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HSBC’s Serai Sourcing Startup Is Like LinkedIn for Apparel Suppliers

The new B2B networking platform Serai wants to be for apparel companies what LinkedIn is to professionals.

While the Serai platform, called Threads, can work for any B2B sector, the startup primarily serves as a digital connector for buyers and sellers in the apparel industry, with the goal of helping users to “build supply networks they know and trust, paving the way for transparent and sustainable supply chains,” CEO Serai Vivek Ramachandran said.

Platform participants include sourcing powerhouses like FCI Group, Envoy Textiles, Lever Style, Esquel Group and DBL Group.

The platform takes a page out of the Facebook model, requiring an invitation to join the network in order to vet each firm and confirm what its business profile says it does. That means if a small yarn supplier claims it sells to Esquel, then it’s the latter’s responsibility to validate that claim,” Ramachandran said, adding that companies are also responsible for keeping their platform profiles up to date.

Because Serai doesn’t police the network, and the network provides for self-validation, it allows companies searching for new partners to question peers that have or had a relationship with a supplier of interest.

Serai believe the platform is primed for organic growth. “Organically, we’ve already had a few fabric manufacturers invite their suppliers [and] we had our first retailer who sells shoes who wants to build out the supply chain for footwear,” Ramachandran said, noting the platform can apply to other sectors of business.

Serai is the new HSBC funded digital B2B networking platform that connects apparel industry buyers with sellers in the supply chain.
A look at how a company profile might appear on the Serai B2B platform. Courtesy Photo

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Serai started as Jasmine 22, the prototype for HSBC’s digital proposition. Eventually, the company was established as a separate entity in December 2018 in Hong Kong, and is wholly owned by HSBC Holdings.

Ramachandran was operating HSBC’s global trade and receivables division in the commercial banking group in London when he first pitched the idea for the non-banking technology startup, which is currently funded entirely by HSBC.

“Technology has fundamentally changed our lives, but what hasn’t really changed is how companies connect with each other,” Ramachandran said, noting that “the B2B market is the same.”

“When a U.S. firm sources in Asia, it sends a team to the ground to go through old lists of companies to find out who is credible and then set up relationships,” he continued. “My pitch idea was to set up a separate entity to build out a B2B platform where companies can access a range of solutions to strengthen their relationship with each other.”

HSBC‘s interest in developing Serai goes back its origins as a trade bank, as well as a history in connecting clients with opportunities internationally, Ramachandran said.

Serai’s mission is to simplify trade by offering a digital lending product that enables onboarding in minutes, with AI automating credit decisions that allow for instant access to funds, and through the Threads networking platform.