- Virginia-based startup Helios has launched an AI-powered supply chain analyst called Cersi and raised $1.85 million in a pre-seed round led by Supply Change Capital with participation from January Ventures.
- The brainchild of ex-Google AI/ML engineer Eden Canlilar (CTO) and former Boston Consulting Group principal Francisco Martin-Rayo (CEO), Cersi combines clients’ supplier data with “climate, economic, currency and political risk signals” to help create actionable insights in real time via a simple interface reminiscent of ChatGPT.
- The startup, which is advised by food industry experts including former Coca-Cola chief procurement officer Bill Hovis, will use the capital to expand its team and add more functionality to its platform.
Actionable insights in real time
Right now, says Helios CEO Francisco Martin-Rayo, procurement teams and supply chain analysts are drowning in spreadsheets, news articles, reports and other data sources that they don’t have time to read, and are often out of date.
“When we started out, we went out and talked to everybody we could, and we spoke to folks that were getting 16 PDF reports a day for each of the regions that are growing their particular commodity, so they can’t read them [all]. And when it comes to force majeure events [a hurricane that destroys a crop, for example], they might find out two weeks after the fact from one of their partners or suppliers.”
Helios is designed to help procurement teams track risks in their supply chains more easily and efficiently so users can spot issues earlier. They can then plan accordingly, which might mean lining up alternative suppliers or working more closely with existing suppliers to mitigate potential risks, he tells AgFunderNews.
“Users share their key ingredients or crops, suppliers, and locations, and Helios leverages billions of data points on climate, economic, currency and political risk signals to answer questions in seconds, rather than days or weeks.”
Tracking force majeure events
Target customers for Helios include big CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies, manufacturers producing white label goods, and large agricultural commodity traders, says Martin-Rayo, who worked with many large CPG firms while at Boston Consulting Group and learned many of their pain points.
“For some of our earlier customers, we were able to identify risks at the earliest parts of the growing season for some products, which allows them to find some alternative sources and give them the ability to do medium term planning.”
So what data is Cersi scraping to provide users with actionable insights?
“We’re getting satellite and weather station information for climate data, things like daily highs and lows average temperature, cloud cover, humidity, precipitation,” says Martin-Rayo. “For economic risks, a big focus has been on currency volatility, energy prices and then a basket of fertilizers.
“And for catastrophic risks we built this incredible NLP [natural language processing] engine that looks at half a million news articles across 60,000 global news sources every day. Every 15 minutes we’re tracking force majeure events,” he adds.
“Right now you might be getting a lot of data, but it’s just being dumped on your supply chain analyst; we’re turning it into something useful.”
In addition to the ChatCPT-style conversational interface with Cersi, where users can ask questions and get immediate answers, Helios also has a supplier dashboard whereby users can get an at-a-glance overview of where risks might lie in their supply chains at any given time. If you have one supplier, that may be of limited use, he says. If you have thousands, it’s a game-changer.
Importantly, he says, some users in an organization want a topline view of the risks in their supply chain, while others want to drill down into the source material underpinning Helios’ insights. “Being able to click through to understand the data that’s driving that particular risk rating gives comfort.”
‘Today, when you go to raise institutional capital, you need a product and some form of customer validation’
Asked what progress Helios has made to date, he said: “It’s been a wild ride. We founded the company in December 2022, and we launched our free beta in March 2023, and now that we’re launching Cersi, the focus is on converting our pilot customers or potential customers in our pipeline into paying customers.”
As for investors, who are overwhelmed with startups plugging AI- and ML-based platforms, he said, “I think the goalposts have changed positively. Three years ago, you could have raised money with just a PowerPoint deck. Today, when you go to raise institutional capital, you need a product and some form of customer validation.”