Diversity in Innovative Entrepreneurship Exemplified in Lumachain

Jamila Gordon founded Lumachain, a global tech company bringing cutting-edge technology solutions to corporations like Coca-Cola. Her story proves that inclusiveness is crucial to both people and business success, and exclusion deprives the world of creativity and innovation. - BY Donna Chan

Jamila Gordon is not how most people would picture a technology entrepreneur running a global business. Born in a Somalian village and displaced by the Somali civil war, she eventually ending up in Australia where she learned English and earned a college degree in computer science. Some may not think of tech gurus as Black women with brilliant minds, a passion for software engineering, and developers of artificial intelligence-based innovations. Yet that describes Jamila, the Founder and CEO of Lumachain, which she started in 2018. The Lumachain Computer Vision-based Artificial Intelligence platform for food production companies was named a Rising Star on Forbes Magazine’s Cloud 100 list for 2022. This list highlights the top 20 cloud startups that are expected to become one of the best private cloud startups in the future. Already a global player and providing solutions to mega-corporations such as Coca-Cola and JBS Australia, Lumachain is a shining example of how diversity in the supply chain gives minority and women-owned businesses opportunities to generate cutting-edge problem-solving solutions.

Solving a Traceability Problem

Jamila gained her first experience as a software developer , and later at IBM in Paris, France, managing global customer projects for companies that included AXA Insurance and ABN AMRO Bank. After eight years with IBM, she was headhunted back to Australia to work as the Chief Information Officer at Qantas Airways. During this time, she met a colleague managing the Qantas supply chain who had also worked in the food industry. They collaborated to develop traceability technology for critical supply chain items, including fuel and plane parts. The collaboration led to developing a traceability platform for the meat industry.

The food industry has a problem: a lack of traceability throughout the production process. Therefore, that was the first goal of Lumachain: to develop a technology platform that gives full visibility to every step in the food production facility. “We focus on five areas now in food production facilities, restaurants, and supermarkets,” explains Jamila, “They are safety for food and people, increasing yields in primary and secondary processing plants, ensuring food quality, improving operating efficiency inside processing plants, and traceability of meat and food.” Another focus is utilizing technology to train employees in real time.

What is the technology, and how does it work? Computer vision AI uses algorithms that enable interpreting and analyzing the visual world. The AI algorithms use machine learning and neural networks to recognize and classify objects in videos and digital images. Then, computers and systems use and interpret the information to make recommendations and take action. The Lumachain AI system runs its algorithms inside the facility, using cameras and sensors to gather information. It watches, learns, and acts when necessary.

The Camera is the Eye and the AI Algorithm is the Brain

The computer vision AI technology's videos enable real-time employee coaching and mentoring. If AI, for example, stops equipment or identifies unsafe employee behavior, the video snippet is immediately available for training. Jamila gives an example, “If AI notices unsafe employee behavior, it will stop the production line or the equipment and alert the supervisor. To protect employee and food safety, the technology must be trained with the right data.”

The computer vision AI system can track food inside the production facility. AI can track raw materials like beef and chicken to ensure the handling process stays compliant and the raw materials are not forgotten in a freezer or left out too long. The Lumachain system tackles the problematic challenge of bin tracking. When raw material such as meat arrives at the factory, tracking begins immediately. The AI system tracks when the meat is stored, the temperature in the storage unit, when the meat is removed for production to make beef patties, and ascertains whether the raw material is sent to production in the correct order. Lumachain's platform also monitors how efficiently equipment is operating, including when the line is running, how much is produced, and the quality of what’s produced.

The AI system can also monitor yield, assessing how much meat is left on the bones. Food waste is minimized, and the engineer's time is used more efficiently since a human response is only needed when the system indicates an issue has developed. Anything in a supply chain can be traced by combining the Internet of Things devices, and AI, and integrating the technologies with existing customer systems. The goal for Lumachain is to make it a global standard in the food and beverage industry in the five areas mentioned earlier.

