The Origins of Access America

The Future of Supply Chain

By: Santosh Sankar & Matt McHugh

In our latest Origins episode on the Future of Supply Chain podcast, Santosh sat down with Barry Large, co-founder of Access America Transport, to dig back into his roots and talk about his journey to becoming an investor in the supply chain industry. 

Since Access America was sold in 2014, Barry has gone on to found multiple companies. He’s currently a member of the board of directors for Steam Logistics and Reliance Partners, and a partner at Lamp Post Group and Dynamo Ventures.

Barry’s Journey Into the Supply Chain Industry

Barry was raised in an entrepreneurial family. His father was in the building materials business, so Barry got used to spending a lot of time in the Brickyard. In 2002, he and two of his friends from Samford University, Ted Alling and Allan Davis, co-founded Access America in Chattanooga, TN. 

The three friends entered the supply chain industry with no venture capital, bootstrapping their way into business through conventional debt. Access America started out as a small brickyard but quickly scaled into something much bigger. 

“Over the next decade or so, Access America became one of the largest, fastest-growing private freight brokers in the country,” Barry says.

In 2014, the partners sold Access America to Coyote Logistics, which was later bought out by UPS. Barry ventured into working with other companies serving different parts of the industry, including Steam Logistics, Reliance Partners, Lamp Post Group, and most recently, Dynamo Ventures.

Investing in Supply Chain Businesses

In 2011, Barry, Allan, and Ted began dabbling in deploying early-stage capital in Chattanooga. 

“It was a very hands-on, incubation-type model,” he says. “We discovered, as investors, that you invest in what you know. You invest back. You lean back into your experience and the time you’ve spent in your industry.” 

The partners made about twenty investments in their local market. Quickly, they realized that they didn't necessarily have to invest in straight freight. 

“When we invested in our industry, the movement of products, or even the movement of people, we had a lot more to give as investors--not just capital, but we could tap back into all those lessons we learned.” 

They found they were able to de-risk their investments this way, rather than to invest in capital-stage propositions that were too high-risk, high-reward.

Barry focuses on helping companies in the industry solve problems related to innovation and automation, as businesses in the space continue to evolve with current technology.

“We try to invest in not necessarily what we know, but try to solve problems in parts of the industry that remind us of some of the problems we were trying to solve in 2010,” Barry says. 

His team focuses on investing in smaller parts of the supply chain ecosystem where technology hadn’t been utilized in the most progressive, innovative ways.

Supporting Founders in the Supply Chain Industry

Barry pays special attention to supporting founders and entrepreneurs in the supply chain industry. He says supporting founders is different from the way you support other team members like operators, and he draws on his own experience at Access America when assisting other founders. 

Barry invests in co-founders’ teams because he understands the pressure they’re under. And other investors who work with founders need to understand how to offer support.

“Certainly, play that role of accountability as an investor. But also, be there as a support. It's like parenting; apply pressure when you apply pressure, but apply love when you need to offer up some love,” he says.

When Barry and his partners started Lamp Post, their family office, they brought a licensed therapist on as a partner to help them as they got the business going. Their previous years of experience co-founding together taught them about the critical need for support, as early in the process as possible. 

Emotions can run high among co-founding teams, and Barry says it’s important for founders to control their reactions during tense moments. 

“In that moment, it feels like a fight or flight moment. Realize it's not the end of the world. Don't be reactive, breathe, stay curious about what's going on. Deal with it--don't put off what's bothering you. 

“Those can be incredibly stressful, difficult years when you're scaling, and to be there just to preemptively help some of these teams sort out some emotional dynamics between themselves--if you can do that early, do it earlier rather than later. The business is going to be a lot healthier, long-term.”

To hear Barry and Santosh’s full conversation about Access America’s origins, supporting supply chain founders, and the future of automation in the industry, listen to the full episode here