#WorkInProgress: Why I Am Building An Early Stage Supply Chain Innovation & Technology Rolling Fund

March 13, 2021 by Brian Laung Aoaeh Leave a Comment

A Selection of Brian’s Mechanical Pencils.

This week, March 11, 2021, marks the one year anniversary of the landmark declaration by the World Health Organization that established COVID19 as a pandemic. While the world has been wrestling with the disease outbreaks caused by SARS-CoV-2. My partner and I have been wrestling with our own personal challenge, one that in the context of COVID19, and conversations about Climate Change takes on more personal significance in our eyes.

We are building a $10,000,000 Rolling Fund on AngelList. We are building this fund as the first major step in what will be an undoubtedly long and challenging journey to directly champion the startups bringing early stage supply chain innovations and technology to market, but also to serve as a mouthpiece that helps to attract more capital of all kinds to these scientists, entrepreneurs, and innovators — whether that capital is funnelled through our fund or not.

The world needs many many more early stage supply chain innovation and technology investors.

The COVID19 Pandemic & Climate Change

It goes without saying that COVID19 has focused the attention of people all over the world on the critical role that supply chains play in the lifestyles that we have come to take for granted. This is true whether one lives in the developed world or in the developing world.

We all know now that life is one broken supply chain link away from becoming significantly more uncomfortable than we would like it to be.

What is not so clear, but that is slowly becoming better understood by many more people is how our collective and individual choices are reflected in man-made supply chains, which interact with natural supply chains, which then have an impact that can be either positive or negative on the natural environment that we depend on for life on Earth.

My partner, Lisa Morales-Hellebo, and I wrote about this in October 2019, and published that work as a booklet, The World Is A Supply Chain, in March 2020.

With Lisa Morales-Hellebo at end of #SCIT19

The fundamental issue is this; The #SARSCoV2 outbreak and #COVID19 have made supply chains everyone’s business. On top of that, human activity is causing climate change. Outbreaks of disease are increasing in direct correlation with climate change. All human activity is driven by supply chains. We can’t solve the climate crisis until we refashion global, man-made supply chains so that they cause less harm to the environment. ‬

We are building our fund to champion and back the entrepreneurs, scientists, and other innovators who are setting out to reinvent manmade supply chains for the better. But, one fund like ours will not be enough.

As we wrote in The World Is A Supply Chain, the social forces that will drive the change we need to solve the problem posed by climate change is going to start at the grassroots. It will not come from the top. Anyone reading this article already realizes that.

AngelList’s creation of the Rolling Fund structure makes it possible for many more individuals to play a role in backing the entrepreneurs, scientists, and other innovators who are setting out to refashion and reinvent man-made supply chains; First, it lowers the barriers to entry for people like me and my partner to launch a fund based on our thesis about early stage supply chain innovation and technology being the biggest investment opportunity of our lifetime. Second, it allows other individuals who realize that bottom-up forces will play the most important role in our effort to fight climate change to back funds like ours and others based on their own assessments of the fund managers’ theses and backgrounds.

My Supply Chain Credo

My Professional Journey

The most directly pertinent aspects of my professional journey begins in 2008, when Jeff Citron hired me as the second employee at his family office, and the first employee on the direct investing team. That eventually evolved into an effort to build an institutional early stage technology venture fund with its headquarters in New York City. That experience lasted till 2018, and was an incredibly challenging and rewarding learning experience. I have written about it here, and tweeted about it here.

In 2017, based on the work I was doing independently AND the conversations I was having with Lisa, we decided to build The New York Supply Chain Meetup as a community for people building supply chain innovations and technologies to support one another, learn from each other, and collaborate with one another, and hopefully to do business with each other. The community we envisioned would be open, multidisciplinary, and grassroots-driven; Afterall, no one was giving us an order to do this. With a lot of help from a team of volunteers we launched on November 16, 2017. You can read about our minimum viable launch here.

We have benefitted from periodic, and episodic support from companies like SAP, IBM, UPS, Microsoft, Setlog GmbH, DHL, Tapestry, and Work-Bench. Our proudest moment so far occurred between June 19 and June 20, 2019, when we hosted our first global summit in NYC. You can get a sense of what that was like from this article and this very short video.

Today, that original vision has become a grassroots-driven effort to create a global network of meetup communities. We call this network-of-networks The Worldwide Supply Chain Federation, with The New York Supply Chain Meetup being the flagship chapter.

The Worldwide Supply Chain Federation’s Mantra. We often shorten it to the final sentence.

Our Mission: To nurture and grow the world’s foremost open, global, multidisciplinary community of people devoted to building the supply chain networks of the future — starting in NYC.

Our Vision: To create a global movement; the largest community on the planet of people obsessed with supply chain technology and innovation.

Starting in New York City, our ambition is to create a global movement; the largest community on the planet of people who like supply chain technology, and are trying to build new products and companies, while learning from each other. Our community is now at: 12 chapters — 6 active, and 6 still in the process of being formed. Our Meetup Community has 3800+ members, with about 2700+ of those in The New York Supply Chain Meetup. In late December 2020, we started an extension of the meetup community on Clubhouse. We call the community on Clubhouse The Supply Chain Technology Collective. The community on Clubhouse has grown to 5700+ members and followers. We also manage a community on Slack. One interesting observation is that there is very little overlap between the platforms. We intend to change that.

In April 2019, I started writing a weekly column at FreightWaves. I met Craig Fuller, Founder & CEO of FreightWaves in December 2016. A blog post I had published a month earlier was brought to his attention by people in his network, and he wanted to talk about his vision for a freight futures market, which is a topic I have covered in the blog post. Writing for FreightWaves has forced me to get disciplined about my thinking, and to stress test ideas I am contemplating against my own views as well as against the views of people who might read my column.

