Supply chain business accelerator plays to win

In the two years since Mike Zayonc founded the Plug and Play supply chain and logistics innovation platform, the Sunnyvale, California-based platform has become the world’s largest supply chain business accelerator. The program works with over 30 corporate partners and has helped hundreds of startups build their businesses and connect with major corporate clients.

Notable participants include Shoof Technologies, a startup that provides wireless connectivity for ports and warehouses, and Rappi, a last-mile delivery company that recently generated a $1 billion valuation as the first unicorn in Bogota, Columbia.

“What we’re looking at is finding ideas and turning them into billion-dollar companies and working with key leaders in the industry to help them take advantage of technologies at the early stage,” said Zayonc, who joined Plug and Play four years ago. Plug and Play works in about 14 verticals, one of which is supply chain and logistics.

The company’s selection process shows just how huge the supply chain tech space has become.

Twice a year Plug and Play’s 20-person supply chain team reviews about 1,000 startups that target everything from artificial intelligence and advanced analytics, to supply chain optimization, warehouse automation and blockchain for traceability. That list gets winnowed down to 100, 40 of which are interviewed by the firm’s corporate partners. Of those, 22 will be accepted into the Supply Chain Innovation accelerator, a 12-week boot camp that gives startups and corporations the opportunities to evaluate pilot projects and investment opportunities. The program culminates with a week-long exposition.

Plug and Play is “stage-agnostic,” Zayonc said, and accepts early and growth stage applicants.

As the speed of innovation continues to accelerate, Zayonc observed, legacy logistics companies have come to realize that technology is one of the key differentiators. That’s one of the reasons the program is corporate-driven. Plug and Play’s corporate partners hail from every part of the supply chain and across transport sectors – for example, Maersk, Lufthansa, BNSF, FedEx, and ExxonMobil – and collaboration, Zayonc said, is key.

“If there is a new technology,” he explained, “it could be valuable to work together with some of the large players and figure out how they can utilize these technologies.”

Prologis, for example, can leverage the program to engage with customers like FedEx in regard to how they can partner on new solutions.

There’s another way Plug and Play aids its corporate partners. If a company is interested in a subject area that isn’t included in the original batch of startups, the Plug and Play team will make additional introductions. “That’s something the corporations and startups like,” Zayonc said. “When there is a pull coming from the corporations that are interested in working with a specific area, then it’s more likely startups will actually be able to do a pilot and have solutions implemented with one of these large players.”  DHL, for example, has participated in about 20 Plug and Play pilots.

In addition to the accelerator, the supply chain group has invested around $2 million in startups over the past four years, with an average investment of about $200,000. Plug and Play made about 10 investments last year, and Zayonc said he aims to double that number this year.

The latest supply chain accelerator class started February 19. The cohort includes the following companies: Arviem, Atollogy, Autobon, Boxbot, Descartes Labs, Fitter, FleetUp, Hopstack, InOrbit, InstaDeep, Jackfruit Systems, Kinema Systems, LogiNext, MonoLets, The Morpheus Network, NextQuestion, Parsyl, Platform Science, Project Cosimo, SnapSupport and Zorroa.

An exposition showcasing the accelerator class will be held May 14 in Sunnyvale.

Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to