The logistics industry is full of inefficiencies and therefore opportunities for innovation. And, in the last few years, dozens of logistics startups have sought to disrupt the business of moving and storing things by digitizing and automating as many industrial processes as possible.
They’ve sought to empower warehouse and retail workers with robotic assistants, build self-driving and self-delivering vehicles, and develop software that enables all companies, big and small, to automate and save on logistics costs. From transport startups delivering food with robots to software companies that enable clients to track products across any shipping medium anywhere in the world, here are the seven best logistics startups we found most interesting.
Convoy - an Uber for freight shipment
Convoy is a digital logistics company operating in the US that’s on a mission to make over-the-road freight shipment more efficient.
Founded in 2015 by current CEO Dan Lewis and CTO Grant Goodale
Funding: Collected $62 million USD in Series B funding in 2017 (with the help of Y Combinator's Continuity Fund), but total funding has since grown to $185 million
Awards: Geekwire's Startup of the Year (2017)
If you've never heard of Convoy, we're not that surprised. Most of today’s trucking industry hype is centered around self-driving or remote-driving startups and emerging tech. All that attention is well-founded, but Convoy has a different goal: making over-the-road shipment more efficient and less taxing on our environment by keeping the number of "empty miles"—the miles a truck drives while towing an empty trailer—to a minimum.
Convoy's recipe for boosting efficiency is a platform that operates much like most ride-sharing applications. Both carriers and shippers sign up with the Convoy service, and when a shipper is ready to make a shipment, the app contacts a carrier that's the best fit for a route based on several factors: which driver is closest to the pick-up point, which driver has an existing route that best overlays the pick-up and drop-off points, and which driver has the right amount of space in their trailer.
Locus Robotics - warehouse bottom line optimization
Locus Robotics designs, builds, and programs robotics to make warehouses and their workers more efficient.
Founded in 2014 by Bruce E. Welty
Funding: Raised $33 million USD (total for both Series A and Series B)
What's the most inefficient component of current warehouse logistics? Walking. It turns out that most warehouse labor time (and therefore cost) isn't spent on moving products but moving the people who carry them. And it's that efficiency suck that Locus Robotics hopes to fill with their robotics solution.
For now, Locus robots' key features and automation don't try to tackle the more difficult tasks that will one day allow robots to replace human warehouse workers completely. Instead, they simply allow warehouses to cut back on the distance and time human workers spend walking on the job by moving products around the warehouse floor with robots.
With this strategy, human labor is only required to give or take things from a robot device. This infrastructure not only makes labor less mundane and more bearable for human workers, but also improves the warehouse's bottom line and makes the products we customers buy a little cheaper.
Check out this video to get a look for yourself:
ClearMetal - supply chain visibility software
ClearMetal is a software company that enables shipping and logistics companies to track, analyze, and predict shipments from door to door across any transportation medium, anywhere in the world.
Founded in 2014 by Adam Compain, Diego Canales, and Will Harvey
Funding: $12 million USD in Series A funding.
ClearMetal's name does a brilliant job of explaining their product and service. Their goal is to make the many metal boxes we ship and store stuff in - shipping containers, warehouses, railway cars, semi-trailers, and delivery trucks - as transparent as possible so that the company shipping a product can know exactly where that product is. This works anywhere on the planet.
Their software has revolutionized the freight logistics industry, because it's not built or designed around a single shipping medium, but instead built to seamlessly manage shipments across every medium that might move a product, whether that's a truck, boat, train or plane. Integration with the largest carriers in the world enables not to lose any shipment.
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But ClearMetal isn't just an industry disrupting software development company with a killer product. They also monitor and manage their clients’ shipments to enhance product information accuracy and maximize business efficiency with the help of predictive intelligence.
You can check out their product intro video here:
Roadstar.ai - self-driving car for everyone
A Chinese artificial intelligence start-up Roadstar.ai trying to give any car self-driving capabilities.
Founded in 2017 by Xianqiao Tong and Zhou Guang
Funded: $128 million USD in Series A (within a year of founding)
Awards: CES Asia’s 2018 Startup Awards
Roadstar.ai attracted a lot of attention in the logistics and self-driving space by winning an impressive $128 million in investment just as the company was celebrating its first birthday. But what makes Roadstar.ai different from the other self-driving AI startups out there?
First, the company boasts some serious (human) brain power. Its founders previously led autonomous driving ventures at Google, Baidu, and Tesla. And thus far, Roadstar.ai's team has produced two significant and groundbreaking deliverables: HeteroSync and DeepFusion.
