Across the electronic device supply chain, there are many links. For smartphones, there are original equipment manufacturers (think Apple, Samsung, Motorola), mobile network operators (think Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T) and mobile virtual network operators (think Mint Mobile, Visible, Cricket).
There are also third-party logistics services, device protection providers, and wholesalers and traders.
All of these connections make the task of shifting to more circular life cycles for these sorts of gadgets — and cutting back on the potential for electronic waste — more complex and challenging. Enter Apkudo, a company focused on supply chain automation that is trying to bridge the gaps between all of these players by improving transparency across the life cycle of electronic devices.
Today, the startup announced a $14.4 million growth funding round, led by Closed Loop Partners, that should help further the growth and development of its connected device platform.
"Our partnership with Apkudo will further the circularity of electronics supply chains that ultimately benefit people, the planet and business," said Martin Aares, managing director at Closed Loop Partners, in a statement about the funding. "Their technology enables vastly improved reverse logistics and resale of connected electronic devices, which helps reduce e-waste."
Existing investors, including Harbert Growth Partners, Grotech Ventures, MissionOG and Lavrock Ventures, also participated in this infusion of funding. Since its founding, Apkudo has raised $38 million in total, including this latest round.
One of the biggest ways the new funding will deepen and expand the company’s work is by bringing more partners onto its platform, said Darwin Stephenson, Apkudo’s chief innovation officer.
Getting data out of those remote systems and bringing them up into the platform enables us to make real-time decisions.
Akpudo’s platform provides a universal system for managing connected devices across an entire electronics supply chain by pulling in data from its partners’ internal systems — taking the information from silos to a more consolidated place, which enables users to do their work with more information and therefore, more efficiently, according to Stephenson.
"There's a lot of systems we use. There's a lot of spreadsheets … So getting data out of those remote systems and bringing them up into the platform enables us to make real-time decisions," he said.
Stephenson noted his latest tally for the number of checkpoints — or pieces of data — about a smartphone that can help determine what a supply chain actor can do with the gadget next is 199. "It ranges from everything from, does the Bluetooth sensor work all the way to has this device been reported lost or stolen?"
One example of how Apkudo has partnered with companies in the supply chain is its implementation of a trading program for Dell. It reached into Dell’s internal systems and was able to see information about devices, such as battery health and other functionality. (Apkudo has also partnered with more a dozen other companies including Apple, Samsung, LG, Amazon, Verizon and FedEx.)
With all of the information that Apkudo’s platform provides, here are some questions it can help answer: What device is it? What is its functional state? What is its cosmetic state? Can it be reused? If it can be reused, how?
At a moment when there are plenty of supply chain challenges, being able to reuse smartphones as well as other electronic devices and/or their parts can be a game changer because they are made of valuable resources — from the rare earth metals contained in their batteries to their individual electronic components.
"I think what's really needed in order to really make the circular economy goal is to get better visibility of [devices] further up the reverse supply chain," Stephenson said. "The more you know about the device before it enters the supply chain, the more we can get the most use out of that device."