to better protect and inform our customers and partners’ security programs,” said Manousos. “Our combined capabilities will enable best-in-class protection, investigations, and response against today’s threats.”

The acquisition is one of many Microsoft has made recently in the cybersecurity space in recent months. The software giant last year bought Israeli security startup CyberX in a bid to boost its Azure IoT business, and just last month it acquired Internet of Things security firm ReFirm Labs.

#aws, #azure-iot, #cloud-based-software, #cloud-computing, #computer-security, #computing, #cyberx, #kaseya, #microsoft, #ransomware, #riskiq, #san-francisco, #security, #software, #solarwinds, #supply-chain, #technology, #vulnerability

MSCHF drops tiny action figures of your favorite failed startup hardware

Hardware is hard. You can browse the archives of this site and come up with dozens of bold attempts to make new consumer electronics gadgets work — some of them very close to home. But, like all startups, most hardware companies run into the hard core grind of turning atoms into something worth buying. 

To commemorate the hardness of hardware, idea factory/art house MSCHF is releasing a set of 5 Dead Startup Toys as vinyl figurines that you can buy for $39.99 each or $159.99 for the set. It bills these as ‘iconic failed startups’ and the sales site offers a brief history of the rise and fall of each endeavor. They range from products that never really existed like the Theranos minilab to poorly timed early movers like Jibo to exercises in over-engineering like Juicero. 

Given that I have spent much of my career absorbing and trying to understand the difficult and complicated process of bringing consumer hardware to market, I love these things. There could be a lens of malice here, but I choose not to see it that way. Fraud is fraud and the people behind Theranos and debacles like the Coolest Cooler have or will see the business end of the legal system. 

But big visions and hardware dreams are not always so clearly pocketed into the hole of ‘failure’. Sometimes the hardware works but the supply chain doesn’t. Sometimes the vision is sound but the product is just too early. There are any number of reasons products fail — but (in as much as they were actually real) you often have to give it up for the teams of people and visionaries that wanted a thing to exist in the universe and dragged it kicking and screaming to that point. And off the cliffs.

The figures themselves are really well done, with crisp stamping and accurate detailing with readable text and nicely printed logos. Some of them are articulated as well, and accessorized. The Coolest Cooler gets its infamous blender and the Juicero has a removable (proprietary of course) ‘fresh veg’ pouch. The quality on these is quite high overall, I’d rank them up with some of the better novelty toys I’ve bought over the years — it’s not phoned in, much like the Cooler’s feature set.

The packaging, too, is quite impressive, each gets a customized box and the big set of all of them comes in a bigger rack box. Each one also comes with a ’cause of death’ on the back that tells you why each venture went under. MSCHF went the lengths to make this a pretty premium ‘toy’ drop, which is only fitting given that it’s a monument to physical products. 

As with much of MSCHF’s work, there’s an element of ‘wait, is this legal’ as well, because there are likely a bunch of holes that the IP connected to these products fell into but some of those holes could still have legal entities attached. But that element of danger is what has made many of its projects resonate so far so I don’t think they’re worried. 

After all, none of these products have the sign of the beast on them. Physically, anyway.

#articles, #california, #companies, #consumer-hardware, #coolest-cooler, #hardware, #juicero, #mschf, #startup-company, #supply-chain, #tc, #theranos

Is the US labor shortage the big break AI needs?

The tectonic shifts to American culture and society due to the pandemic are far from over. One of the more glaring ones is that the U.S. labor market is going absolutely haywire.

Millions are unemployed, yet companies — from retail to customer service to airlines — can’t find enough workers. This perplexing paradox behind Uber price surges and waiting on an endless hold because your flight was canceled isn’t just inconvenient — it’s a loud and clear message from the post-pandemic American workforce. Many are underpaid, undervalued and underwhelmed in their current jobs, and are willing to change careers or walk away from certain types of work for good.

It’s worth noting that low-wage workers aren’t the only ones putting their foot down; white-collar quits are also at an all-time high. Extended unemployment benefits implemented during the pandemic may be keeping some workers on the sidelines, but employee burnout and job dissatisfaction are also primary culprits.

We have a wage problem and an employee satisfaction problem, and Congress has a long summer ahead of it to attempt to find a solution. But what are companies supposed to do in the meantime?

Adopting AI in manufacturing accelerated during the pandemic to deal with volatility in the supply chain, but now it must move from “pilot purgatory” to widespread implementation.

