With all those disruptive companies out there, you wouldn't think any business sectors were left to transform. Turns out, although the low-hanging fruit is largely spoken for, plenty of tech entrepreneurs are still launching startups targeting a variety of industries. Here's a look at three.
Streamlining the fish biz
You may not know it, but the supply chain in the fish industry is inordinately byzantine, with the product travelling through four to six middlemen before ending up in the hands of a customer, like a restaurant. Coastline Market, based in Vancouver, aims to disrupt that complicated system with an online marketplace linking seafood harvesters directly to restaurants.
It all started about six years ago, when co-founder Robert Kirstiuk was visiting relatives in Pointe-Verte, a coastal town in New Brunswick, Canada. While he was buying fish off a dock one day, he got into a conversation with a fisherman about how lucrative such direct sales were. Then, two years ago, while he was studying at Western University in London, Ontario, he contacted a high school friend about starting a fish company with a different supply chain model. They ended up dropping out from their respective colleges last year to run the business full-time. "The company evolved into something much bigger than we thought it would be," says co-founder Joseph Lee.
The traditional process differs depending on the type of fish. But in general, once the critters are caught, they may be sold to a packer, who then dispatches specific types of fish to traders. From there, the product goes to a processor who filets the fish and sends it off to a wholesaler. After that, there are smaller wholesalers who sell to restaurants and retail channels.
Coastline eliminates most of those layers with its online marketplace. While the fishermen are still out at sea, they use a satellite phone to call or text how much and what kind of fish they have. Then that information is displayed on the platform, allowing chefs and grocery stores to place orders with a mobile app. Payment and invoicing also are integrated into the technology.
After that, the system aggregates orders in a particular region. Plus, fishermen can see the total demand for different products. So, if they determine that Coastline customers in Vancouver need, say, 5,000 pounds of cod, they can set the rest of their catch aside for other customers. The delivery is done by a third party.
Fishermen make 50% to 80% more than they used to, according to Lee. For restaurants, there's the advantage of knowing exactly where the fish was caught and by whom, something that's important to upscale diners.
Anyone who's planned a wedding recently knows how pricey the floral centerpieces are-- $3,000 to $5,000 is a typical range. But while those items are used for maybe five hours, they stay beautiful for at least several more days. Seems like quite a costly waste.
That's where Bloomerent comes in. The New York City-based startup provides a platform through which customers can share centerpieces--or, more specifically, "anything in a vase", according to co-founder Julia Capalino—with fellow brides holding their weddings soon after.
How does it work? Customers browse the site, which displays flowers from about 50 florists. Then they choose the one they want and the selection is listed on the marketplace for what Capalino calls a "second event". That means someone who will use the flowers no more than two days after the first customer. Number one buyer saves about 10% of the usual cost, while number two receives a discount of about 50%. Plus, florists get more business for each centerpiece, an item that is especially time-consuming to produce, than they would under normal circumstances.
The company doesn't get involved in the logistics or operations, however. That's all done by florists, who handle everything from picking up the centerpieces to refreshing the flowers before the second event. But Bloomerent will act as a buffer between customer and florist when needed. (Example: Someone from the company might jump in if a budget-conscious customer getting married in February were to ask for peonies, which bloom only for a brief time in the spring).
Co-founder Danit Zamir got the gem of an idea when she was planning her wedding in 2014. She was astounded by how pricey centerpieces were and eventually started asking florists what they thought about the idea of allowing customers to share. In 2016, Capalino joined her and they started really ramping up the technology. The site has been live for about a year.
"We're disrupting the way customers shop for wedding flowers, giving them more options," says Capalino. "Flowers have a lifespan that's longer than just a few hours."
Group therapy via text
About a year ago, co-founders Shrenik Jain and Ravi Shah, both students at Johns Hopkins University, launched Baltimore-based Sunrise Health. This has a platform that allows for group therapy conducted via text. In addition, its AI-enabled algorithm can check conversations for signs of a more-immediate emergency and then learn from that response for use in future interactions. "It can extrapolate the underlying emotional sentiment," says Jain.
Clients, such as universities and fire departments, among others, license the technology and incorporate it into their existing mental health and substance abuse counseling infrastructure. Groups of five to seven people work with a moderator, communicating 24/7, whenever is convenient, although some places also schedule group conference calls. If the moderator isn't available, then another counselor steps in.
Where the AI is especially important is when there's a possible need for intervention. Thus, the technology is programmed to recognize language that could indicate, for example, suicidal thoughts, flagging such comments for the moderator's immediate attention. (Users can flag messages, too). It also takes into account the communication patterns typical of that particular group. "Firefighters tend to have a very sarcastic sense of humor--a coping mechanism," says Jain, who logged in a lot of hours as a fire department volunteer before co-founding the company. The result: The platform used for firefighters is programmed to recognize that type of language. "They talk very differently from the way students do," he says.