When you order something online — whether it’s new computers for your business or an inflatable flamingo floaty for your upcoming vacation — you want it yesterday. But supply chain disruptions that first emerged during the pandemic have only been exacerbated by geopolitical conflicts, causing more delays and higher costs. But the digitized environment that created those outsized expectations may also hold the key to bringing prices back down.
The wealth of data supplied by online platforms can significantly benefit companies at all stages of the supply chain when effectively harnessed by artificial intelligence (AI). “AI serves as a potent tool in supply chain management with the potential to streamline operations, cut costs, enhance efficiency and augment decision-making processes,” says Martin Bufi, a technical advisor at MaRS. Predictive analytics, he adds, can be used to forecast demand, which in turn can improve inventory management and reduce waste. Plus, AI can automate routine, less complex tasks, freeing up employees for more strategic and critical thinking.
For the third year running, Supply AI — an initiative launched by the federal government, the Government of Quebec and MaRS, in partnership with Scale AI — will support a cohort of Canadian ventures who are tackling supply-chain problems using artificial intelligence innovations. During the six-month program, each company receives tailored coaching from MaRS experts with the goal of scaling products, creating jobs, attracting investment and growing brand awareness.
Ultimately, Supply AI takes advantage of the benefits of collaboration and cross-pollination, as the companies involved are facing many of the same challenges. “The community piece is a big part of this program,” says Aoife Geary, who is managing the initiative. “And not only will they have this cohort to connect with, but we’ll foster connections with companies from years past.”
Here are 12 Canadian startups that will be working to create a stronger, more adaptive supply chain.
What it does: Basetwo’s platform allows manufacturers in biopharma, aerospace, chemical processings and other sectors to use digital twin technology to test various process scenarios. The drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to keep testing until the best option is identified.
Why it’s important: Drug shortages, which were a problem in North America before COVID, have worsened since March 2020. For pharmaceutical companies, Basetwo is therefore a balm to what ails them — using machine learning and a no-code interface to create better quality drugs faster.
What it does: When the pandemic sent the foodservice industry scrambling to move online, Brizo Data responded by creating Brizo FoodMetrics, a platform that can analyze that expanded digital presence — including data from 1.3 million foodservice establishments and 2.5 billion menu items — to help industry players strategize about their next business moves.
Why it’s important: For foodservice companies that operate on small margins, knowing where to direct resources can mean growing — or becoming yet another pandemic casualty. And the platform’s applications are extremely broad: whether it’s a delivery app deciding what city to serve next, a restaurant chain looking for small businesses that might be suitable as a new franchise or a beverage company in need of new leads.
What it does: EAIGLE leverages security cameras to gather data about the movement of people and products around facilities of all kinds, including retail stores, manufacturing plants and warehouses.
Why it’s important: When it comes to supply chains, directing the movement of people and products is key to maximizing each minute of the day. EAIGLE helps companies use existing cameras to do things like track how many docking stations are available for trucks arriving at storage facilities, or where a specific pallet is going. All the while, it can keep employees safe by monitoring worrisome heat or smoke levels, and watching for employee movements within a facility that might result in an accident causing injury.
What it does: Empower Health has developed a free curated online directory of ERs, urgent care centres and walk-in clinics — but its functionality goes well beyond that. Users looking for same-day care can view current waiting times at the locations near them, and in some cases, pre-register.
Why it’s important: Some 4.6 million Canadians don’t have a family doctor. Even those who do have one can have a hard time seeing their overbooked physician in times of urgent need. But Empower Health’s app not only helps would-be patients, it helps the medical practitioners by allowing users to remotely check in, and reduces no-shows by giving patients the information they need.
What it does: By automating data entry and processing of important documents — including packing lists, commercial invoices and certificates of analysis — Montreal-based Mely.ai makes it easier for companies involved in international trade to comply with regulations.
