14 Oct 2021 --- Novi Connect is to use recently won investment to focus on developing accurate data on transparency and sustainability within the beauty and personal care industry. The company has sourced US$10.3 million from several investors including Greylock, with participation from Defy Partners; Thomas Layton, Executive Chairman of Upwork; and Yannis Skoufalos, former Global Product Supply Officer at Procter & Gamble. The finance will allow Novi’s founder to pursue her passion of using data-based science to reveal the full picture behind personal care.
“I have always been a wellness junkie, extremely passionate about health and the environment,” says Kimberly Shenk, CEO and Founder of Novi. “And my superpower is problem solving. I am totally motivated and turned on by the impossible, especially when it comes to using data and technology to drive progress.”
Click to EnlargeKimberly Shenk opens up about opening up for full transparency. Source: Novi Connect.Before serving as a data scientist and Captain in the United States Air Force, Shenk studied data science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and has built software products in the technology industry over the last 13 years. “I decided to co-found a company that took a data approach to build personal care products that are better for health and the environment,” explains Shenk. “But during this experience, I quickly learned about the difficulties of bringing a transparent product to market.”
Embarking on this process raised some worrying insights, Shenk reveals: “I was shocked to uncover the major constraints and the lack of tools available. It was nearly impossible to find source data for the ingredients and packaging we wanted to use for our products.” Seeing this as a data problem, she set out to solve it, which led to the beginning of Novi. “I never guessed it would be a solution the broader market desired,” expresses Shenk.
As consumers, we are accustomed to modern e-commerce experiences. However, Novi’s experience signaled that the up-and-coming generation of business buyers has new expectations for the currently antiquated, offline purchasing experience.
“When combining technology, transparency and sustainability in the BPC industry, the key consideration is data,” relays Shenk. “Data is power because it provides transparency to enable better decision making. Technology is what will allow the flow of information to happen between material suppliers and consumer brands.”
Novi believes technology will give brands the transparency needed to responsibly source materials, along with providing the data they need to know if a material is more sustainable than its counterparts. At present, Novi is using technology to rapidly assess ingredients, fragrances, flavors, formulas and packaging down to their source. Working with hundreds of innovative suppliers and manufacturers, the company is able to access source data so that brands can find industry-leading materials that are pre-vetted. For example, it includes how glycerin was derived and the certifications it meets, along with the ability to rapidly sample and purchase these ingredients with transparent pricing and lead times.
Combining privacy with openness
Novi believes that the key technical consideration is to enable transparency without disclosure. As a result, the data network which links beauty suppliers, manufacturers and retailers with materials also helps manage that information disclosure with its partners, while considering brands’ intellectual property (IP).
“We want to help protect IP because that is the foundation of how this industry operates and thrives,” details Shenk. “So when we think about balancing transparency and IP, it means Novi serves as the secure third-party to verify information.”
Detailing how the brand sees this play out in all aspects of the BPC industry, Shenk explains: “Consumers are demanding more transparency, but brands don't want to share their proprietary formulas with the world.” Brands are demanding transparency from their manufacturers, Shenk details, but “third party manufacturers don’t want to share their IP”.
Shenk adds: “Transparency while protecting intellectual property has a cascading effect down the supply chain and it's really hard, if not impossible, for any single player in this ecosystem to build technology to achieve full transparency on their own. The challenge is building a network where all players go to share information.”
The founder created Novi for this very reason - to help facilitate information sharing between all of these parties at scale. It aims to build a marketplace that automates information gathering and provides a data-rich experience for material procurement in the service of helping brands source more sustainable materials.
“The opportunity is massive,” Shenk details. “Solving this will bring the broader chemical industry online and enable its transformation.”
By Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe, BPC Insights Senior Journalist