At this particular moment, businesses need a stopgap solution either until September, when COVID-19 relief and unemployment benefits are earmarked to expire, or something longer term and more durable that not only keeps the engine running but propels the ship forward. Adopting AI can be the key to both.

Declaring that we’re on the precipice of an AI awakening is probably nowhere near the most shocking thing you’ve read this year. But just a few short years ago, it would have frightened a vast number of people, as advances in automation and AI began to transform from a distant idea into a very personal reality. People were (and some holdouts remain) genuinely worried about losing their job, their lifeline, with visions of robots and virtual agents taking over.

But does this “AI takes jobs” storyline hold up in the cultural and economic moment we’re in?

Is AI really taking jobs if no one actually likes those jobs?

If this “labor shortage” unveils any silver lining, it’s our real-world version of the Sorting Hat. When you take money out of the equation on the question of employment, it’s opening our eyes to what work people find desirable and, more evidently, what’s not. Specifically, the manufacturing, retail and service industries are taking the hardest labor hits, underscoring that tasks associated with those jobs — repetitive duties, unrewarding customer service tasks and physical labor — are driving more and more potential workers away.

Adopting AI in manufacturing accelerated during the pandemic to deal with volatility in the supply chain, but now it must move from “pilot purgatory” to widespread implementation. The best use cases for AI in this industry are ones that help with supply chain optimization, including quality inspection, general supply chain management and risk/inventory management.

Most critically, AI can predict when equipment might fail or break, reducing costs and downtime to almost zero. Industry leaders believe that AI is not only beneficial for business continuity but that it can augment the work and efficiency of existing employees rather than displace them. AI can assist employees by providing real-time guidance and training, flagging safety hazards, and freeing them up to do less repetitive, low-skilled work by taking on such tasks itself, such as detecting potential assembly line defects.

In the manufacturing industry, this current labor shortage is not a new phenomenon. The industry has been facing a perception problem in the U.S. for a long time, mainly because young workers think manufacturers are “low tech” and low paying. AI can make existing jobs more attractive and directly lead to a better bottom line while also creating new roles for companies that attract subject-matter talent and expertise.

In the retail and service industries, arduous customer service tasks and low pay are leading many employees to walk out the door. Those that are still sticking it out have their hands tied because of their benefits, even though they are unhappy with the work. Conversational AI, which is AI that can interact with people in a human-like manner by leveraging natural language processing and machine learning, can relieve employees of many of the more monotonous customer experience interactions so they can take on roles focused on elevating retail and service brands with more cerebral, thoughtful human input.

Many retail and service companies adopted scripted chatbots during the pandemic to help with the large online volumes only to realize that chatbots operate on a fixed decision tree — meaning if you ask something out of context, the whole customer service process breaks down. Advanced conversational AI technologies are modeled on the human brain. They even learn as they go, getting more skilled over time, presenting a solution that saves retail and service employees from the mundane while boosting customer satisfaction and revenue.

Hesitancy and misconceptions about AI in the workplace have long been a barrier to widespread adoption — but companies experiencing labor shortages should consider where it can make their employees’ lives better and easier, which can only be a benefit for bottom-line growth. And it might just be the big break that AI needs.

#artificial-intelligence, #column, #employment, #labor, #machine-learning, #manufacturing, #natural-language-processing, #opinion, #retail, #supply-chain, #unemployment

Nowports raises $16M to build the OS for LatAm’s shipping industry

Nowports, an automated digital freight forwarder in Latin America, has raised $16 million in Series A funding.

Mouro Capital — a venture capital fund focused on fintechs and adjacent businesses that is backed by Banco Santanderled the round for the Monterrey, Mexico-based startup. Foundation Capital also participated in the financing, which included participation from existing backers Broadhaven Ventures, InvestoVC, Monashees, Base10 Partners and Y Combinator.

A number of angels also put money in the round, including Justo.mx founder Ricardo Weder, Luuna’s Carlos Salinas from Luuna and Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen. The investment brings Nowports’ total raised since its 2018 inception to over $24 million.

Nowports raised its initial seed round in 2019 after graduating from Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 batch with a mission to innovate the freight forwarding industry by helping companies improve the import process. Its software and services track freight shipments from ports to destinations across Latin America. Over time, it has expanded its offerings and now also automates insurance policies for, and provides financing, to its clients. 

