Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder who has amassed a fortune large enough to see him crowned the world’s richest person, is to invest part of his wealth in a British technology start-up which wants to become a global logistics titan.
Sky News can reveal that Mr Bezos has agreed to back Beacon, a specialist in digital freight forwarding and supply chain finance.
Mr Bezos – who the Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimates is now worth $143bn (£116bn) – is understood to be participating in a $15m (£12.2m) Series A fundraising, to be announced by Beacon this week.
Luring the world’s wealthiest man as a backer represents a huge coup for Beacon, particularly because as the founder and chief executive of Amazon, Mr Bezos is intimately acquainted with the complexities of supply chain management.
The tycoon, who owns the Washington Post, has a long track record of investing in start-ups, with Airbnb and Grail, a cancer detection company, among those he has backed.
He holds a roughly 12% stake in Amazon, which has vied with Apple, Google’s parent Alphabet, and Microsoft for the status of the world’s most valuable publicly-traded company.
At Friday’s closing share price of $2442.37, Amazon was worth $1.22trn (£988bn).
Launched in 2018, the UK-based company uses artificial intelligence, cloud and other technology to improve operational efficiency for customers organising international trade in their products.
Freight forwarders act as agents between exporters and importers, taking a fee for the service they provide in arranging transport for goods from factories prior to their shipment.
They also administer relevant paperwork required for exports.
The biggest players in the sector include DHL, the global logistics group, and Kuehne + Nagel, but the industry’s is regarded as having been slow to embrace the digital age.
Beacon was set up to drive efficiencies in a historically fragmented industry, with industry sources saying this weekend that the timing of its latest fundraising was shrewd.
The coronavirus pandemic has elevated the issue of supply chain integrity onto multinationals’ board agendas around the world.
Factories in parts of China – known as ‘the workshop of the world’, because of its manufacturing capacity – were closed for several weeks earlier this year because of the virus, leaving companies scrambling to find alternative production routes for their goods.
Beacon is understood to have seen strong demand during the crisis from companies in the e-commerce and homewares sector, in particular.
The company offers a range of services – including global ocean, air freight and truck – which can be accessed and managed on a single platform.
Its technology provides both a real-time view of the global delivery of cargo and data on global shipping costs and prices, with machine-learning tools allowing it to optimise shipping routes and processes for improved cost, speed and reliability.
Sources say it is markedly different to the likes of Uber Freight, a division of Uber Technologies, which offers point-to-point deliveries using trucks, with bookings made online.
One insider said the provision of supply chain finance was another key differentiator for Beacon.
The company helps importers to address cashflow needs by offering financing within 72 hours – a critical issue for importers who invariably have to pay suppliers before goods begin a shipment journey that can take several months.
By investing in Beacon, Mr Bezos joins one of the most prominent investor line-ups of any early-stage tech company in the world.
Its shareholders includes Eric Schmidt, the former Google chief executive, and Travis Kalanick, the Uber Technologies founder who was forced out of the ride-sharing start-up last year.
Beacon was founded by two former Uber executives, Fraser Robinson and Dmitri Izmailov.
Pierre Martin, the company’s chief technology officer, previously worked at Amazon.
“It is a management team with deep expertise in logistics, technology, finance and hyper-growth,” a source said.
According to sources close to Beacon, its new funding will be deployed to expand its workforce and invest in new technological capability.
As part of the latest fundraising, 8VC, a Silicon Valley-based investor, is also acquiring a stake in the company.
Beacon is said to be on course to grow its revenues fivefold this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic expected to fuel demand for its services as clients seek to make their supply chains work more smoothly.
The company is also likely to benefit from supply chain complexities exacerbated by continuing Brexit-related uncertainty, investors believe.
A Beacon spokesman declined to comment on Sunday.