Seven years ago, Katy Jones was at a crossroads.
The North Carolina native had a steady fulltime job as the Director of Communications and Marketing for the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
But her mentor, Tom Finegan, who is the CEO of Clarkston Consulting, had a proposal for Jones: leave her stable job to become his new startup’s marketing hire No. 1.
Despite all the risks of entering the startup world, Jones said, the timing just felt right. It was a pivot into technology that she would likely never have another opportunity to do.
Looking back, the choice has certainly paid off. Today, Jones is the CEO of Durham-based startup FoodLogiQ. The company provides traceability and food safety compliance software solutions to food retailers and restaurants.
Jones is also one of 10 CEOs that CED has picked to attend the prestigious Business of Software conference for free in Boston on Sept. 26-28, a trip made possible by a donation from Bill Spruill, the CEO of Raleigh-based Global Data Consortium. [Editor’s Note: GrepBeat first profiled Jones in October, 2018, as part of the Meet… Q&A series.]
Finegan initially had the idea for the business when Clarkston Consulting was working on a project to perform cattle traceability in Canada. Finegan was convinced there was tech potential there. The E.coli outbreak in 2006 became an even stronger catalyst for the idea.
After iterating on the idea for nearly a decade, FoodLogiQ launched its standalone SaaS product in early 2016 and has been growing ever since.
Jones’ specific path from the first marketing hire to COO and finally CEO benefited from what Jones calls a supportive board. While she acknowledges that the male-dominated food industry can present its challenges, Jones said that as a CEO, she actually leans into the more traditionally ‘female’ leadership traits.
“One of the biggest focuses that I have put on is just leading with a great deal of authenticity, and not trying to be more like a man or lead like a man,” Jones said. “It’s really bringing to the company what I think is my natural leadership ability, but then also what I think is actually needed for the company.”
For other female CEOs, she said it’s important to stick to that authenticity.
“Don’t try to change who you are,” Jones said. “Just lean into empathy and vulnerability.”
Jones attributes her succession in the company to her willingness to say yes to new opportunities. These tasks might not have been within the boundaries of her core day-to-day job, but at startups, there are endless chances to go above and beyond.
So even though Jones came on as a marketing lead, she was soon working on strategy, partnerships and funding for FoodLogiQ.
“Being there and having the opportunity and diving into things that you may not feel ready for, things that you’ve never done before, and just getting really comfortable with being uncomfortable, that’s something that I really tried to do,” Jones said.
Today, Jones leads a women’s group at FoodLogiQ, where she preaches the mindset of identifying opportunities that will force you to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Jones said FoodLogiQ is excited about the potential for upcoming growth sparked by impending regulation to add traceability requirements in the food industry.
Now 50 employees strong, FoodLogiQ is finally seeing the industry match the technological vision the startup has for food traceability.
“The market momentum and adoption of technology in the food supply chain is starting to catch up from the vision that we had many years ago,” Jones said. “Change is hard, and this is an industry that has relied heavily on manual processes and is now really starting to see an uptick in that digitization of the supply chain.”
Pandemic put spotlight on the supply chain
With supply chain issues becoming increasingly salient during the pandemic, more and more companies have invested in supply chain technology.
They also saw additional market needs in the industry for restaurants looking to adapt to Covid-19.
“The restaurants were in a significant amount of pain,” Jones said. “Some were just in survival mode, so we actually opened up a feature within our products that would help them track in-store hand-washing protocols.”
There’s also been an evolving definition of food safety driving FoodLogiQ’s growth as well, Jones said.
“Where food safety once meant, ‘will this food make me sick,’ it now can cover everything from how far it traveled to get to my plate to what are the labor practices that go into the production of that food,” Jones said. “I think that very definition of what consumers want from their food is just going to continue to grow.”
The regulatory environment is evolving alongside consumer pressure. For Jones, who has a 15-year-old son with a life-threatening tree nut allergy, it’s about time.
When her son is able to have confidence he’s eating something from a no-tree-nut facility, all the traceability work put into FoodLogiQ becomes especially meaningful.
“Supply chain can be very murky at times if there’s not really a good understanding of where the products are coming from,” Jones said. “We’re seeing a really strong drive around allergen control and making sure that all of those products are properly labeled.”