“In this way, we allow our clients to import and export more, which helps them grow their businesses and improves the foreign trade conditions of the region,” said Nowports CEO and co-founder Alfonso de los Rios.

2020 was a good year for Nowports, which saw its revenue climb by 605% compared to 2019.

“Our 2021 goal is 400% to 600%,” de los Rios told TechCrunch.

The company currently has offices in Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay. Nowports plans to use its new capital in part to expand its 160-person team to China, according to de los Rios. It also plans to expand its logistics and financial services and to “solidify its most important routes.”

Image Credits: CEO and co-founder Alfonso de los Rios / Nowports

“With platforms, algorithms with AI and integrations, our platform allows companies to take control of their shipments and plan and predict the best timing to move the freight based on the needs of their own company,” he said at the time of the company’s seed raise. “Our goal with the series A is to position ourselves as the biggest digital freight forwarder in the region and expand our venture financing solution.”

Tens of millions of containers are imported and exported from Latin America each year, and nearly half of them are either delayed or lost due to mismanagement. And, an estimated 50% of shipping containers suffer delays due to disorganized processes or errors during transport, which ends up costing companies billions per year. It’s a big opportunity. And, Nowports pledges to shippers that its digital management software will keep track of each container. 

“Slow, inefficient, and manual processes in international logistics are disassociated from today’s technological world”, said Nowports co-founder and COO Maximiliano Casal. “Customers are looking for solutions that can improve their logistics processes adapted to current challenges of international trade.”

The two co-founders of Nowports met at a program at Stanford University, with de los Rios hailing from a family with deep ties to the shipping industry. He and Casal linked up and the two began plotting a way to make the deeply inefficient industry more modern and transparent. To familiarize himself with the market for which he’d be developing a technology, Casal worked with a freight forwarder in Kansas City that had been operating for more than 30 years.

Michael Sidgmore, co-founder and partner of seed round lead investor Broadhaven Ventures, described the team as “visionaries in the freight forwarding industry who see the ability to build the operating system for the shipping industry, much like Carta has done for equity ownership.”

The need to track and digitize the supply chain process was never more apparent than with the recent blockage of the Suez Canal by the Ever Given, which became a meme that represented the impacts of inefficiencies in the supply chain, Sidgmore said. 

“Nowports has created industry leading technology to help its customers know when to turn starboard or port side,” he added.

Chris Gottschalk, senior advisor of Mouro Capital, said the Nowports platform brings both “transparency and technology” to a global client base.

#articles, #base10-partners, #chile, #china, #co-founder, #colombia, #finance, #financial-services, #foundation-capital, #freight-forwarding, #funding, #fundings-exits, #insurance-policies, #justin-mateen, #kansas-city, #latin-america, #logistics, #mexico, #mouro-capital, #nowports, #operating-system, #recent-funding, #ricardo-weder, #stanford-university, #startup, #startups, #supply-chain, #transport, #uruguay, #venture-capital, #y-combinator

Extra Crunch roundup: Unpacking BuzzFeed’s SPAC, curb your meeting enthusiasm, more

Meetings should have a clear purpose, but instead, they’ve become a way to measure status and reinforce what is colloquially referred to as CYA culture.

There’s a kernel of truth in every joke, so whenever someone quips, “This meeting could have been an email!” you can bet that some small part of them meant it sincerely.

Few people know how to run meetings effectively and keep conversations on track. Making matters worse, attendees often don’t bother to prepare, which makes a boring session even less productive.

And then there’s the complication of workplace politics: How secure do you feel declining an invitation from a co-worker — or a manager?

“Every time a recurring meeting is added to a calendar, a kitten dies,” says Chuck Phillips, co-founder of MeetWell. “Very few employees decline meetings, even when it’s obvious that the meeting is going to be a doozy.”


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


Changing your meeting culture is difficult, but given that 26% of workers plan to look for a new job when the pandemic ends, startups need to do all they can to retain talent.

Aimed at managers, this post offers several testable strategies that will help you boost productivity and say goodbye to poorly run, lazily planned meetings.

“Declining a bad meeting should never be taboo, and you should reiterate your trust in the team and challenge them to spend their and others’ time with more intention,” Phillips says. “Help them feel empowered to decline a bad meeting.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch, and have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Why Amazon should pay attention to Shein

Image Credits: Shein

In the last year, online apparel shopping app Shein grew active daily users by 130%, reports Apptopia.