In January 2020, the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University hired me as an adjunct professor to teach a section of the introductory undergraduate course in supply chain and operations management. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Together with my students, I had to not only learn the foundational principles of supply chain and operations management, but also, we had to interpret those principles in the context of a world struggling to understand COVID19 as supply chains everywhere struggled to adjust to new and unprecedented constraints, with trade wars thrown into the mix.

My students also reinforced for me the idea that individuals are going to be the catalysts for the change that our world needs to refashion man-made supply chains in order to reign in climate change. As one of them said after we made the transition to remote learning in March 2020, during our first Zoom lecture; “We will never forget this course.”

I will never forget them either since it was my first time teaching in an official capacity.

My Personal Journey

Most people do not know my personal background. So my obsession with what Lisa and I are building can be difficult to understand. I have summarized the intellectual drivers of my enthusiasm for investing in, backing, and championing the builders of early stage supply chain innovation and technology.

But, in my opinion, it takes more than that to drive anyone to an obsession with a problem. The picture below is of me during the Christmas Holidays during my first year of secondary school. I am the boy in the blue t-shirt. The other boy is one of my uncles. He is now deceased.

Outside Laung Dabuo, my family’s home in Nanville.

I come from a village in northern Ghana called Nanville. I grew up in Nigeria. I spent my teenage years in boarding school in the Upper West Region of Ghana — in Wa, the capital. During vacations from school I lived with my grandfather and my relatives in Nanville. Most of my relatives are peasant farmers who live at or below the poverty line as defined by the UN, the World Bank, or the IMF. At that time Nanvilli did not have pipe-borne water or electricity. My grandpa suffered from a condition — I think it must have been rheumatoid arthritis — that caused him excruciating pain at night, often causing him sleepless nights.

It became my responsibility, every evening, once we had come back home from the family farm, to run around the village to try to get him a few tablets of a medication that reduced the pains he experienced at night so that he could get some sleep.

I had never thought very much about that till July 2019 when I read this article in which the Swiss pharmaceuticals giant, Roche, outlines some of the issues within their supply chains in sub-Saharan Africa; Improving the supply chain. The entire article is worth reading because it’s a great example of why I feel so strongly that there’s nothing more important I could be doing.

However, the section that made my heart drop in despair is this one: “One of the primary reasons — broken or sub-optimal supply chains in these countries which led to a compounding of costs on a sustained basis. Sometimes they led to mark-ups between 40 and 700%. The impact was cruel.”

My grandfather died in late 1996, after an extended battle with a condition that seems to me to have been a form of cancer — while my relatives did not divulge many details to me, I know there was discussion of sending him to a cancer treatment center in Nigeria. I would have travelled with him. He objected. Saying, he had lived a full life, and coming to Accra for treatment at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital was already more than he wanted to endure. I left Ghana in August 1997 to attend Connecticut College on a scholarship.

Ever since I read that article about the supply chain challenges Roche experiences in sub-Saharan Africa, I have wondered what impact more efficient supply chains would have had on my grandfather’s life. Would he have lived longer? Would he still be alive? What impact are broken supply chains having on the lives of my relatives who are still alive? What role can I play in supporting the people trying to fix those problems in Ghana, in Nigeria — where my parents live and run a school, and in other parts of the world?

Since I was in first grade, I have watched my mom and dad build various small businesses in Kano, Nigeria. My mom started a school in 1986 that they now operate. I had a front row seat to the loneliness that is an inherent part of every entrepreneur and business owner’s journey. My mom never had an investor or a thought-partner she could consistently turn to for advice. Given the constraints, she has done a phenomenal job. Being teachers, my mom and dad have educated students who work in many different professions all over the world. Yet, I am cognizant of the difference that a good investor and access to capital can make for an entrepreneur, both personally, and in terms of the magnitude of the positive impact that the entrepreneur can have on their community, society, and the world at large.

I want to be the sort of investor and thought-partner my mom and dad could have benefitted from having.

Kicking Off Day 1 of #SCIT19 in NYC — June 19 & 20, 2019

Collaborative Networks of Small Communities of Highly Committed People

My application essay for Connecticut College responded to a prompt asking for my understanding of Margaret Mead’s well known statement that we should “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I responded to that prompt by describing an experience I had as a member of the Catholic Youth Organization and the Young Christian Students, extracurricular organizations at St. Francis Xavier Junior Seminary in Wa, Ghana, where I studied for my West Africa Exams Council General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary Level Exams.

I did not realize then how much I inherently believe that observation. Yet, at every major inflection point of my career, it is the theme that I find is most salient.

Join us.

We are building small communities of thoughtful, committed people who believe that we each have a role to play in changing our world for the better. You can learn more about REFASHIOND Seed — the fund Lisa and I are building here and here. You can read an announcement about our executive salons here, and you can watch a video of our first quarterly executive salon here. You can learn about or communities here and here and here.

We are easy to find online, and we really are always eager and excited to talk to other people who are as obsessively enthusiastic AND wildly passionate about supply chain, innovation, and technology as we are.

I can’t wait to hear from you.

Originally published at https://innovationfootprints.com on March 13, 2021.

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Early-stage VC — Supply Chain Tech. REFASHIOND. #TWSCF. NYUTandon. FreightWaves. | I’m not afraid to be different. Blog @ www.innovationfootprints.com.

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Brian Laung Aoaeh, CFA

Early-stage VC — Supply Chain Tech. REFASHIOND. #TWSCF. NYUTandon. FreightWaves. | I’m not afraid to be different. Blog @ www.innovationfootprints.com.