Founder Spotlight: Manik Suri
How did you find yourself in technology?
Back in 2011, I met Beth Noveck, the deputy CTO in the first Obama Administration, while I was working on the White House National Economic Council team. Beth was giving a talk on a book she had written, “Wiki Government.” The central idea was that network and data technologies are transforming social and commercial life, yet law and government are still run like it’s 1950. There seemed to be a massive opportunity to transform these important sectors, in ways that were socially impactful and commercially compelling. I was inspired. That’s how I decided to move into tech.
How did you end up becoming an entrepreneur?
Fast forward a couple of years, my co-founder Aaron Cohen and I thought we could build a technology company in the regulatory and compliance space. We launched a startup that developed tools to improve health and safety workflows for both business and government. Our first customer was the New York State Department of Health in Albany. Then in late 2015, Chipotle had a series of major food safety issues and we started moving into the ‘farm to fork’ supply chain, focused on food safety and quality assurance. A few years later, our head of engineering Andrew Hager (who is now our CTO) thought that we could replace manual refrigeration checks with sensor-based automation. We started working on a second product called Temperature Humidity Energy Remote Monitoring Application, or THERMA, which eventually became our flagship product. That’s the origin of Therma°.
What has been your most unexpected customer reaction?
We were testing Therma° in a warehouse that was holding PPE and vaccines for COVID-19. We asked, “What are you replacing? What are you doing today?” They said, “Well, we’ve got two guys who walk around every three hours with a clipboard to check the temperatures.” And these were vaccines, and they’re critical to the US response on COVID. That was just shocking. And it revealed how inefficient and antiquated the supply chain is in the refrigeration industry. We were all pretty surprised by that.
How did the pandemic impact Therma°?
The cold storage sector, and food and pharma supply chains in general, came under a lot of pressure last year because COVID-19 drove burgeoning demand for e-commerce, grocery and meal delivery. Then in the fall of 2020, as mRNA-based vaccines emerged requiring ultra cold conditions, the cold chain became a lot more top-of-mind and people got a lot more focused on refrigeration. Therma° happened to be in market at a time when there was a lot of interest in solutions like ours. So we’ve actually grown quite a bit during the pandemic. We raised another round of venture capital this spring, and we’re now on a mission to build a smart cold chain for food and pharma, advancing human health by enabling life saving products to reach people around the world. And critically, by doing it in ways that don’t destroy the planet — we urgently need cleaner cooling, since the industry is already responsible for nearly 10% of global warming and growing rapidly.