February 15, 2022
Tech startups are booming, with a spike in investment in companies that focus on automation to stream supply chain throughput. According to data from venture capital database PitchBook, investment in tech firms that facilitate supply chain efficiency was for the first nine months of 2021 about $24.3 billion, roughly 60 percent higher than all of 2020. The acceleration is largely due to COVID-19 supply chain shortages. Until recently, despite their underlying importance to stocking the world’s shelves, businesses specializing in supply chain solutions weren’t a hot category for venture capital.
That changed with what The Wall Street Journal calls “the Great Crisis of 2020,” after which supply-chain technology found itself “suddenly hot.” “I don’t want to call it a tipping point, but there is obviously a big change happening now,” said Harvard Business School professor and supply-chain expert Willy Shih.
And it’s not just attention-getting solutions like self-driving trucks or AI that are making a difference, but fundamental systems, like inventory tracking and warehouse management — “the most basic challenges that plague all supply chains” — that are the greatest help, according to WSJ, which says entrepreneurs “have come up with a wide variety of strategies for dealing with — or even profiting from — the recent chaos in supply chains.”
Among the products and services they are offering or developing: software that creates a database that makes it easier to find and rent unused warehouse space, or helps retailers get goods in closer geographic proximity to the consumers that want them. They are working on ways to automate more supply chain tasks, thus reducing the need for increasingly scarce workers, but also to help companies take steps to ensure the labor they do hire remains productive and happy.
Accelerate360 in Kansas uses what WSJ calls “one of the most highly automated robotic fulfillment systems in the world” to optimize it’s business of stocking grocery store checkouts with magazines and other impulse items. The system features “a gigantic and nearly featureless white cube that sits in the middle of the warehouse, looking as much like contemporary art as it does a piece of technology. Inside it, robots the size of large suitcases, which the company calls ‘ants,’ move on tracks up and down as well as side to side, grabbing bins of goods stored anywhere within the cube.”
Created by Canada’s Attabotics, the robotic platform — inspired by actual ant colonies — “allows for much faster access to goods than competing systems,” WSJ says. Misfits Market, a New Jersey-based company that matches off-spec items with willing buyers at bargain prices, and Veho, a next-day delivery service competing with FedEx and UPS, are two other firms WSJ says are channeling supply-chain solutions.