CNBC Disruptor 50

39. Airspace

Founders: Nicholas Bulcao (CEO), Ryan Rusnak
Launched: 2016
Headquarters: Carlsbad, California
$138 million
Valuation: N/A
Key technologies:
Artificial intelligence
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 0

Persephone Kavallines

Well-timed tech, tracking and telecommunications upgrades during the pandemic have propelled delivery and logistics network Airspace to faster growth and new horizons for expansion.

The pandemic put extra urgency into its emergency shipments. Its specialized ultra-fast delivery service has been in high demand over these Covid-crisis years. Airspace rushed Covid-19 tests, ventilators, vaccines and personal protective equipment to health-care providers. The Carlsbad-based start-up was on pace to more than double in size, adding to its time-critical shipments of more than 200,000 packages within five years of its start in 2021.

Last year, Airspace launched its Critical Mile logistics management platform that relies on artificial intelligence and machine learning to find the best and fastest delivery routes within seconds for urgent shipments, even organs for transplants. This industry-changing technology was granted a U.S. patent in 2021. The company also introduced a GPS device tracker, AirTrace, the size of a small mobile phone to fit within packages and automatically determine the exact location, motion and other details including humidity and light exposure.

The year before, in 2020, Airspace updated its telecommunications system with a cloud-based contact system, Twilio Flex. This switch helped Airspace maintain its time-sensitive operations when employees began working remotely, allowing customers and drivers to connect to the right specialist or designated team right away. Queue times for callers during peak periods at night were reduced by 74%. 

In the consumer market, customers have come to expect high reliability, quick arrivals and tracking. But with time-critical, high-value shipments that can often start from a lab, warehouse, or a hospital, service hasn't always met those standards. That's what co-founders Nick Bulcao, CEO and a former entrepreneur in logistic services, and CTO Ryan Rusnak set out to fix. They launched Airspace to bring shipping and logistics into the 21st century and replace outdated paperwork processes.

What sets the company apart is its Amazon-like delivery system for critical shipments for health-care, manufacturing and aerospace markets. While not competing against large delivery services such as FedEx, DHL and USPS, Airspace battles with other speedy logistics specialists with upgraded technologies such as Lufthansa-owned time.matters and MNX Global Logistics. Overall, the global freight forwarding market is predicted to grow 6.1% to $191.7 billion in 2022.

Last year marked major new funding for Airspace with a $38 million Series C, co-led by Telstra Ventures and HarbourVest Partners. Qualcomm Ventures has been a strategic investor since an initial financing in 2018 of $8 million.

The new capital goes toward expanding service internationally, and adding more heavyweight shipments, cold storage capabilities, scheduled shipping and on-demand services. The company's courier network serves more than 200 enterprise customers in health-care, high-tech, manufacturing and aerospace.

Customers include Frontier Airlines, Quest Diagnostics, the American Red Cross, and clinical laboratory service Labcorp. A strategic expansion is moving Airspace into agriculture, automotive, construction and energy markets.

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