Each day, thousands of new products arrive on the app’s virtual shelves. Items are rapidly designed and prototyped before Shein’s contractors put them into production in Guangzhou factories — two weeks later, those SKUs arrive in fulfillment centers around the globe.

TechCrunch reporter Rita Liao examined how the company’s agile supply chain has become hot talk among e-commerce experts, but beyond a strong logistics game and data-driven product development, Shein’s close relationships with suppliers are integral to its success.

She also tried to answer a question many are asking: Is Shein a Chinese company?

“It’s hard to pin down where Shein is from,” answered Richard Xu from Grand View Capital, a Chinese venture capital firm.

“It’s a company with operations and supply chains in China targeting the global market, with nearly no business in China.”

Inside GM’s startup incubator strategy

General Motors Chief Engineer Hybrid and Electric Powertrain Engineering Pam Fletcher with the 2014 Spark EV Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at a Chevrolet event on the eve of the Los Angeles International Auto Show in Los Angeles, California. When it goes on sale next summer, the Spark EV is expected to have among the best EV battery range in its segment and will be priced under $25,000 with tax incentives. (Chevrolet News Photo)

Image Credits: Chevrolet

GM Vice President of Innovation Pam Fletcher is in charge of the company’s startups that tackle “electrification, connectivity and even insurance — all part of the automaker’s aim to find value (and profits) beyond its traditional business of making, selling and financing vehicles,” Kirsten Korosec writes.

Fletcher joined TechCrunch at a virtual TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event to discuss what it’s like to launch a slew of startups under the umbrella of a 113-year-old automaker.

Investor Marlon Nichols and Wonderschool’s Chris Bennett on getting to the point with a pitch deck

Image Credits: MaC Venture Capital / Wonderschool

MaC Venture Capital founding managing partner Marlon Nichols and Wonderschool CEO Chris Bennett joined Extra Crunch Live to tear down the company’s early deck.

“The first thing that jumped out at all of us was just how bare-bones the presentation is: white text on a blue background, largely made up of bullet points,” Brian Heater writes before noting the CEO admitted that “not much changed aesthetically between that first pitch and the Series A deck.”

“It aligned with what we were valuing at the time,” Bennett says. “We were really focused on getting the product-market fit and really trying to understand what our customers needed. And we’re really focused on building the team.”

Dear Sophie: What options would allow me to start something on my own?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I’ve been working on an H-1B in the U.S. for nearly two years.

While I’m grateful to have made it through the H-1B lottery and to be working, I’m feeling unhappy and frustrated with my job.

I really want to start something of my own and work on my own terms in the United States. Are there any immigration options that would allow me to do that?

— Seeking Satisfaction

Investors’ thirst for growth could bode well for SentinelOne’s IPO

Alex Wilhelm calls SentinelOne’s looming debut “fascinating.”

“Why? Because the company sports a combination of rapid growth and expanding losses that make it a good heat check for the IPO market,” he writes. “Its debut will allow us to answer whether public investors still value growth above all else.”

Alex delves into an early dataset from SentinelOne and why public market investors still appear to value growth above anything else.

Before an exit, founders must get their employment law ducks in a row

Rubber ducks in a line

Image Credits: Jenny Dettrick (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Guest columnist Rob Hudock, a litigator who focuses on helping companies recruit the best talent available while avoiding distracting workplace issues or lawsuits, lays out the importance of putting out any employment-related fires before an exit.

“Inattention to employment issues can have a significant impact on deals — from preventing closings and reducing the deal value to altering the deal terms or significantly limiting the pool of potential buyers,” he writes.

“Fortunately, such issues typically can be resolved well in advance with a little forethought and legal guidance.”

Practice agile, iterative change to refine products and build company culture

Building an excellent product and a standout company culture require the same process, Heap CEO Ken Fine writes in a guest column.

“At Heap, the analytics solution provider I lead, a defining principle is that good ideas should not be lost to top-down dictates and overrigid hierarchies,” he writes. “The best results come when you approach leadership like you would create a great product — you hypothesize, you test and iterate, and once you get it right, you grow it.”

Here, he lays out his method that argues in favor of iterative change, not “one-and-done decrees.”

a16z’s new $2.2B fund won’t just bet on the crypto future, it will defend it

The big news on Thursday was the announcement of Andreessen Horowitz’s new cryptocurrency-focused fund. Most focused on the eye-popping $2.2 billion figure, but Alex Wilhelm dug a bit deeper into the announcement to note that a16z isn’t just pumping a ton of money into the crypto space, it’s putting on gloves to fight for it.

