Rebuilding American Manufacturing
Sustainment Closes $12M Series A Financing
Sustainment’s journey to build more resilient and connected U.S. manufacturing supply chains reached an important milestone this month. I’m excited to share the news that Sustainment recently closed a $12M Series A financing led by Unless, an investment firm focused on catalyzing the new industrial revolution.
This is a transformational moment for our team and our community as we work together to revitalize manufacturing in the United States. Today I’d like to convey what we’re working on, and why we believe our journey is important to our country’s national and economic security.
Sustainment is a digital manufacturing community of over 50,000 manufacturing executives and technology users across 20,000 companies and growing. Our vision is to reimagine the American manufacturing base as a hyperconnected, secure, and resilient ecosystem of local and regional suppliers, enabling manufacturers to more easily connect and interact with the industry and government organizations that support or rely on them.
Our mission, put simply, is to apply technology to help manufacturers find, evaluate, and engage with qualified U.S.-based suppliers and help suppliers showcase their expertise and capabilities to new customers and partners.
Aerobraze Engineered Technologies
We have a lot of work to do – and the stakes are high. Manufacturing is an incredibly large and important industry for the United States, representing 11% of GDP and 12% of employment. There are approximately 283,000 manufacturers in the US, 98.9% of whom are categorized as small businesses employing under 500 people, and 83.6% employ fewer than 50 people. While most of us are only familiar with the big names in industry, it takes an entire ecosystem of manufacturing suppliers to build the end products we rely upon. Aerospace and automotive manufacturers have an average of 12,000 and 18,000 suppliers, respectively. These businesses are spread throughout the country and represent the cornerstone of many U.S. communities.
Unfortunately, this essential American industry is extremely fragmented and underutilized as a result of decades of offshoring. There are approximately 25% fewer U.S. manufacturing firms and plants now than there were in 1997. Much of the innovation in this space over the past 30 years has been oriented towards helping companies outsource production internationally, and while powerful companies such as Alibaba allow users to discover, evaluate, and engage with manufacturers on the other side of the world, supplier sourcing in the U.S. still generally operates like it did before the internet.
Tailwinds for American Manufacturing
The good news is that today, unlike a decade ago, manufacturing has again captured America’s imagination. Even three short years ago, when we launched Sustainment, U.S. supply chains were not part of the everyday business narrative. Since then, we have experienced the escalation of U.S.-China tariffs, the COVID-19 pandemic, a boat getting stuck in the Suez Canal, and a major-power war on the European Continent. These have resulted in massive supply chain issues, ranging from microchips to baby formula, which show no sign of abating.
People are now paying attention, as these challenges have exposed the underlying structural and strategic weaknesses inherent in the offshore-first supply chain strategy that has been in vogue over the past 30 years. Business, academic, policy, and national security executives are all aligned in agreeing that this has to change in order to ensure U.S. competitiveness and national security going forward. U.S. manufacturing is a uniquely bipartisan issue that the entire country is rallying around.
Here is a sampling of recent investments in U.S. manufacturing:
Defense: new directives to attract new entrants and increase small business participation described in the State of Competition within the Defense Industrial Base (Feb 2022) and Securing Defense-Critical Supply Chains (Feb 2022) reports
Building: construction of new manufacturing facilities in the US increased 116% last year (Jul 2022)
We view these tailwinds as the near-term evidence of a long-term secular shift towards more localized supply chains that will define the next generation. As technology and automation in the manufacturing sector increases, the economic advantage of offshoring into low labor-cost markets is decreasing. We are seeing this trend already and expect it to accelerate as more software, AI, and automation are integrated into manufacturing. When we add to that shift the increasing uncertainty and geopolitical risk associated with far-off global supply chains, we get an environment where business leaders simply must re-evaluate their overseas supply chains.
This strategic shift does not necessitate that all manufacturing comes back to the United States, as North America and potentially the entire Western Hemisphere will likely satisfy the imperative to localize. However, this is a generational moment to build infrastructure and capability so that American manufacturers can truly benefit from these tailwinds.
Delays and congestion at the Port of Long Beach
At Sustainment, we believe that the entire manufacturing ecosystem must grow together. In our evaluation of what has and has not worked in other countries and in prior eras of U.S. industrial history, we observe that manufacturing never works well in silos. There must be vibrant interaction between all tiers of the supply chain, from the large OEM down to the family-owned machine shop down at the 4th and 5th tier.
Our approach is to link this entire ecosystem on a single platform that delivers value to all members, resulting in quality, timely manufacturer data which can be applied to solve critical challenges at the local, state, and national level. Three broad initiatives frame our efforts:
We provide a free community experience for small-medium sized manufacturing suppliers who want to present their capabilities to new customers while finding, connecting, and collaborating with new partners.
We enable sourcing and supply chain professionals in both government and industry who need modern, data-driven tools to find, compare, organize, and securely engage with the best domestic manufacturing suppliers.
We accelerate the effectiveness of state, regional, and national manufacturing support organizations who need access, visibility, and connectivity into regional manufacturing ecosystems.
We’ve cut our teeth supporting the DoD, to help solve its massive challenge of adding tens of thousands of new manufacturers to the Defense Industrial Base. One Air Force customer described Sustainment as building “an automated market research capability to search the web to connect parts and suppliers with Air Force Sustainment Center needs.”
Our initial success in Texas has come in partnership with TMAC, the most significant federally funded manufacturing enablement group in the state. TMAC’s executive director Rodney Reddic offered that, “By partnering with Sustainment, we have the opportunity to build a common operating environment for the entire Texas manufacturing ecosystem on a platform that exposes our customers to technologies and features that will accelerate their growth and give Texas manufacturers an additional competitive advantage.”
Most importantly, we rely on the trust and partnership of American manufacturers like Jacob Melton, the owner of Houston-based Amtex Precision. “The Sustainment platform is a great resource,” Melton told us, “and has helped us identify opportunities and partners we wouldn’t otherwise have had access to.”
We’ll use this round of capital to accelerate the process of delivering on this model – and more. In the near term, we’ll significantly increase our software development, data science, and AI engineering teams; expand our channel partnerships with state and local stakeholders to help us touch more manufacturers as we carry their messaging forward; and expand the already significant reach of CompanyWeek, Sustainment’s independent media voice and manufacturing events platform, to showcase companies reimagining the sector.
There’s much to do, and we are excited to work with investors who have partnered with us on this journey. Raising capital with this level of interest in today’s environment is not the norm, and we appreciate the vision and commitment of Unless, along with Congress Avenue Ventures, Victorum Capital, and the other investors who participated in this round. “We believe so strongly in Sustainment,” said Unless Co-Founder and Managing Partner Trevor Zimmerman, “that we committed 90% of the capital for this round. We view our investment in Sustainment as an investment in the future of American industry. We’re excited to partner with Bret, Michael, and the rest of the Sustainment Team to help companies of all sizes build resilient, efficient, secure, and sustainable domestic supply chains.”
Sustainment is a software platform that intelligently connects the fragmented ecosystem of small and medium-sized American suppliers with their enterprise customers to enable agile supply chain networks. Our software enables US-based manufacturers to find and engage with the critical suppliers they need to build secure, resilient, domestic supplier networks.
Purpose-built to catalyze the new industrial revolution, Unless is an investment firm that delivers unique insights and partnership for impact-oriented industrial entrepreneurs and investors. Unless brings together exceptional teams across private and public markets and couples them with our collective of experts to deploy capital for maximum return and maximum impact.