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2021 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Pelicargo, MIT (Sloan)

Pelicargo

MIT, Sloan School of Management

Industry: Logistics-tech

Founding Student Name(s):

Jon Acquaviva (MIT Sloan Fellows MBA)

Shinji Angata (MIT Sloan Fellows MBA)

Edward Wang (MIT PhD Computer Science)

Brief Description of Solution: Pelicargo is a new logistics-tech company that revolutionizes air cargo with a marketplace that allows freight forwarders to instantly book available cargo capacity with airlines. We launch into a $175B market ripe for digital solutions and ready to disrupt decades of accumulated inefficiencies and antiquated processes. Our technology empowers a long-tail of over 100,000 small/mid-sized freight forwarders to secure the best possible air cargo rates by democratizing digitalization and promoting price transparency, all while improving the carrying efficiency of resource intensive airplanes.

Funding Dollars: Ongoing pre-seed fundraising

What led you to launch this venture? Challenges and inefficiencies in logistics and supply chains are fundamentally top-of-mind for every company and executive in the world. That is certainly the case for Pelicargo, as our own professional experience led us to this venture. In my pre-MBA job, I managed an overseas business unit that required significant international air freight where I routinely found myself waiting days for a simple quote and being frustrated with the lack of visibility into my cargo’s journey. As I deep-dived into each case, I learned that, on average, cargo airplanes fly half empty. Put differently, for most trade-lanes, capacity is rarely the issue, but rather old-fashioned sales and processes burden the market. Airplanes are the most resource-intense method to ship cargo and, also, the most important with the types of cargo they move. As a result, I felt there was a massive business opportunity in the space that can also have a profound positive impact on the world and global economies.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Personally, I believe the biggest accomplishment in our venture has been meeting each other to form our founding team. Finding co-founders often feels like the white whale of entrepreneurship in that it’s vitally important to every step of the journey yet incredibly difficult to accomplish in practice, especially in the midst of the pandemic. Shinji and I met during our entrepreneurship course and then we met Edward, our technical co-founder, in the MIT dorms during a random encounter. Our history just proves that the key for entrepreneurship is to get yourself out there and be vocal with your ideas; if you think about your ideas forever and don’t talk to others about them, they’ll never grow into something tangible. All of that said, we have had some amazing successes working to launch the business including landing our first customers to pilot our system on both the supply and demand side of our marketplace.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? My MBA program has been foundational to this venture and my own entrepreneurial journey. MIT is truly a special place – the entrepreneurial ecosystem here is like a massive planet with its own gravitational force pulling in experts and enthusiasts from every corner of the world. I came to MIT with a latent interest in entrepreneurship but really felt I would use my MBA to get a promotion or a new job. That lasted for a month or two at best, as I quickly found myself pulled into the ecosystem and brainstorming ventures with my classmates and professors. I ultimately pitched an iteration of our Pelicargo business in the flagship entrepreneurship course New Enterprises here at MIT and that led to our founding team creation and our structured approach to launching the venture.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Early on in our venture, through MIT, we had the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with Jeff Silver, an MIT alum who founded Coyote Logistics. This conversation really crystallized for me the massive opportunities in the logistics-tech space, the impact that these solutions can have on the global economy, and also what it takes to be an entrepreneur – a mix of a good idea, the openness to take risks, and boundless energy to inspire a team and build a corporate culture.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? For me personally, it all started with New Enterprises, the flagship entrepreneurship course at MIT taught by Bill Aulet. In this course, students pitch an idea and then form teams to work on these ideas as a startup during the semester. Bill and his teaching team provide an amazing energy to the course, but also a structured approach of how to think about your customer, market, product, and business. That said, the key message is certainly to do things that “can put a dent in the universe” – the famous Steve Jobs quote that has become a sort of anthem for the course. Overall, the course teaches you that the idea is just a small and often irrelevant part of starting a business because you’ll usually pivot a thousand times anyway so it’s important to be structured with how you think about entrepreneurship but flexible in how you implement your knowledge.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Yossi Sheffi, the director of MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics, was an advisor to our business as we went through MIT’s accelerator Delta V and his contributions certainly factored into our plans. His main messages were always around keeping it simple and to not be afraid of taking risks. Through his guidance we simplified what we intended to do for our minimum product and also how we explained our business. The key idea was that we first need a business that works and makes sense from the transaction level before we even begin thinking about how we operate at scale.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? Our founding team has business goals, mission goals, and cultural goals. First, our business Pelicargo can be a unicorn in three years – we’re certain we’re in the right space at the right time with the right product and the right team. Next, our mission is to improve the efficiency of the airline industry. Increasing their carrying efficiency of cargo is the single largest lever airlines have to improve their fuel efficiency and Pelicargo aims to be a tangible part in this journey. Finally, we want to build a long-term economically sustainable business with an inclusive, engaged, and innovative corporate culture. Our founding team all comes from diverse business and cultural backgrounds but strongly believe companies should treat their employees, communities, industries, and the world better – and we aim to prove that with our actions.