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Why Chicago Is Home To The Future Of Logistics Tech

Chicago has become a Logistics Tech leader

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Uniquely positioned as the nation’s crossroads for moving freight via air, rail, and truck, the Windy City has long been a global leader in the Transportation, Distribution and Logistics (TD&L) industry, so it is no surprise to learn that Chicago has become a Logistics Tech leader.

Chicago’s TD&L sector is one of the largest in the nation, and greatly impacts the local economy for the region. According to the World Business Chicago (WBC) Bulletin, the Chicago TD&L industry generates $24 billion annually in output and employs more than 260,000 individuals. Additionally, there are over 16,000 TD&L firms located in the metro area, which is the highest in the nation.

National venture investments continue in this sector despite the economic headwinds. In the second quarter of this year, there were 243 deals with a value of $8.6 billion according to Pitchbook’s Q2 Supply Chain Tech Report. The report highlights Chicago-based FourKites, a predictive supply chain platform provider. This newly minted unicorn raised $80 million Series D1 in June 2022. FedEx participated in the round, but it was just as notable how they partnered with FourKites to create an end-to-end supply chain intelligence platform to increase predictability and visibility. The Pitchbook report also notes that despite the broader funding slowdown, median deal sizes for supply chain tech startups at all stages increased through June 30, 2022 over last year and early stage startups recorded an increase in funding compared to 2021’s figure. (Disclosure: my firm HPA is an investor in FourKites)

Building on the infrastructure already in place, many Chicago entrepreneurs have been able to capitalize on the city’s historic strengths and rapidly expanding technology prowess to build companies that are solving the most critical global supply chain problems.

According to WBC, Chicago has over 100 locally headquartered Logistics Tech companies that employ over 34,000 individuals. The sector saw an 802% increase in growth capital investment — the highest among peer cities – between 2019 and 2021 and five unicorns and two publicly held Logistics Tech companies headquartered in Chicago.

To bring the TD&L community together, World Business Chicago and 1871 are hosting two events: the inaugural 1871 Supply Chain Innovation Summit with Accenture on October 5 and the inaugural Chicago Venture Summit Future-of-Logistics by World Business Chicago, October 5-6, 2022. These events will showcase the city’s thriving logistics startup ecosystem and promote Chicago as a global destination for founders, innovators, and investors.

The leaders of these organizations provide some powerful insights why now is the perfect time to join the Chicago Logistics Tech Hub. Betsy Ziegler, CEO of 1871, explains, “Our community of innovators is uniquely equipped to come together to tackle today’s most pressing challenges because 1871 serves the entire business maturity curve, from idea all the way to Fortune 500. There is no problem we can’t solve when we activate the power of our collective brain. We look forward to bringing leaders & entrepreneurs together and empower them to create the supply chain solutions that will build a brighter future in our city and beyond.”

Mark Tebbe, Chair of World Business Chicago’s Innovation & Venture Council, elaborates further: “Chicago’s logistics tech sector represents a core aspect of our innovation and startup ecosystem. We’re home to some of the best founders who are driving innovation and solving some of the world’s most significant challenges when it comes to supply chain, logistics, and distribution.”

It is no wonder why these events are pulling together the city’s best Logistics Tech companies including companies that have relocated their headquarters to Chicago, such as:

Uber Freight, which moved from San Francisco to establish its global home base in Chicago and Loadsmart that moved its headquarters from New York to Chicago. In early 2022, Loadsmart reached unicorn status. The firm’s CEO and Co-founder said, “As a thriving center of freight logistics, Chicago has been the ideal city for Loadsmart to further our mission to improve the world by making transportation more efficient, more sustainable, and less complicated.”

