Startland News’ Startup Road Trip series explores innovative and uncommon ideas finding success in rural America and Midwestern startup hubs outside the Kansas City metro. This series is possible thanks to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which leads a collaborative, nationwide effort to identify and remove large and small barriers to new business creation.
MANHATTAN — A tech platform built by two business students at Kansas State University could ease the nation’s supply chain crisis, they declared.
“Its wild how big of an impact we can [make] — and scary, in some senses, that two 20-year-old college students can do something like this,” said Will Strout, a Leawood native turned co-founder and president of DataSource — a data solutions startup working to improve efficiency across industries.
Such a mission begins with aid for logistics companies, added Tyler Bolz, Strout’s classmate who founded the company in 2021 amid a finals week realization, he recalled.
“Kansas City is booming with logistics [companies.] And it doesn’t take a genius to realize we’re in the center of the country,” Bolz joked.
“I’ve been working in the logistics space for a long time. … I’ve been talking to a lot of these companies and one thing I’ve found is that the smaller companies are really struggling to gather leads and connect and beat the Amazons of the world,” he continued.
“So, instead of doing my finals, I built a website.”
The platform (and the company that owns it) were inspired, in part, by the shuttered McCain Foods factory and distribution center in Bolz hometown of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, which in 2015 saw 120 people lose their jobs.
“It employed all of my friends, all my friends’ dads who were truck drivers or worked in the warehouse. … It killed the town, which really sucks,” he recalled.
“These companies are fighting Amazon — they’re fighting Jeff Bezos.”
Bolz and Strout have found new urgency in their mission amid a nationwide supply chain breakdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, they revealed, adding their warehouse location optimization (WLO) feature is easy to deploy and ready to deliver relief, giving companies a data-driven recommendation on where the best locations are to open or build warehouses.
The company is currently in talks with several manufacturers to help deliver free COVID tests to homes within two business days.
“What we are trying to do with that is connect these e-commerce sellers or third party sellers with warehouses or any third party logistics operations in the sense of shipping, fulfillment or distribution,” Strout explained, adding the startup acts as a connector of efficiency in an inefficient world.
“With COVID specifically we can [help] strategically place these warehouses across the nation [and] create a network [that fulfills orders of] masks, COVID tests, and COVID shots to make it as efficient as possible to get [these items] to people in one to four business days.”
In route to creating a more efficient supply chain, the company hopes to engage with local officials as it works to bring its technology into the hands of state and, eventually, federal governments, Bolz said.
“We can run this optimization — whether it be on a citywide level, county, state, or the national level. And that’s the key right now, working with local officials [and saying], ‘Alright, if you’re going to get your supplies in, here’s where you want to base [facilities]. Here’s where your shops are, instead of putting it in a really affluent area, maybe you want to spread out across all demographics of the city,’” he continued.
“We have access to that kind of data. A lot of people just don’t really understand how to interpret a lot of that because it comes in messy and it’s a bunch of numbers. We visualize it on a heat map so they can interpret it and make snap decisions and realize, ‘Let’s save some lives. Let’s distribute masks here.’”
The ability to help get necessary PPE and other life-saving items in the hands of those who need them is one the pair doesn’t take lightly, Bolz said, noting he and Strout hope to make a difference in the world at large — creating an example for their future children.
Beyond its ability to disrupt processes within the logistics industry, the potential for DataSource to help better plot warehouse placement could also stand to benefit the environment, Bolz said.
“It reduces their carbon emissions. Sometimes we’re talking by like 200 percent. It’s ridiculous,” he said, noting fewer miles traveled means fewer emissions.
More efficiently placed warehouses could also mean shipping cost reductions of up to 80 percent, the company claims on its website.
Building on Bungii’s legacy
With the startup getting off the ground to much fanfare within the Manhattan startup ecosystem, building the company while in college has presented its co-founders with a unique opportunity to incubate within K-State’s state of the art business school and 160,000-plus alumni, which includes the founders of Overland Park-based Bungii, one of Kansas City’s most-dominant startups.
Click here to read more about Bungii, one of Startland News 12 Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2019.
“Having that network of entrepreneurs that have made it and want to help other people … there’s a range of industries that we get access to and they understand what it’s like to be in Manhattan and be an entrepreneur,” Bolz said, adding that Data Source recently placed second in the K-State Launch student pitch competition — a contest won by Bungii in 2015.
“It’s all about access at K-State and they’re super plugged in. A Bungii success story, everyone loves that — that’s good for K-State. I think Bungii more than anything paved the path for everyone and has shown [investing in student entrepreneurs] is a really good opportunity for K-State and they’ve doubled down on investments in all ways possible.”
Off campus, the startup placed second in Startup MHK, a locally-hosted pitch competition. The co-founders have also received guidance through programming offered by Spark MHK — a nonprofit, entrepreneurship support organization serving Riley county.
“The nice thing about Manhattan is that you’re a bigger fish in a smaller pond — especially when you’re still a small fish, you can at least appear bigger,” Bolz said.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.