Dynamo boosts disruptive trucking startups

Venture capital firm is investing in, advising logistics, supply chain and transportation firms

There are currently 173 trucking startups wit 525 investors listed on the website Angel List, a site devoted to startups and their investors. There are 1,525 companies listed under the term logistics and further research will likely yield more companies related to transportation and logistics that may be listed under other terms. The point is, there is no shortage of companies looking to disrupt the transportation and logistics markets.

All those companies, though, are looking for help. Some have found individual investors, others are still searching. Some startups have top-notch leaders who have gone through the experience of growing a business, others have not. Regardless of what stage the company is in, though, there is help available.

One such company that is assisting startups is Dynamo VC, a venture capital firm based in the heart of Freight Alley in Chattanooga, TN.

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Dynamo specializes in startups in supply chain, transportation and logistics industries. It offers the $18 million early-stage Dynamo Fund that invests in and partners with founders. The company also offers the Dynamo Accelerator which provides capital and mentorship to companies in the logistics, supply chain and transportation industries.

Because Dynamo is focused solely on logistics, supply chain and transportation startups, it offers specialized expertise that many investment funds can’t offer.

“We estimate this to be a $4 trillion opportunity that has been largely overlooked and under-penetrated by technology and business model innovation,” says Santosh Sankar, director. “Commerce is composed of the movement of goods, services, and capital.”

To date, Dynamo has funded 13 companies, although that number will double on May 1 when the company’s 2017 program kicks off. To be sure, it is a very competitive program that only selects companies that feature specific attributes.

“[We look for those] contrarian in thought, complementary in skill set, tenacious in approach, audacious with goals, and execution focused,” notes Sankar. “[We] focus on what we broadly define as logistics tech. We try not to be held to any strict themes or trends as the best companies are founded in unlikely places by seemingly unlikely people.”

One company that came away from the Dynamo Accelerator program impressed was WorkHound, which participated in 2016.

Co-founded by CEO Max Farrell in 2015, WorkHound offers a solution for truck drivers to provide feedback to their employers anonymously if they wish. That data is tracked and analyzed so that fleets can identify issues before it costs them the employment of the driver.

Consider how you’ll get your product or services in the hands of users. I oftentimes see founding teams that have some initial product traction but struggle to derisk their go-to-market strategy.
— Santosh Sankar, director

According to Farrell, going through the Dynamo program led to a doubling of revenue for WorkHound.

“It opened a lot of doors to companies we didn’t think we were ready to work with yet,” says Farrell, noting that the program helped WorkHound secure a $500,000 round of funding for future growth.

The decision to locate Dynamo in Chattanooga had to do with the area’s deep expertise in the transportation and logistics industries.

“I often say that we stand on the shoulder of giants and the nature of logistics, supply chain, and transportation require startups and corporates to engage,” says Sankar. “The legacy strengths in this region are unrivaled and only continued to be reinforced by both macro (the expansion of the Panama Canal and Port of Savannah) and micro (addition of VolksWagen manufacturing plant) trends. Mid-sized cities need to rely on their strengths to remain relevant and super charge their growth in an economy redefined by technology.”

While the Dynamo program selects only a lucky few each year, Sankar does have a bit of advice to any startup.

“Consider how you'll get your product or services in the hands of users. I oftentimes see founding teams that have some initial product traction but struggle to derisk their go-to-market strategy,” he says.

Doing so will give your startup a better chance of success.