A few months ago, we put out a call for Black entrepreneurs to apply to join REMUS as the firm’s first-ever Black Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR).
As a firm, we believe deeply in the ethical and financial value of various perspectives and backgrounds within our team and our portfolio. We know we have blind spots that have kept us from becoming as diverse as we would like to be. With this program, we’re hoping to begin to change that.
Today, we are pleased to announce that we’ve found our first Black EIR. Brantly Fulton is the co-founder and CEO of LAMAR IoT, a cold chain tracking company that identifies damages that occur during product transport, particularly in the food and pharma industries. Brantly has already been joining our weekly Sunday investment team meetings, we have invested in his business, and we will work with him as an EIR as he further develops the foundations of LAMAR.
Brantly met his co-founder at Morehouse College — one of this country’s leading HBCUs. As part of this partnership, we are excited to deepen our understanding of the Morehouse talent network and culture.
LAMAR’s focus is deeply appealing to us, as is Brantly’s personal story. REMUS founder and CEO Krishna Gupta recently sat down with Brantly to discuss his company and our partnership.
Brantly, I’m super excited about working together, our partnership, and the opportunity we have in front of us. For me personally, this is an opportunity to broaden my horizons and to help build a company in a space that I’m very interested in. I’m looking forward to a number of mutual learnings along the way.
I’d love to start us off by first understanding why you do what you do. How did you get into this space, and why are you passionate about it?
As a materials chemist, my background is in green chemistry, and I’m focused on positively impacting energy and the environment. All the work I did while I was in grad school really centered on that, and it led me to think about creating a supply chain logistics company that could provide sustainable end-to-end solutions, which could become a leader in a future planet with a zero-emissions goal.
That goal is something I’m passionate about, and it’s a never-ending journey. I’m both a scientist and a businessman, and with LAMAR I can explore my curiosity as a scientist by providing and implementing revenue-generating solutions in the cold chain logistics space.
When you take a step back and look at any company, every company has some form of a supply chain. It really governs the world around us. As we’ve been able to dig deeper in that and understand how products are raw materials-sourced, how they leave a manufacturing line, how they may sit in a distribution warehouse, and the customer’s need in terms of a final good, we’ve really seen this human aspect of the supply chain. It’s no longer linear – we’re starting to think of all these circular economy ideas. We’re asking: how can we put products in a space that then become raw materials for the next set of products?
For the future we want for ourselves, and when we think about the next generation, our children and our children’s children, how can we begin implementing better sustainable business practices right now? That’s really at the core of what LAMAR is focused on in the cold supply chain.
How do you think being Black has affected you as an entrepreneur to date?
When [my cofounder] Michael and I started this company two and a half years ago, there were not a lot of Black founders at tech companies. We take that on as a challenge, and we wear it proudly on our shoulders.
When you look at the statistics, only around 1% of venture capital goes to Black founders. So if I go out and raise $100K, and I only have access to 1% of the available funds, it poses a real question: how good am I? If I can have some access, it means I must be very talented. It’s those types of disparities that we want to overcome at LAMAR.
I think investing in a company is really similar to so many other things that you do in life: it’s a friendship, it’s a partnership. It’s easier for people to invest in people who look like them or who have ideas similar to theirs or who come from similar walks of life. I think we need to break that chain. I think giving opportunities to people who may not look like you or may not come from where you come from is part of a new revolution here in America, and it’s something that will catch fire all around the world.
There have been plenty of positive things about being Black in my entrepreneurial journey, too. I think it can certainly be a good thing to stand out in a room, and that creates some opportunities. Just in the past few months, during the pandemic, we’ve won several awards, and I think we’re starting to see Black communities and Black investing groups start to sprout up across America in a way they never have before. I think being able to leverage some of the existing networks that I had, such as Morehouse College (an all-male HBCU), where I went for undergrad, has been an incredible opportunity for me. We’ve been able to connect with older alums who are really interested in what we’re doing, and that’s given us access to their networks for investment and opportunities.
If you don’t go out there and seek those types of opportunities, very rarely I find in life do they just knock at your door.
Speaking of opportunities, how did you hear about REMUS?
I first heard about REMUS through a LinkedIn post. Immediately, I really liked the firm’s mission. Compared to what I was seeing from other firms, I thought it was ambitious. I felt that REMUS was looking for companies that were driven and doing things outside of the box, and that the firm really wanted to support its founders.
More specifically, when I was reading about your story, Krishna, and how you started out of a dorm room, I began to have this kind of déja vu. It reminded me so much of my own story, because I was in my last year of graduate school when I was starting LAMAR.
I really liked your story, and it reminded me of my own. That’s something I appreciate.
Well that’s great. And conversely, that was one of the things that really attracted us to you. I could resonate with that dorm room sort of story, and also the fact that you and your cofounder got to know each other at Morehouse. I really do believe that when you see friendships amongst the founding team or the leadership team, it creates a higher probability of success.
