Aussie startup Lumachain has secured $3.5 million in funding for its blockchain technology tracking food supply chains, and tackling modern slavery at the same time.
The funding round was led by Main Sequence Ventures, the manager of CSIRO’s Innovation Fund.
Founded in April 2018, Lumachain provides a blockchain platform for tracking the origin, location and condition of items in the food supply chain in real-time, ensuring they’re coming from ethically responsible sources.
“We know the global supply chains are broken,” founder and chief Jamila Gordon tells StartupSmart.
A product will go from a farm, through transportation and to a processing plant, before it’s shipped overseas to a warehouse, and then distributed to a retailer.
“Each one of those organisations has their own systems,” Gordon explains.
Previously, while there was technology to make this tracking possible, it was prohibitively expensive, and only available to organisations with the deepest pockets.
Now, however, blockchain technology means there’s no need to build and maintain large databases. Lumachain is also making use of machine learning and artificial intelligence, as well as smart devices.
At the same time, there is an increasing demand for transparency in supply chains.
“Consumers definitely are demanding that,” Gordon says.
“People want to see products that are safely produced and ethically sourced.”
However, aside from boosting the reputation, there are also benefits for the enterprises.
“Enterprises have got huge wastage if they don’t know where their products are in real-time,” she explains.
“It’s perfect timing — where the technology is available, the businesses are ready to tackle this problem, and consumers and families want to see a product that is ethically produced.”
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In their shoes
This is also a personal passion project for Gordon. Born in Somalia, she was herself forced to work from the age of five, rather than getting an education.
“From a young age, I was put to work instead of going to school. And I always wanted to go to school, that was my passion,” she says.
“My parents and my family were not bad people, but that’s what the environment was like,” she explains.
“My mother had 16 children. For them, it was free labour.”
Gordon became separated from her family by civil war, and eventually arrived in Australia at age 18.
Here, she got her education, and built a corporate career at Deloitte and IBM, before becoming chief information officer at Qantas.
“I’ve always built technologies that dealt with that broken supply chain,” she explains.
Throughout her corporate journey, Gordon says she knew she was gathering the skills and experience she would use to make a positive impact, and particularly to combat modern slavery.
“It’s very personal for me,” she says.
“I always knew I would create the technology where we would connect big companies around the world to buy products and sell products anywhere, knowing those products were ethically sourced and produced, and there’s no modern slavery involved.”
However, now she has embarked on startup life, Gordon’s experience as a C-suite executive has left her with a lot of connections, and a unique knowledge of the customers the startup is targeting.
In her previous work, she has both built and bought technologies like this, she says.
“We know what the customers are looking for because we’ve been in their shoes,” she adds.
“When I talk to CIOs, they get it straight away.”
Friends in high places
Lumachain hasn’t been around for 18 months yet, and while Gordon doesn’t share any specific growth figures, she does reveal the startup has about “half a dozen” customers already.
The startup has been able to “win the respect and trust of customers very fast because of our background”, she says.
“We’ve done it before, we have the relationships.”
The startup has also partnered with Microsoft, having taken part in the tech giant’s first scaleup program. Microsoft also nominated Gordon as their awardee for the 2018 International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge Foundation conference, honouring the founder alongside other international entrepreneurs.
Having such a big name supporting the startup will be a boost for business as it looks to expand into the US, and ultimately, to take its business global.
“We’ve got a huge unfair advantage in terms of partnerships, the respect and trust of customers, and the ability to execute and deliver,” she says.
It also shows enterprise customers that Lumachain means business, she adds.
“We’re not a small organisation. We’re a big organisation delivering big stuff to the world.”
“You will bounce back”
When launching a startup, Gordon advises founders to have a purpose and a passion — and to build on that right from the beginning.
“There will be so many people who you didn’t even know existed who will come and join you in some way,” she explains.
If you’re clear in your vision, and others share that, you’ll attract partnerships, support and even staff members.
“Have an environment where your team are so proud to work with you,” she says.
“You will attract amazing talent.”
Gordon also extols the virtues of positive thinking.
“Every day, know you have a blessed life, just because of where we are,” she advises.
“That’s my mantra, to me and to my family,” she adds.
“Have that positive attitude in life, and when things go wrong, know that, yes it’s a small setback, but you will bounce back,” she advises.
This mental positivity is “probably core to my life and my work”, she says.
“That’s what keeps me going,” she adds.
“This is amazing, and it’s going to get even bigger and better.”