Knowing which relatively new companies working in and for the trucking industry to keep an eye on in 2021 is a bit like separating the wheat from the chaff. So many exist in a wide variety of categories.
New services range from safety technology and driver retention, to operational efficiency and the continued goal to go paperless, said Brian Fielkow, CEO of Jetco Delivery. The total funding for logistics startups in 2019 ran around $6.3 billion worldwide, according to a McKinsey analysis.
When fleet managers read news about startups and consider partnering with them, they should look for words that inspire confidence in an investment, said John Esparza, president and CEO of the Texas Trucking Association.
"Have a conversation with them. Learn about their product and their company culture," Esparza said. "Research the founder’s background to see what successes and failures they’ve had along the way."
Once managers find a startup they think they'd like to partner with, Locomation CEO and co-founder Cetin Mericli recommended making sure firms see the benefit of their product or service.
"Try out the technology. See it, feel it and mingle with it," Mericli said.
"Try out the technology. See it, feel it and mingle with it."
CEO and co-founder of Locomation
Because there isn’t a universal definition of a "startup," Transport Dive set a few parameters of its own for startups to watch in 2021. The startup had to be located in North America, be less than 6 years old and have under $1 billion in funding, according to Crunchbase data.
Transport Dive asked trucking experts which innovative transport businesses they thought would make a mark. Couple the experts’ opinions with lots of research, and the results follow in no particular order.
Funding: $23 million | Launched: 2018
This company focuses on autonomous trucking solutions. Mericli said commercialization of its product — human-guided autonomous convoys — is right around the corner.
Locomation received its first purchase order from Wilson Logistics for about 1,100 autonomous technology kits, and Mericli reports those will be delivered and installed in the second half of 2022.
Autonomous trucks are expected to help alleviate the driver shortage, reduce downtime and improve fuel economy.
"We are able to optimize and reduce operating costs by 30% and at the same time increase a fleet’s overall safety," said Mericli.
Funding: $648.1 million | Launched: 2015
In July 2020, this autonomous trucking technology startup launched what it said is the world's first Autonomous Freight Network, making it possible for freight to move safely and reliably from point-to-point using self-driving trucks. The company will continue to expand the AFN in 2021 by adding new autonomous lanes and shipping partners.
TuSimple has partnered with Navistar to develop L4 autonomous trucks. The vehicles are expected to be available for the North American market in 2024, according to Jason Wallace, marketing director for TuSimple.
Funding: $40 million | Launched: 2018
Kodiak delivers freight daily between Dallas and Houston, autonomously on the middle-mile portion of the route.
"Kodiak’s experienced team has developed the industry’s most advanced technology stack, purpose-built especially for long-haul trucks," said Daniel Goff, head of policy at the company. "We are partnering with Fortune 100 shippers, carriers, fleets and freight brokers to build the future of freight."
Funding: $665.5 million | Launched: 2015
With a goal of fostering a more efficient and sustainable trucking industry for shippers and carriers, Convoy created Guaranteed Primary in 2020, which replaces traditional requests for proposal.
The company has accelerated programs that automate inefficient practices. These include automated lumper payments, dedicated freight offers in an app, an expanded digital freight network that includes cross-border freight with Canada, and a discount program.
Its TruckYeah Savings program gives carriers savings of up to $35,000.
Funding: $47 million | Launched: 2016
Founders Greg Price and Jason Traff knew there had to be a better way to strategize shipments than what was currently in use. So, they created an ecosystem that combines transportation management, visibility, and a partner network for mid-market and enterprise shippers in a cloud-based platform.
Through artificial intelligence and machine learning, Shipwell offers freight tracking and analytics that aim to improve efficiency and save companies and their customers millions of dollars in shipping costs.
"Since the pandemic began, companies' supply chains have become top of mind. They now realize that logistics operations are mission-critical rather than back-office drudgery," said Traff in an email.
Funding: $51.5 million | Launched: 2013
The Trucker Path app solves many inefficiencies and problems for drivers, including where to find a truck stop and available truck parking, and updating the status of routes.
Another product offering, Truckloads, helps brokers and carriers connect within their own private network.
Funding: $11 million | Launched: 2016
The founders, all Carnegie Mellon graduates, plan to make trucking safer.
This software-as-a-service company collects information on a company’s drivers so they can predict potential traffic accidents before they happen and avoid nuclear verdicts. The software also reduces insurance costs and decreases driver turnover.
Funding: blood, sweat and tears | To launch: 2021
Co-founder Susan Fall described Ten5 as an app-based interactive voice experience designed to create a closer connection between drivers and their employers.
"Drivers want more meaningful communication particularly during the first 90 days of employment, when they are most vulnerable to isolation and inclined to leave for another company," said Fall. "We’re providing a simple and effective way for them to stay connected and be less susceptible to leaving."
Each Ten5 ivex, a word coined by the founders, comes with clips that include everything from safety and health tips on the road to highway hero stories, she said.
Drivers also can get instant answers to job-related questions, and they can use the app to review and rank shipping and receiving facilities.
The first carriers are set to roll out with this app in the first quarter of 2021.
This story was updated to include Locomation's most recent funding.