Diversity at the Root of Lumachain’s Success

Jamila credits her fantastic team for Lumachain’s success. “Over 23% of our team members have PhDs in computer vision AI. We also have employees with PhDs in food science. We are working closely with leading Australian universities to secure and train top PhD talent, while at the same time, staying current on the latest AI developments.” The workforce is 31% female, which is unusual in an AI company.

The fact Jamila is a woman of color with a diverse background has been a massive advantage in attracting talented people who embrace the company’s values. Lumachain values diversity, and team members care for each other. Employees are intelligent, passionate about problem-solving, and resilient in an industry experiencing constant change. The team members are located in five countries now, and all are encouraged to use their time to develop new products. Given the exponential rate of technological change, Jamila encourages people to spend 15% of their time on what they really care about, promoting creative solutions. “We have virtual show-and-tell monthly meetings,” says Jamila, “during which any employee can showcase cutting-edge technology, and I can share business news.” She always gives members of the AI, software, Internet of Things, and customer-facing teams recognition and empowers them to collaborate.

Fernando Hernandez is the Global Leader, Supplier Diversity at The Coca-Cola Company. He previously was the Supplier Diversity & Sustainability Leader for the Microsoft Corporation, overseeing a $5 billion Supplier Diversity program. Fernando has worked with Jamila since 2018, and the two companies have a high level of trust. Coca-Cola is comfortable sharing its roadmap and true pain points with Jamila. Currently, Lumachain has problem-solved the potential of a ruined product batch due to an employee’s concentration being pulled into another area during a critical production point. A ruined product batch can cost the company $10,000-$20,000. The Lumachain technology safeguards against the ruining of the batch and is used to instruct employees on avoiding future similar events. “This is a case where we have a woman of color leading the way in an area dominated mostly by white males in Silicon Valley. She's on the cutting edge of AI and creating real solutions,” says Fernando.

One of Lumachain’s first clients was JBS Australia, and the relationship continues. JBS Australia sells hormone-free, grass-fed beef and other animal food products and is Australia’s largest multi-species processor, exporter, and feedlot. JBS Australia operates the largest small goods manufacturer, Primo Foods, and also Andrews Meat Industries, a high-value meat cutting and case ready production facility, among other operations. Fernando points out that the Lumachain story is not the typical minority- or women-owned business enterprise story. “Some of the world's largest meat and food companies have aligned themselves with Lumachain’s technology because they know the young company has a real solution and delivers measurable value.”

Making Diversity a Number One Value

Asked about her leadership skills, Jamila said, “David Thodey, former CEO of Telstra, is a mentor of mine. He described me as someone with determination, drive, resilience, and the ability to connect diverse people from different backgrounds and deliver a common goal.”

Her determination and leadership qualities explain her ability to succeed in the technology industry, where few women of color reach the CEO level. It takes more than tech skills. Jamila has made diversity a number one value for Lumachain and refuses to accept other companies saying they cannot find qualified women. She believes they are not looking in the right places, such as at universities or with coaches and mentors. “To create opportunities for women, companies must make diversity as important as generating revenue or managing costs,” says Jamila. Fernando adds, “Jamila has been intentional about making diversity a priority for Lumachain from the company’s beginning, explaining her success in developing a diverse, talented workforce.” Starting with diversity from the beginning rather than making it an “add-on” policy creates opportunities for diverse talent. Jamila chose an emerging technology sector with a potential for exponential growth and is working in the food industry, creating global opportunities. By prioritizing diversity from the beginning, diverse talent is naturally embraced as opportunities arise from her choices.

Creating the Future

What is Jamila’s advice for women worldwide who want to build a great global company? “First,” she says, “is to know your true strengths and lean into them. Don’t worry about weaknesses unless they are derailing efforts. If the weaknesses are preventing success, get coaching and mentoring to take them off the table.” Jamila Gordon is not simply adding technology to the present industry. She is creating the future in so many ways for people, companies, and the technology industry, and driving success is the creative thinking and innovation that diversity brings. From a village in Somalia to the CEO of a forward-thinking global technology company, Jamila proves that opportunities are endless if you want something badly enough and never waiver from personal values.