In addition to FourKites, Uber Freight, and Loadsmart, attendees are likely to hear from and mingle with executives from other Chicago Logistics Tech unicorns including:

  • Project44, a rapidly growing firm that provides a visibility solution to span the entire shipment workflow. Project44 became a unicorn in June 2021 after raising a $202 million Series E round. In early 2022, Project44 raised $420 million in Series F funding, now valuing the company at $2.2 billion.
  • ShipBob, a global omni fulfillment solution trusted by more than 7,000 brands to ship orders everywhere their customers shop. The company raised $200 million in a Series E round in 2021. The platform provides merchants with a single view of their business and customers across all of their sales channels, which enables them to manage products, inventory, orders and shipments, and leverage analytics and reporting to run their business effectively. (Disclosure: my firm HPA is an investor in ShipBob)
  • With dual headquarters in Israel and Chicago, Bringg reached unicorn status in 2021. The delivery and fulfillment cloud platform provider became a unicorn after raising $100 million in a Series E round. The open delivery management platform grows delivery capacity, reduces last mile costs, and provides branded customer experiences.
  • Enterprise software company Uptake became a unicorn in 2015. Uptake developed patented technology to help companies translate underutilized data into insights that improve industrial operations. The technology helps to increase efficiency by connecting people and business systems to deliver real-time data.

Expanding the scope further, Chicago is home to Redwood Logistics, a next-generation leader in third-party logistics, which had a recent $200 million round and continues to foster growth for the sector. The current growth of the ecosystem has been helped by established companies who paved the way for them, such as logistics firms: TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson, Coyote Logistics, and Echo Global Logistics. This is not an exhaustive list but just a sampling of the rich history Chicgo has in the sector.

The success of those long-term companies help to inspire other founders to create startups that solve problems and develop solutions. For example, CarrierSource is a prospecting tool that combines verified reviews with FMCSA safety and insurance information. The platform helps users find and vet carriers and empowers carriers to claim a profile and grow their businesses. The company recently closed a pre-seed funding round in February 2022. The growth has already started and CarrierSource now has a user base of 4,500 brokers and shippers, and over 4,000 carriers have claimed their profiles. The team has also gathered nearly 12,000 verified reviews, and is seeing over 50,000 unique visitors every month.

There are many other emerging Logistics Tech companies, some who will be featured at the Chicago Venture Summit Future-of-Logistics this week. The list below touches on a few up-and-coming firms and you can view the full list of companies here:

  • DataPrime automates demand forecasting. Their easy to deploy and highly extensible microservices architecture provides a unified demand forecast across disparate business units.
  • Shellock aims to provide shipments end-to-end digitalization, transparency, and visibility. By providing the shipment information and its conditions, the company enables anticipative and automated management.
  • Morpheus.Network was built to make logistics easier using blockchain technology. Combining experience in global trade, information security, blockchain, and artificial intelligence, the company aims to fix the inefficiencies that the World Economic Forum has identified in a $15 trillion USD industry.
  • Webee is a 360º asset intelligence platform designed to reduce costs and GHG emissions, increase throughput, and eliminate unplanned downtime in industrial manufacturing and agriculture industries.
  • As a third-party logistics (3PL) firm, MoLo Solutions connects shippers with carriers to get products where they need to be, when they need to be there. MoLo, an ArcBest Truckload Service, offers world-class services to solve complex shipping needs.
  • Fast-growing transportation and tech company Arrive Logistics builds technology to empower people and deliver meaningful results for partners. The company automates processes and provides shippers and carriers with digital tools to make business easier.
  • MVMNT helps shippers and carriers manage the full shipment lifecycle in one end-to-end platform. The platform aims to eliminate operational inefficiencies by automating freight management processes to drive productivity, optimize cost, and improve the shipper-carrier relationship.
  • Stimulus brings transparency to pricing and helps companies build more valuable vendor and supplier relationships. The cloud-based software uses data and analytics to help companies make better (diverse, equitable, and inclusionary) purchasing decisions.
  • Moselle provides a single platform for all sales forecasting, production planning, and inventory replenishment. Companies can connect tools and services to gain full visibility across all inventory operations all in one place.

This thriving sector builds upon an established ecosystem that fosters growth and opportunities for startups developing innovative solutions. And with its history of successful companies emerging from the city, Chicago is well positioned as a global leader in the logistics tech and supply chain industries. As we look ahead and aim to solve complex problems, it is clear that Chicago will continue to drive growth for the future. And the future holds a lot of potential.

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