Why it’s important: Trade regulations change all the time, and not keeping up can be costly. Just ask General Electric, who was fined $2.7 million for non-compliance. Beyond lowering the risk of errors, for logistics companies, customs brokers and maritime port authorities, taking this type of repetitive and low-skilled work out of human hands has already saved Mely.ai’s clients an average of $100,000 per year.
What it does: Calgary-based Mercator AI harnesses the power of AI to help clients in the building and real estate industries discover projects at the earliest stages so they can find the opportunities best suited to them, and then pitch their services and products before the competition does. “We are basically digitizing word-of-mouth in construction,” says CEO Chloe Smith. “We’re creating a category for industry intelligence in construction.”
Why it’s important: General contractors, real estate agents and manufacturers have long relied on personal connections and cold calls to find their next jobs. Mercator dramatically reduces that time-consuming business development process, and makes sure that companies don’t miss out on opportunities.
What it does: Orkestra, which has offices in Toronto, Germany and Singapore, allows shippers to digitize their entire supply chain within weeks. Through the platform, clients can manage orders, trace shipments and track on-time performance.
Why it’s important: Orkestra helps them get that birds-eye-view into improved routes, where freight costs can be cut and capacity maximized.
What it does: Quantuity Analytics uses wireless 5G sensors in tandem with AI and machine learning to help commercial truck fleets keep the supply chain moving while reducing risks for drivers, vehicles and the shipped goods.
Why it’s important: The supply chain relies heavily on commercial trucks, and so every little efficiency can make a massive difference. Quantity Analytics can help fleets stay on track in a number of ways: assessing the status of a truck’s brakes, monitoring how well the fan under the hood is keeping things cool, knowing whether trailer doors are shut properly when moving high-value goods — and it can even track risky driver behaviour, while keeping the driver anonymous.
What it does: Vancouver-based Sentire’s Edge AI platform takes images and videos — including those taken with drone technology — and applies machine learning and remote sensing capabilities to help players in the agriculture industry assess their yields, and bring their products to market more efficiently.
Why it’s important: A picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case it’s also worth a thousand eyeballs. With its remote sensing technology, Sentire’s platform can tell a vineyard’s owners the health of its grapes, how well their irrigation system is working and whether any pests or disease have taken hold on their vines. The same goes for apple orchards and fields of crops. Ultimately, this technology not only helps the survival and growth of these plants, it can aid the survival of the companies who use it.
What it does: Shomigo is a local store’s answer to Amazon — a searchable site featuring products from hundreds of client companies. Shomigo harnesses AI to make recommendations based on previous searches and purchases, too.
Why it’s important: Shopping had moved online long before COVID, but the pandemic accelerated that trend exponentially, driving many local businesses without a suitable online platform into the ground in the process. But keeping neighbourhood stores open and buying local goes further than just supporting your community — it reduces both shipping costs and CO2 emissions, saving customers’ wallets and the environment at the same time.
What it does: Solv4X takes the supply chain into the future by allowing commercial electric vehicle fleets to charge at times when prices are the lowest, and when that charge can come from low-carbon emission sources.
Why it’s important: Canada has mandated that all new passenger vehicles and light trucks sold be zero-emission by 2035, and similar rules for commercial vehicles are likely not far down the road. That would be a good thing, as the International Energy Agency reported that the broad adoption of EVs and other non-emission vehicles will be critical to reach net-zero by 2050.
What it does: Trax Codes lets developers search building codes in order to easily comply with the regulations. Recently, the company has brought AI into the mix with its Building Codes Copilot, a beta Q&A function that uses Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service to generate plain-language answers to tough building code questions.
Why it’s important: For those working in architecture, engineering and construction, Trax Codes’ ability to consolidate the equivalent of 15,000 pages of constantly updated regulations into a searchable, interactive app makes the code-compliance part of the process smoother than ever.
Learn more about how Supply AI is working to accelerate smart solutions in supply chain products and services.
Photo Illustration: Monica Guan; Images: Unsplash