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This is a guest blog by Venessa Wong, who joined BusinessWeek’s Innovation+Design team in June.
Data, packaged usefully and cleverly, can have enormous utility and appeal. Nate Silver proved this when his political Web site fivethirtyeight.com gained a following with its stats-based projections and analysis during the 2008 presidential election.
In the supply chain world, a geek-chic startup called Panjiva is crunching numbers for a business purpose—to evaluate suppliers worldwide. Sitting in an airy studio office in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, CEO Josh Green, 31, explains that supplier databases such as Alibaba.com already exist but none takes objective data to evaluate and rate companies exporting to the U.S. Scoring can add perspective to previously overlooked or underutilized information—and make it suddenly irresistible to consumers.
“Every data source was underused,” he says. “U.S. Customs was a great data source but underused because it was so messy.”
Panjiva has so far analyzed 700,000 suppliers from 190 countries and placed the results in an online search engine, like a Google for suppliers. To do this, CTO Jim Psota, 29, spent two years designing algorithms with machine-learning systems to clean up and analyze 20 million shipping records from U.S. Customs & Border Protection along with data from legal, trade, and social responsibility sources in the U.S. and China.
He compares the technology to automated trading models in the finance industry. “Every data source has weaknesses. Looking at multiple data sources and triangulating is really critical,” Psota says.
Panjiva plans to launch a function this summer that will allow sources to apply to add data to the platform to create a richer pool and "democratize the availability of information," says Green. "There are a lot of companies doing innovative things and we’ll accomplish more by harnessing their innovations to serve clients.
"We don’t have size going for us," Green says. Indeed, Panjiva has all of nine employees. "What we have is being innovative and it’s how we’ll succeed.”
What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.