The New Global Economy: an Interview with Interos CEO Jennifer Bisceglie
The Spencer Trask network embodies both the leadership and experience of Spencer Trask & Co. and the bright ideas of our executive entrepreneurs. Together, our network develops those ideas into world-leading companies. It is a high caliber group of men and women who work tirelessly to change the world for the better. One such executive is Jennifer Bisceglie, President and CEO of Interos.
Jennife Bisceglie is a pioneer and recognized leader in helping companies and governments identify, analyze, and mitigate against supply chain risks. Interos recently completed the technology acquisition of Spencer Trask startup, Trensant. Building on this technology, Interos’ AI platform now processes more than 85,000 sources of data to provide dynamic and actionable knowledge graphs in real time. Ms. Bisceglie has graciously agreed to talk with Spencer Trask writer, John Essick about her career, the emergence of global supply chain risks to companies, and her work with organizations committed to encouraging women entrepreneurs across the globe.
John Essick: You graduated from West Virginia University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance, and then your career took on a different trajectory. Today you’re one of the most sought-after experts on cyber and supply chain risk. How did you end up where you are today?
Jennifer Bisceglie: After graduation, I answered a blind job application, which turned out to be a customer service position at the distribution center warehouse for Nine West Shoes. I was very fortunate because the executive at that location, Ron Dente, saw something in me and ended up building a management program on my behalf. I gained a thorough understanding of every job in the distribution center. When I became the first co-lead for their IT department, we built technology to efficiently monitor operations, which actually ended up becoming Oracle’s warehouse management system.
During my time at Nine West in the early 1990’s, we as a country were becoming a global economy. Given this, we were off-shoring the manufacturing of shoes. At that time, supply chain risk was defined as quality issues, given that we could no longer see the product being made on our shop room floor. After that, working for companies across varying industries, both in the U.S. and overseas, enabled me to begin to see the business world in global terms. Once the Internet came along, we became digitally connected to companies in ways that we weren’t prepared to understand. No one was looking at the global supply chain in terms of this physical and digital interconnectedness, and I capitalized on that.
Fast-forward to today, Interos offers our customers the world’s leading supply-chain assurance platform, delivering data and analytics that allow business leaders to identify, visualize, and act confidently on the ripple effects that could impact their supply chains, before they happen. C-Suites and Boards can now understand and quickly respond to the unexpected impact on operations in order to reduce their losses.
JE: What is the number one step companies can take to protect themselves from supply chain risk?
JB: Companies need to map out their sub-tier relationships to understand who they’re globally connected to. When a new supplier comes into the mix for a company, the risk or the opportunity is not necessarily with the company they’ve contracted with, but rather with the outsourced vendors that support that supplier.
For instance, ethical sourcing has become an important issue. A food company that sources globally should investigate the farm that their supplier is sourcing from. Does that sub-tier supplier treat their land well or is it involved in child labor?
We do a lot of work with the federal government, and there are several countries that pose security or supply chain risks. We look at where they may exist in a global supply chain and provide this visibility to our customers so they can make informed business decisions.
JE: With the Trensant AI platform you’re able to see these supply chain relationships?
JB: We purchased the Trensant AI platform last fall and fully integrated it into the existing Interos platform in 60 days. This catapulted our development process ahead over 2 years. The combined technology brings in over 200 new pieces of information every 20 seconds, categorizing and continuously monitoring all that data. When opportunities or risks are detected, our customers are informed. Every company is part of a vast eco-system of relationships; business leaders need to know how each has the potential to influence its bottom line.
JE: Was it difficult for companies to understand these risks?
JB: At first, companies didn’t realize that they could ask suppliers questions in order to dig deeper into where and with whom their vendors are outsourcing operations.
JE: What questions should companies be asking?
JB: “Where are you sourcing from?” or “How are you ensuring quality?” or “How are you ensuring ethical sourcing, and making sure there are no child labor or conflict minerals included in your operations?” The big question is, “How are you ensuing your suppliers don’t have these issues.” Again, it’s not the supplier you know, it’s all of the sub-tier suppliers that create vulnerabilities.
JE: Have you noticed a growing awareness about supply chain risks?
JB: Yes. About 80 percent of data breaches originate in the supply chain and most businesses have no visibility passed the supplier they’re contracting with. One of the most famous recent events was NotPetya, costing the affected business an aggregate over $10B.