Alex writes that “a16z intends to run defense for crypto in the American, and perhaps global, market. Crypto-focused startups are likely unable to tackle the regulation of their market on their own because they’re more focused on product work in a particular region of the larger crypto economy. The wealthy and connected investment firm that backs them will take on the task for its chosen champions.”

5 takeaways from BuzzFeed’s SPAC deck

Image Credits: Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

Alex Wilhelm dives headfirst into BuzzFeed’s announcement that it plans to go public via a blank check company.

He looked at its historical and anticipated revenue growth (the latter is very sunny, which is not atypical for SPAC presentations), what makes up that revenue (more “commerce” as time goes on), its long-term profitability projections, as well as fun stuff, like the Pulitzer Prize-winning BuzzFeed News.

Admit it. You’re curious.

3 issues to resolve before switching to a subscription business model

Three issues leaders need to address before switching to a subscription business model

Image Credits: SaskiaAcht (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Moving from a pay-as-you-go model to a subscription service is more than just putting a monthly or yearly price tag on a product, CloudBlue’s Jess Warrington writes in a guest column.

“Executives cannot just layer a subscription model on top of an existing business,” Warrington writes. “They need to change the entire operation process, onboard all stakeholders, recalibrate their strategy and create a subscription culture.”

Warrington says that in his role at CloudBlue, companies often approach him for “help with solving technology challenges while shifting to a subscription business model, only to realize that they have not taken crucial organizational steps necessary to ensure a successful transition.”

Here’s how to avoid that situation.

Veo CEO Candice Xie has a plan for building a sustainable scooter company, and it’s working

An illustration of Veo founder Candie Xie

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Rebecca Bellan interviewed Veo CEO Candice Xie about the micromobility startup’s “old-fashioned way” of doing business.

“I understand people are eager to prove their unit economics, their scalability and also improve their matrix to the VC to raise another round,” Xie says. “I would say that’s OK in the consumer industry, like consumer electronics or SaaS.

“But we are in transportation. It is a different business, and transportation takes years of collaboration and building between private and public partners. … So I don’t see it happening from day one, turning over a billion-dollar company, while simultaneously having it all make sense for the cities and users.”

5 companies doing growth marketing right

Image of five round wooden balls moving up steps to represent growth.

Image Credits: jayk7 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

All companies want more or less the same thing: growth. But how do you accomplish it?

Ideally, don’t start from scratch.

The race to grow faster is more pressing than ever before. … “[F]orward-thinking entrepreneurs and growth marketers simply must make time to study their competition, learn best practices and apply them to their own business growth,” Mark Spera, the head of growth marketing at Minted, writes in a guest column.

“Of course, you should still run your own experiments, but it’s just more capital-efficient to emulate than to trial-and-error from scratch. Here are five companies with growth strategies worth emulating — including the most important lessons you can begin applying to your business today.”

Musculoskeletal medical startups race to enter personalized health tech market

Human anatomy, hand, arm,muscular system on plain studio background.

Image Credits: ChrisChrisW (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

With more than 50 million Americans suffering from chronic pain and musculoskeletal (MSK) medical problems, a number of startups are offering patients new products “that don’t resemble the cookie-cutter status quo,” reports Natasha Mascarenhas.

Startups hoping to enter this space have an uphill climb. Setting aside regulations that cover aspects like product packaging and marketing, they must compete with well-entrenched competition from Big Pharma as they try to partner with health insurance companies.

Natasha profiles three companies that are each taking a different approach to personalized health: Clear, Hinge Health and PeerWell.

Like the US, a two-tier venture capital market is emerging in Latin America

In the second part of an Exchange series looking at the global early-stage venture capital market, Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim unpacked the scene in Latin America, discovering it looked a lot like the situation in the United States: slow Series A rounds, fast B rounds.

“Mega-rounds are no longer an exception in Latin America; in fact, they have become a trend, with ever-larger rounds being announced over the last few months,” they write.

Despite that, the funds aren’t being equitably distributed, and the region still lags behind its peers: Brazil has the most $1 billion startups in Latin America, with 12. The U.S., meanwhile, has 369, and China has 159.

But the Latin American market remains hot, if not quite as scorching as the U.S. and China.

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