Tainted peanut butter, rotten eggs, bacteria-ridden fruits and vegetables, and chemically compromised merchandise are literally the spoils of the globalization of industry, and the bane of the big businesses that sell most people the food they eat and products they buy.
For years, companies promised to manage and monitor the process of provisioning for global retailers with tools that would make consumer goods safer and the supply chain that provides them more reliable, but the hits just keep on coming.
Stepping into the breach with a suite of new products including a hosted service that connects retailers with inspection companies to automate risk management, iCix, a San Francisco-based company with over a decade of experience in food safety and supply chain management, has raised $25 million.
The company spends most of its time focused on selling its suite of technology services to general merchandisers like Wal-Mart or the giant Australian conglomerate Wesfarmers (which is like a combination of Cargill, General Electric, and Wal-Mart in a single company).
“We started this in the food industry after 9/11,” says Matt Smith, the chief strategy officer at iCix. “Food companies needed to understand where their products came from. What we did was give them a very clear way for how the products they’re buying are coming from the manufacturing places where they’re made.”
Now, in addition to tracking a network of suppliers, iCix is integrating that information with its tools tracking the monitoring work that’s being done by independent testing companies around the world. “There’s an army of lab companies that have been the verifiers of trade,” says Smith. Ever since ships began calling at ports in the world, technicians, auditors, or merchants have been around to verify that the goods coming off of a boat were the goods that businesses had paid for.
“Over 200 years forward they are very sophisticated in the way they test and understand products around the globe,” says Smith.
Money from the new round that iCix raised from Wesfarmers, Vertical Venture Partners, and previous investors Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Starfish Ventures (an Australian fund), will be used to boost research and development, and make a bigger push to sell and market its services.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on corporate responsibility these days,” says Smith. “There’s been a big shift, I feel, in the last four, five, or six years that companies are really starting to act on, with social media playing a big part. You’re seeing events like what happened in Bangladesh be big black eyes for these buyers, who are ultimately selling these products.”
The company’s newest product integrates with testing laboratories to automate the documentation of product testing and regulatory assessments. By checking to ensure that each shipment has the proper documentation, iCix tells companies they can better manage their risk by identifying and rejecting goods that don’t have the right documents.