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Serena Williams’ Venture Fund Backs Fashion Supply Chain Startup

Artificial intelligence-backed platform Calico turned the head of tennis pro Serena Williams and her venture fund with a capital infusion marking the latest sign that the supply chain has indeed gone mainstream.

The company confirmed Tuesday it closed on a $2 million seed round, led by Williams’ Serena Ventures. Other investors in the company include Maple VC, Inovia Capital, Hyphen Capital,  several early-stage Shopify employees, Slack CFO Allen Shim, Italic CEO Jeremy Lai and Ancestry CEO Deborah Liu.

The new funding will be used to build out product features and also for sales and marketing to focus on boosting customer acquisitions.

Calico, started by serial entrepreneur Kathleen Chan, aims to serve as a tool for fashion companies’ sourcing and production teams by acting as an operating system to help firms in the sector run their supply chains.

Calico’s system offers a product database, help with request for quotes, order management and analytics with the end goal being to help brands improve their forecasting, get inventory on time and reduce waste. It also offers a link to sustainable factories in places such as Los Angeles, Toronto, Peru, Portugal, Bangladesh, China and Hong Kong.

The timing of the capital raise follows two years of challenges heaped onto companies’ supply chains in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic as weaknesses were exposed and investors now clamor to back technology solutions that can help address the industry’s pain points.

Global funding for supply chain and logistics technologies last year ballooned 86 percent from the prior year to total $33.6 billion, according to a report last month from CB Insights. The funding was driven predominantly by e-commerce and on demand, but investors also pumped money into fulfillment tech, automation and visibility platforms.

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Chan, who serves as Calico’s CEO, knows first hand the supply chain challenges fashion brands encounter.

Calico is the third company she’s started. She also co-founded fine jewelry company Finley and started the Toronto-based apparel brand Brooklin Supply.

“It was a lot of PTSD for sure,” Chan said in recalling the previous challenges she encountered in managing the supply chains of her first two startups.

She recalled zero visibility into the production process and supplier communication being fragmented, oftentimes done through email or WhatsApp.

“A lot of that was very, very manual, so I realized that you needed a dedicated workspace. Ultimately, it lacked the nuance of what production and manufacturing really needed,” Chan said.

Williams, who started the S By Serena apparel brand, also understands the challenges brands face in their supply chains.

“I’m excited to partner with this world-class team on their mission to help brands take back control of their supply chain,” the Nike athlete, who holds 23 Grand Slam tennis titles, said in a statement. “From running my own brand, I have experienced the exact problem Calico is solving. It’s rare to see a founder and product that is so in tune with the industry’s challenges and current limitations like Calico is. They’ve built a category-defining product that is going to reshape how brands manage their supply chain. Together, we’re going to do great things.”

Williams confirmed earlier this month the raise of $111 million for Serena Ventures’ inaugural fund, aimed at supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Calico’s client base is currently in the jewelry and apparel space, many of them having started as direct-to-consumer brands and are now seeing fast-paced growth.

Chan’s background is what prompted her to keep Calico’s initial focus on the fashion space, but she said the company will eventually expand to adjacent categories, such as home goods.

The startup’s team currently totals nine and is expected to grow to about 30 by year’s end, according to Chan.

The company said it’s grown 300 percent since January, driven by new customers and expanding business with existing users. Chan declined to detail the company’s revenue projections.