KLU graduate Ivan Flores’s idea was simple enough: make the process of shipping of containers between Mexico and Northern Europe easier. Like all ideas it was nothing without execution, however, and after a previous employer passed on his suggestion to help facilitate trade on a route traditionally considered risky, it was left to Flores to pursue it himself.
The logical progression of the idea, says Flores, who comes from Hermosillo in Mexico, was to start up a digital freight-forwarding platform together with his partner, compatriot and fellow graduate of the KLU’s MSc in Global Logistics and SCM programme, Amanda Del Valle.
“We evolved the idea together, but I was the one driving it forward because Amanda was still studying and I didn’t have a job at that time. I was like: ‘OK, if I don’t launch this company myself, I’ll never launch a company in my life.’”
The idea was hatched in April, 2017. Seven months later, Clinch Logistics, with the collaboration of countryman and KLU classmate Jorge Trujillo, was launched in Hamburg.
The company takes its name from the idea that to “clinch something”, is to make it secure, explains Flores, the company’s CEO. “Clinch for me is secure, like we got your cargo.”
“We are the risk managers of the whole chain,” elaborates Del Valle, Clinch’s Chief Operating Officer. “So, we outsource the service with the trucking companies and the shipping lines so our customers don’t have to deal with each of the suppliers, they just have to talk to us and we’ll do it through a platform which makes it easier for them. It’s a door-to-door service and for our customers it is really time-saving, because they don’t have to build partnerships with suppliers in Mexico or in Europe.”
“They already have a forwarder if they are exporting or importing,” says Flores. “But as opposed to other forwarders, we are not starting with accumulating assets, we’re starting with the software, but are looking for the assets that are already there but not being utilised 100 percent. Kind of like that Uber mentality of utilising the sharing economy.”
Also being exploited by the start-up is the experience, knowledge and skills accumulated by its founders while studying at the KLU. “There are a lot of platforms out there that will match cargo with forwarders and then say: ‘OK, you guys do the actual operations, but we are just the contact for you,’” says Flores. “But we want our customers to say: ‘These guys have Master’s in logistics, so take our cargo, we trust you with our cargo.’”
“Having a Master’s degree from KLU means something in Hamburg,” says Del Valle. “It’s not just a school, it’s a brand. So, when you say you did your Master’s at KLU, they know where it is, who is teaching there, contacts there - it’s been a great advantage.”
Like the majority of start-ups, Clinch faces the challenge of attracting investment, but has received some assistance from the City of Hamburg, says Flores. “Hamburg is doing a good push to get entrepreneurs funded and we have some angel investors from industry leaders that want to get close to the company.”
Additionally, the city has helped the company with subsidised office space shared with other maritime technology start-ups through its Digital Hub Logistics programme, implemented by Logistik-Initiative Hamburg.
Navigating bureaucracy in Germany, particularly as they do not hold European passports, and the need, as founders of a start-up, to organise themselves and their time have also been significant challenges. “If you don’t do something yourself, you’ll never get it done,” says Flores.
And while competition in the logistics industry is fierce, the pair says that competition exists because of demand. Clinch, for its part, satisfies the need for a digitalised door-to-door service on a route considered risky. It’s a USP the company sees as transferrable to other routes. “One of our investors has a shipping line between Dubai and Madagascar so if our service works between Germany and Mexico, it can work there, too,” says Flores.
Still only a start-up, the company is slowly growing and, in addition to its three KLU graduates, all of whom are based in Hamburg, Clinch now employs an Operations Director and a Chief Technical Officer in Mexico.
As a logistics firm founded and operated by Mexicans in Hamburg offering a unique service, Clinch is a ground breaking business in more ways than one. Understandably, it has also been a source of inspiration for KLU students pondering their own careers. “We presented at the KLU Start-Up Day in January and a lot of Latin American students came to us and said: ‘You guys are awesome, I would have never thought that me coming from Colombia or Guatemala I could do something like that over here,’” says Flores.
And his advice to them? “Whatever you want to do, just do it. Ask the right questions, find the right people and do it. Never doubt yourself.”