The company's primary goal is to make level four autonomous driving a reality. Level four is shorthand for a self-driving vehicle that's capable of effectively handling every leg of a journey, from parking to side-streets to busy intersections to interstate driving. That's an ambitious goal, and one that Tesla, auto-manufacturing giants, and self-driving startups in the trucking industry have shied away from. Instead, these companies have resorted to more conservative human-driver augmentation approaches more characteristic of autonomy levels 2 and 3.
Roadstar.ai hopes to have 1500 autonomous vehicles on the roads of China and the US by 2020. But they're not building their autonomous vehicles from the tires up. Instead, they hope to develop and sell kits that can work on existing vehicles and would cost about $8000 USD.
Such self-driving technology can be a huge win for logistics as well. It will enable much cheaper and more reliable transportation of goods in both short and long distances.
Check out one of Roadstar.ai’s cars driving itself in this video:
Starship - neighborhood delivery handled by robots
An autonomous robotics company Starship making local neighborhood deliveries cheaper, faster, and more convenient.
Founded in 2014 by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis
Funded: $42.2 million USD raised (and still in seed funding)
Awards: Golden Computer award for Startup of the Year
Starship is applying autonomous driving on a micro scale to make neighborhood deliveries more affordable and ubiquitous. Digitally, the company's customer and business-facing platforms aren't too different from other food delivery apps like Uber Eats or Grub Hub. The customer orders food from a local restaurant through the Starship mobile app, and then the app notifies the restaurant about what's been ordered.
But then, instead of a human-driven 1200-pound gas-powered car showing up to move a few plates of food a few blocks, the restaurant places the order within a starship, one of the company's small, six-wheeled robots that scuttle along city streets and sidewalks to the customer's door.
Starship is quite a cosmopolitan startup. Though originally being located in Estonia, they did recently open offices in San Francisco. The company also maintains offices in Washington DC and London. Their robots have driven over 100,000 km in 100 cities.
Check out this video of Starship's recent integration with a US university's food scene:
Shipbob - order fulfillment outsourced
A shipping and logistics company Shipbob enables small and medium-sized online retailers to compete with the shipping time and fulfillment perks of online retail giants like Amazon and Walmart.
Founded in 2014 by Anthony Watson, Dhruv Saxena, Divey Gulati, George Wojciechowski, and Jivko Bojinov
Funded: $62.5 million USD (after Series C)
Awards: Chicago Inno 50 on Fire 2017, Moxie Awards Best B2B Startup 2017.
Massive online retailers like Amazon have cornered the online shopping market by enticing internet shoppers with shipping benefits like 2-day delivery and free returns. These competitive advantages used to only be feasible for large companies with massive logistics networks and economies of scale. But Shipbob provides a fulfillment experience that enables SMEs with great products and services to compete with today's largest shopping platforms. The company provides game-changing logistics advantages: 2-day shipping, automatic fulfillment, and competitive bulk shipping rates negotiated with major postal carriers.
But the real power of Shipbob's platform is its ability to effectively automate an online retailer's entire shipping process. Shipbob integrates with dozens of online eCommerce platforms, including Crate, Shopify, and Walmart.com. When one of the company's client businesses makes a sale on any of these sites, all pertinent information is automatically transferred to Shipbob's system. Shipbob then pulls, packages, and ships the sold item to the buyer, all without any input required from the seller.
Check out Shipbob’s service explainer video:
TradeGecko - inventory management automation
TradeGecko is an inventory management platform designed to help small and medium-sized businesses automate and streamline their supply, order and shipment processes.
Founded in 2012 by Bradley Priest, Cameron Priest and Carl Thompson
Funded: $17.7 million USD
Awards: Best inventory management software according to FinancesOnline
A sizable chunk of the world's online purchases is made from SME wholesalers or retailers. As these small businesses expand and grow more complex, scaling supply-chain infrastructure can prove prohibitive, particularly if a company is relying on manual management.
Before founding the company, TradeGecko's three New Zealand founders encountered this problem for themselves as small online business retailers. But, at the time, there weren't many software solutions on the market designed to help fledgling businesses automate their commerce and shipment processes. So, they built it themselves.
Today, TradeGecko is a cloud-based software platform that seamlessly integrates with dozens of other networks, platforms, and programs that growing SMEs favor, including FBA, Xero, Shopify, and even QuickBooks. Their goal is to take as much human intervention out of sales and shipment processes as possible.
You can check out their platform pitch video here:
These startups have proven: the logistics industry is not as conservative as it was before. Companies are open for experiments to increase the efficiency of their processes and reduce logistics costs!
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