Supply chains used to be one of those magical elements of capitalism that seemed to be designed by Apple: they just worked. Minus the occasional salmonella outbreak in your vegetable aisle, we could go about our daily consumer lives never really questioning how our fast-fashion clothes, tech gadgets and medical supplies actually got to our shelves or homes.
Of course, a lot has changed over the past few years. Anti-globalization sentiment has grown as a political force, driving governments like the United States and the United Kingdom to renegotiate free trade agreements and attempt to onshore manufacturing while disrupting the trade status quo. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic placed huge stress on supply chains — with some entirely breaking in the process.
In short, supply chain managers suddenly went from one of those key functions that no one wants to think about, to one of those key functions that everyone thinks about all the time.
While these specialists have access to huge platforms from companies like Oracle and SAP, they need additional intelligence to understand where these supply chains could potentially break. Are there links in the supply chain that might be more brittle than at first glance? Are there factories in the supply chain that are on alert lists for child labor or environmental violations? What if government trade policy shifts — are we at risk of watching products sit in a cargo container at a port?
New York-headquartered Altana wants to be that intelligence layer for supply chain management, bringing data and machine learning to bear against the complexity of modern capitalism. Today, the company announced that it has raised $7 million in seed financing led by Anne Glover of London-based Amadeus Capital Partners.
The three founders of the startup, CEO Evan Smith, CTO Peter Swartz and COO Raphael Tehranian, all worked together on Panjiva, a global supply chain platform that was founded in 2006, funded by Battery Ventures a decade ago, and sold to S&P Global in early 2018. Panjiva’s goal was to build a “graph” of supply chains that would offer intelligence to managers.
That direct experience informs Altana’s vision, which in many ways is the same as Panjiva’s but perhaps revamped using newer technology and data science. Again, Altana wants to build a supply chain knowledge graph, provide intelligence to managers and create better resilience.
The difference has to do with data. “What we continually found when we were in the data sales business was that you are kind of stuck in that place in the value chain,” Smith said. “Your customers won’t let you touch their data, because they don’t trust you with it, and other proprietary data companies don’t let you work on and manage and transform their data.”
Instead of trying to be the central repository for all data, Altana is “operating downstream” from all of these data sources, allowing companies to build their own supply chain graphs using their own data and whatever other data sources to which they have access.
The company sells into procurement offices, which are typically managed in the CFO’s office. Today, the majority of customers for Altana are government clients such as border control, where “the task is to pick the needles out of the haystack as the ship arrives and you’ve got to pick the illicit shipments from the safe ones and actually facilitate the lawful trade,” Smith said.
The company’s executive chairman is Alan Bersin, who is a former commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency currently working as a policy consultant for Covington & Burling, which has been one of the premier law firms on trade issues like CFIUS during the Trump administration.
Altana allows one-off investigations and simulations, but its major product goal is to offer real-time alerts that give supply chain managers substantive visibility into changes that affect their business. For instance, rather than waiting for an annual labor or environmental audit to find issues, Altana hopes to provide predictive capabilities that allow companies to solve problems much faster than before.
In addition to Amadeus, Schematic Ventures, AlleyCorp and the Working Capital – The Supply Chain Investment Fund also participated.