You may not know much about agribusiness or what technology that, say, the cotton industry uses to facilitate its everyday commerce. Which is why it might come to you as a surprise how prominently Memphis figures into the everyday business of sectors like the cotton and peanut industries, whose professionals pay a great deal of attention to the city. That’s thanks to a dot-com that’s cleared or processed more than $8 billion through its platforms since this particular local startup called The Seam started operating the first online, neutral trading exchange for cotton, an exchange through which millions of bales of cotton have since been traded and cleared.
The Seam’s focus includes the cotton industry, and you don’t have to strain to imagine the relationship of textiles to cotton. That relationship produces garments like jeans, where you’ll find seams that connect one area of fabric with another. The Memphis-based company sees itself a bit like that, as a similar kind of seam — only instead of a physical seam, what the company actually stitches together are the worlds of modern technology and legacy industries like cotton, with the result being an organization that doesn’t necessarily chase the spotlight but has made some innovative moves under CEO Mark Pryor. In 2016, for example, it launched a cloud-based commodity management system for the peanut industry that is dealing in cutting-edge new technology sectors like blockchain.
“Culture is everything,” Pryor says about his company and about his management philosophy. “And we see that technology is all around us.” In the case of The Seam, it’s literally true, given that its headquarters sits practically next door to the FedEx World Headquarters complex.
“We have to have an environment that folks want to come and work in,” Pryor says. “What I think really sets us apart is the ability to make a difference even though we’re a small team of 19. But we’re actually changing the global cotton industry, and other agriculture industries, right here from this office in Memphis. I think as a technologist and as a company like ours, to be able to come in and do something that makes a difference and is meaningful and really see that play out on a global scale is pretty powerful.”
To get a sense of how the business works, recent announcements include The Seam reaching a multi-year agreement with Delta Peanut LLC, which gives Delta Peanut access to The Seam’s platform that includes such foundational technology as document digitization, real-time data for decisioning and embedded integrations with agencies like the United States Department of Agriculture and Federal-State Inspection Service.
Delta Peanut is a new peanut shelling operation based in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and the first shelling facility to open in the area in more than 50 years. The Seam’s platform includes a digital hub that provides the real-time status and value of stock, contracting, grading data integration, and logistics management.
The Seam moved to its current office about three years ago from a space in the Poplar Avenue-Ridgeway section of East Memphis. The current space includes more collaboration workrooms, whiteboard environments, and what Pryor describes as more of an “education feel” mashed up with a technology-heavy office, which was important to him.
“What got me into this was growing up in the Memphis area — I’m a native Memphian — and knowing that King Cotton is Memphis,” Pryor says. “And knowing some big names in cotton like Dunavant Enterprises and other companies with headquarters in Memphis. This was about the time the internet got interesting, in the year 2000, and a lot of these companies came together to create this online marketplace for cotton trading. That was really appealing to me. I loved what was going on with the Internet at that time, and I was fascinated with what was happening in agriculture.”
Pryor has been with the organization since its founding in 2000, starting as its chief technical officer. Four years ago this August, he was promoted to CEO.
He credits the company’s board, which includes representatives of agribusiness heavy-hitters like Cargill Cotton and Louis Dreyfus Company, among its members. “These are pretty much the Who’s Who in the world of commodities, and I’m fortunate to have an open-door relationship with these folks who can coach and guide and direct in a friendly way,” Pryor says. “So I’ve been leaning on that where I can and have been so fortunate because of that.”