It’s that old chestnut: you’re a luxury pants brand that wants to make a product that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy because you only use fair-trade, sustainably grown ingredients and materials, but you don’t know where to look. Before you know it, Novi is bursting through the wall with a freshly pressed pitcher of solutions to all your problems, recently backed by a bundle of $40 million worth of checks from Tiger, Defy and Greylock.
Novi is a B2B marketplace for sustainable, innovative ingredients and packaging, helping its thousands of customers to market products with more sustainable materials. Essentially, Novi takes a data-rich network of suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and brands, making it easier to formulate, discover, taste and buy sustainable and innovative ingredients and packaging when building new products. The idea is simple: if you make it easier for brands to make sustainable products, the excuse not to do so will disappear, and hopefully we will make the planet burn a little less brightly under the burden of our rampant consumerism.
“At the beginning of my career I joined the Air Force and I wanted to work on difficult problems. I had an incredible career as a data scientist in the Air Force. And then I started building data teams for technology companies like Eventbrite,” explains Kimberly Shenk, CEO and founder. “I got pregnant in 2017 and started to become very aware of the products I was using and the ingredients in my products. I became obsessed with learning about human health and environmental toxicity. In 2017 I started a brand – NakedPoppy – to address this. I took advantage of all the passion I have for data science to build personal care products that are better for your health and the environment. I have personally experienced how difficult it is to bring a truly sustainable product to the market.”
Shenk found that it was difficult to source trusted materials and that it is difficult for a small business without a massive, sophisticated supply chain analytics operation to assess the materials. NakedPoppy started by building a database to record the findings along the way, and in the process discovered that this could be the start of the new company. Other brands started showing interest and Novi was born at the intersection of the founder’s interest in data and her personal experience trying to build a sustainable brand.
Novi’s existence as a B2B marketplace is particularly interesting, as we’ve seen a huge trend evolve in that area lately:
“Basically, we help brands find sustainable materials and build sustainable products. We do that as a B2B marketplace and so the data is that suppliers list their materials — things like ingredients or fragrances or packaging — and they give us a wealth of data,” explains Shenk. “As a trusted third party, we review the materials on different standards that they may care about so that they can find materials that are trusted for their sustainability impact and then build a better product.”
The company collects its data in several ways. OOn the supply side of the business — such as chemical suppliers — there is a wealth of scientists who are good at capturing data, but who don’t have a structured way to store the data or distribute it to interested parties. That’s where Novi comes in, digitizing and categorizing the information. The company also works with certification bodies to record what is certified as biodegradable, vegan, fair trade, and so on. In addition, there are data sources to measure and use data to determine how sustainable something is, so that it is sucked into the company’s massive database as well.
“Pre-Novi, brands spent weeks searching for materials and interpreting disparate material documentation to determine if they met complex industry standards,” Shenk says. Novi collects, processes and digitizes all this data, ensuring real-time accuracy against the ever-changing standards and claims, enabling our users to make sustainable procurement decisions more efficiently and with confidence.”
Of course, as with any data game, it’s a GIGO game – garbage in, garbage out. It’s easy enough to stick a “sustainably grown” sticker on a pallet of wood and call it a day, and until now there hasn’t been much reason for brands to look much deeper than that. That’s one of the things Novi would like to change.
“We guarantee the accuracy of our assessments, but if the supplier falsifies data…” says Shenk, who claims it’s actually quite difficult to falsify the data due to the amount of information associated with certifications. “We cannot solve that on our own; There are, of course, certification bodies that certify responsibly sourced palm oil. They go out and try to make a change in the way you certify something that meets those standards. But when we start to increase, the suppliers are: actually doing good and bringing them to brands that are really looking for better materials – that’s the shift we’re starting to see the industry change.”
Novi doesn’t want to share exact numbers, but claims “thousands” of customers, who work with brands like Croda, Grove Collaborative, Sephora, Target and many others.
Novi plans to use its new capital to build complementary technology for both sides of the market to meet evolving sustainability claims, expand its selection of ingredients, fragrances and packaging, and expand into new verticals. markets like home care and food — segments that Novi already sees organic traction in.