Hong Kong startup ICW eyes supply chain diversification demand amid trade war
For American importers, finding suppliers these days can be challenging not only due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The U.S. government’s entity list designations, human rights-related sanctions, among other trade blacklists targeting Chinese firms have also rattled U.S. supply chains.
One young company called International Compliance Workshop, or ICW, is determined to make sourcing easier for companies around the world as it completed a fresh round of funding. The Hong Kong-based startup has just raised $5.75 million as part of its Series A round, boosting its total funding to around $10 million, co-founder and CEO Garry Lam told TechCrunch.
ICW works like a matchmaker for suppliers and buyers, but unlike existing options like Alibaba’s B2B platform or international trade shows, ICW also vets suppliers over compliance, product quality, and accreditation. It gathers all that information into its growing database of over 40,000 suppliers — 80% of which are currently in China — and recommends them to customers based on individual needs.
Founded in 2016, ICW’s current client base includes some of the world’s largest retailers, including Ralph Lauren, Prenatal Retail Group, Blokker, Kmart, and a major American pharmacy chain that declined to be named.
ICW’s latest funding round was led by Infinity Ventures Partners with participation from Integrated Capital and existing investors MindWorks Capital and the Hong Kong government’s $2 billion Innovation and Technology Venture Fund.
In line with the ongoing shift of sourcing outside China, in part due to the U.S.-China trade war and China’s growing labor costs, ICW has seen more customers diversifying their supply chains. But the transition has limitations in the short run.
“It’s still very difficult to find suppliers of certain product categories, for example, Bluetooth devices and power banks, in other countries,” observed Lam. “But for garment and textile, the transition already began to happen a decade ago.”
In Southeast Asia, which has been replacing a great deal of Chinese manufacturing activity, each country has its slight specialization. Whereas Vietnam abounds with wooden furniture suppliers, Thailand is known for plastic goods and Malaysia is a good source for medical supplies, said Lam.
When it comes to trickier compliance burdens, such as human rights sanctions, ICW relies on third-party certification institutes to screen and verify suppliers.
“There is a [type of] qualification standard that verifies whether a supplier has fulfilled its corporate social responsibility… like whether the factory fulfills the labor law, the minimum labor rights, or the payroll, everything,” Lam explained.
ICW plans to use the fresh proceeds to further develop its products, including its compliance management system, product testing platform, and B2B sourcing site.
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