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Spotlight on Portable Intelligence: An Interview with Jeff Lem

Portable Intelligence is transforming warehouses into a competitive advantage. This sounds like a big task, but with integrated solutions, Portable Intelligence makes getting complete inventory visibility and creating warehouse optimization without extra space or labour finally attainable. With a wide range of advantages and applications, from real-time labour tracking software to Smart Warehouses, Portable Intelligence is revolutionizing the business of warehousing and inventory management.

We sat down with Jeff Lem, President of Portable Intelligence, to learn more about how he got involved with this start-up, the biggest challenges Portable Intelligence is trying to solve, and what advice he would give to other AI startup companies and founders who are walking in similar shoes. 

First off, tell us a little bit about yourself, Jeff.

I’m in my fourth (but likely not last) start-up. Portable Intelligence is a culmination of a 30-year career in the supply chain industry and represents the ‘disruptive’ phase of my career.  I have a BBA and MBA from The Schulich School of Business at York University along with a professional designation in materials management obtained from the Materials Handling Society of Ontario where I also serve as the Director of Education. I'm the author of “Your Warehouse is Not Your Fridge” – a roadmap for how companies can turn their warehouses into a competitive advantage.  I am a frequent guest on industry podcasts, and I’m featured on Manufacturing Masters – a new online learning channel for manufacturers. I’m married with three adult children who are building successful careers and I’m a resident of Markham. 

Tell us about Portable Intelligence! What motivated you to start this company? 

There’s a problem in our industry that many said couldn’t be solved. After 30 years in the industry barcoding and wireless are still the predominant technologies used to manage warehouses.  Armed with these technologies, siloed workers go about their day largely unsupervised, relying on tribal knowledge and experience to complete their assigned tasks. Unfortunately for the warehouse, they end up performing their work when they want and how they want. Thus, it is very common to find large gaps in productivity between tenured workers, newbies, and temp staff. 

Automation is part of the answer, but people will always be needed in the warehouse. The more likely scenario has both humans and robots working together collaboratively. AI has now progressed to the point that it can bridge this age-old productivity gap and ensure a successful merger of man and machine. 

Or as they say: “it’s not every day you get to change an industry.”

What makes Portable Intelligence unique in the AI space? 

To date, most deployments of AI in the supply chain have been around big questions like forecasting demand and pricing. Very important problems but require millions of data points. 

We're going in a different direction, we're going to use AI to create and assign warehouse tasks by specifically tracking the events and triggers that give rise to them.  Instead of having to learn from millions of data points, TED™, our AI engine, recognizes and anticipates when a task should be created and to whom those tasks should be allocated. 

What is the biggest challenge you are trying to solve?

Our biggest challenge will be getting warehouse workers who are generally free spirits to accept being told what and when to do their tasks. While they still largely control the ‘how’ of tasks, under this new paradigm, their efforts will be synchronized with other workers and the facility in general. Their work will no longer be done in isolation but rather as part of a larger group effort. 

What is the next big goal you want to accomplish for Portable Intelligence?

To make task management as ubiquitous as barcoding and wireless in the supply chain space. We’re revolutionizing warehouse work. 

You are one of five members of the inaugural pilot cohort of Accelerate AI! What motivated you to apply for ventureLAB’s Accelerate AI program? What is one big thing you are hoping to accomplish together with ventureLAB? 

By working with like-minded people, and within the inspiring ventureLAB community, I’m hoping we’ll be able to accelerate and build a world-class AI-based product.  

How has ventureLAB enabled Portable Intelligence to date? Would you advise other founders who are considering this program to apply?

ventureLAB has provided much-needed access to advisors and testing space. The additional space allowed us to better simulate a warehousing environment, thus we were able to fully test and build our prototypes before going to market. 

My advice to other founders is, don't wait to apply – it does take a village to raise a startup. 

What is the best lesson you’ve learned on your entrepreneurial journey thus far? What advice would you have for other founders who are in the same shoes as you? 

You’ve all heard this before: the entrepreneurial journey is a marathon. Staying even-keeled is so very important. That means not getting too complacent or too full of myself when times are good.  When times are tough, taking a step back to review my options – I remind myself not to act out of instinct or fear. Being grateful for what I’ve accomplished and have yet to do helps me stay focused and grounded. 

Applications for ventureLAB’s Accelerate AI program are now open until July 27th, 2022. To learn more and apply: click here!

About Portable Intelligence:

Portable Intelligence is delivering the next generation of warehouse management systems using technology based on indoor maps of your facility. They’re creating new insights and analytics around warehouse efficiencies by function, worker, and equipment utilization. Correlating location metrics to standard warehouse production data yields game changing insights driving dramatic efficiency gains. Portable Intelligence provides integrated solutions that improve warehouse agility and inventory accuracy.

About ventureLAB:

ventureLAB is a leading global founder community for hardware technology and enterprise software companies in Canada. Located at the heart of Ontario’s innovation corridor in York Region, ventureLAB is part of one of the biggest and most diverse tech communities in Canada. Our initiatives focused on raising capital, talent retention, commercializing technology and IP, and customer acquisition have enabled thousands of companies to create over 4,000 jobs and raise more than $200 million in investment capital. At ventureLAB, we grow globally competitive tech titans that build-to-scale in Canada, for global markets.

ventureLAB is a leading global founder community for hardware technology and enterprise software companies in Canada. Our organization is led by seasoned entrepreneurs and business leaders with decades of industry experience in building IP-rich start-ups, scale-ups, and global multinationals to help you scale your business. Located at the heart of Ontario’s innovation corridor in York Region, ventureLAB is part of one of the biggest and most diverse tech communities in Canada. We enable technology startups to accelerate the commercialization of transformational products on a global scale.

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