And to me, success looks like you becoming wildly rich. Honestly, that has to be the number one driver here. This is not a “program,” it’s not a summer camp. This is about helping you and Michael build the best company you can build. We are obviously a very small part of that journey — it’s up to you to really build it. But if there’s a way we can help facilitate that by opening our networks and providing any guidance, that is to me the number one driver of success.
And from a more personal standpoint, I would like to come out of this feeling like I have gotten rid of some of that unconscious bias that I’m sure I have as a leader. I would love to be aware of and exposed to networks that previously I didn’t even know existed, and start the journey of helping to play a small role in leveling the playing field.
Look, I’m a guy of Indian descent and an engineer — so it’s super easy for me to keep funding Indian engineer entrepreneurs. And candidly: it’s a pretty good bet. There are a lot of Indian engineers who are building massive businesses. But I think you lose something in that. And what you lose is that you then sometimes run into the same fact patterns, you make some of the same mistakes, you live in this bubble, which from a personal sense is not very attractive to me. There’s a ceiling on growth.
But even in a professional sense, there’s probably high correlations between what Indian engineering entrepreneurs think about and start companies around. And that means I’m probably missing certain opportunities in the world, especially given how young I am — and I take a 40-, 50-year perspective on this. I want to be more aware of what people are doing. I think diversity promotes a more holistic way of thinking and discussing problems and problem-solving. Personally, that’s something I’d like to get out of this partnership.
I would second that, Krishna. I’m really looking forward to this partnership in terms of REMUS helping LAMAR grow and ultimately build a winning business that’s revenue-generating. That’s my number one goal.
Secondarily to that, when I think about growth for myself both personally and professionally, being inside a venture firm like REMUS, where I can learn how a fund thinks about startups, the key metrics it analyzes, how it manages the portfolio – those are all areas that will aid me both as a founder and as a leader in my community. I wear with pride being a Black man in America, as arduous as that is at times. And you know, I would say to myself: in my position, having a PhD, I know there are a lot of younger Black males that either went to Morehouse College or are from other places, and they look up to the things that I do. And the things that I do are visible to them, so I always try to honor that and be a leader. And that’s a big part of what success looks like for me.
One thing I love about REMUS is its Campus Associate program. I immediately thought: how we can get the program to reach HBCUS? So much about the venture world is unknown and untapped at these colleges. One of the things I have learned is that talent is all around us, but opportunity is not. There are so many students I know at Morehouse College and Spelman College and Clark who have wildly great ideas, but they just need someone behind them who will help support them and see their vision.
So I’m personally focused on 1) being on the front line leading that journey for them, and 2) finding ways where I can personally help and assist. That’s important for me as well.
Let’s talk about the company for a second. How do you think about what you’ve built as a competitive edge? The idea of sensors and software in supply chain is one that many are pursuing. How do you think about your edge? And more broadly, how do you think about whether sensors and tracking really make sense for all kinds of goods?
In terms of our platform and where we see the edge and advantage, it’s really around granular-level or itemized-level tracking. The ability to ideate product at the vial or the dose level in the case of pharma, and at that individual carton or package level when you think about food products. That’s where we see our edge in terms of granularity.
This is backed in two ways: one, in the pharma space, there’s a drug supply chain security act, under which all pharma goods manufactured in the US by 2023 have to be serialized at the individual pill bottle level. Having government and regulatory compliance will, I think, force companies to adopt better and newer technology.
Second, by having these printed flexible sensors that fit in better packaging and in more narrow spaces – not only do you get the ability for this granular-level tracking, over time as these materials become cheaper, you’ll also be able to cut costs.
In which industries do you think it matters to have item-level tracking? Does it really matter for me to know whether a roll of toilet paper is here or there?
That’s a good question. I would say for a roll of toilet paper, maybe not – and tracking these items is not, right now, at the level of difficulty of food or pharma. That’s why we really focus on the cold chain, because we began to see how temperature-controlled products and temperature-dependent products really needed a higher level of tracking than products that are stable at room temperature. We began to see these breakdowns in the cold chain as a result of inefficient temperature tracking. That led us to understand that core industries like food and pharma were going to lead the future of this sensing.
When we do kind of take a step back and look at other spaces, a particularly relevant one is pandemic PPE. This is a real-world example: there was a donor at UCLA who had purchased something like $45K worth of N95 masks for the UCLA hospital at the height of the pandemic back in April or May. It turned out when those masks arrived at the hospital, they weren’t N95 grade, and the hospital workers couldn’t use them. Think about the chaos that creates from a disruption in the supply chain, by not understanding products as being authentic or not being able to track their origin.
I think granular tracking of a lot of our day-to-day items will not necessarily be needed, but as we do move toward more circular economies, I would say if we are going to have this kind of zero-emissions planet we envision, understanding these raw materials sourcing processes and having a good lead on where the raw materials step is all the way through to that final product will make an impact on how we perceive carbon emissions. With that being said, in the future I think there will be a higher level of tracking even on just common products.
I’m excited to partner with you, and I’m looking forward to the journey that you’re on and hopefully just seeing it being wildly successful.
I couldn’t agree more.