Other recent examples include the 2013 Target breach through a vulnerability in their HVAC supplier and 2014’s SONY data breach was attributed to North Korea. Then, Equifax had its data breached through an indirect partner. As a result, Boards and C-Suites quickly realized that they have a fiduciary responsibility to thoroughly investigate those direct and indirect relationships and how they might impact their business. Today, leveraging innovations in technology, we can scrutinize relationships in a near real-time fashion to enable businesses with a fighting chance.
JE: Interos recently acquired AI platform, Trensant, a startup developed and supported through the Spencer Trask network. Can you discuss how AI has an impact in terms of monitoring potential risk?
JB: Technology is the reason Interos has the ability to educate the market more thoroughly. We developed our platform in 2014, partnering with several data aggregators, one of which was Trensant. After a few months, we realized that there was a real synergy between the supply chain risk management services Interos provides and the enablement via the Trensant AI platform. We were going to build the same type of platform, but it would have been a two-year development cycle. Buying that technology dramatically accelerated the timeline for us. As a result, we were able to hit the market at the right time.
JE: In the press release announcing the acquisition of Trensant, you said that you see the Trensant AI platform as not only enhancing the quantitative insight, but also the qualitative insight of the data. Can you elaborate on that idea?
JB: Our team is constantly teaching the machine better ways to think, and do what a computer does best, siphon through data quickly and pursuant to algorithms and identify patterns. In this way, we’re able to use data (quantitative)and inferences, and pattern analysis to compliment this information with qualitative information.
JE: How important do you see startups like Trensant in terms of delivering innovative solutions to help protect companies, and help them run more efficiently?
JB: I think small businesses are where innovation happens. I’ll tell you a short story to make my point.
My business is 14 years old, and we’re still small. I had a meeting with a customer two weeks ago, and a gentleman in the meeting said, “I’m going to say something to you and it’s not going to sound right — I can’t believe you made it.” Then he told his team that he had met me six or seven years ago and he couldn’t believe I was able to stay in business to become the leader in our industry that we are today. He thought I was too far ahead of the market to survive.
I believe being small has been the key. Interos has been profitable since starting out, but because I’m small I don’t have the added pressure to report my revenues and growth every year. The company is able to stay laser-focused on the market, which enables us to innovate, time the market, and then fly.
JB: When I moved to Washington D.C. in the early 2000s, I was ready to launch my own business. I connected with the president at an organization with a mission of advocating for women impacting public policy. She brought me in, and I was able to form a support network of really amazing women business owners.
As a result, I was able to join forces with WIPP, an organization that represents more than 5 million women entrepreneurs in the U.S. Its mission is to advocate on behalf of women-owned businesses and spur alliances that help everybody grow together. Quantum Leaps helped me take that message internationally.
JE: You mentioned the impact that Ron Dente had on your career as a mentor. Is that another reason for your commitment to giving back and helping others get a start?
JB: In terms of mentors, if Ron Dente had not exposed me to the operations at Nine West the way that he did, and allowed me to add technology to the mix, my career would not have taken the path that it did. The stance that I take is this: I want to become an example of what is possible. I want to help today’s entrepreneurs have a better start than where I started twenty years ago. It’s about showing others how you get there, what works and doesn’t work, and teach them how to take actions that will help them and their businesses become successful.
About Interos, Inc.
Interos Inc., (Interos.net), with the world’s leading supply-chain assurance platform, delivers data and analytics that allow business leaders to identify, visualize and act confidently on the ripple effects that could impact their supply chains, before they happen. Using billions of real-time inputs from 85,000 live aggregated sources worldwide, the Interos AI platform reveals new risks and opportunities by modeling positive and negative interactions and outcomes and measuring supply chain health. Located in Arlington, VA, Interos is a 14-year-old privately held company with commercial and public-sector customers in finance, consumer products, food, defense, intelligence, manufacturing, retail, and technology.
About Spencer Trask & Co.
Spencer Trask & Co. transforms big ideas into world changing investments through the power of the Spencer Trask Network. The company has been instrumental in helping companies pioneer technological and scientific advancements in the fields of genomics, healthcare technology, mobile technology, AI, and Open Innovation. Scientists and entrepreneurs partner with Spencer Trask because the company provides the precise combination of experience, guidance, and foundational capital to protect and build on big ideas. Working with advisors and private investors, Spencer Trask develops those ideas into world-leading companies.