When shipping issues plagued the hemp oil business they founded in Chicago a few years ago, Kameron Norwood and his partner David DiCosola decided to start their own packaging and dispatch.

They ended up creating a whole new company, PackDash, which meets the logistics needs of small and medium retailers. They moved the company’s headquarters to Tucson and opened a distribution center near downtown in August 2021.

Now, Norwood and DiCosola are gearing up to raise capital and grow the business after joining the year-long resident mentorship program at the University of Arizona. FORGE (Finding opportunities and resources to develop entrepreneurs) business accelerator in July.

PackDash recently won a vote of confidence — and an unconditional equity kick — when Norwood received $100,000 from the Google Startup Black Founders Fund to advance the company.

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Norwood, who grew up in Tucson and is an UA alum, also is one of 250 finalists for the Black Ambition Awardsponsored by rapper Pharrell Williams and offering 50 founders cash prizes ranging from $25,000 to $1 million.

“crippling” problem

Norwood said he and DiCosola, whose wives are sisters, came up with the idea for their Halfday CBD hemp oil business in 2018, when the federal Agriculture Act legalized the cultivation of hemp.

At the time, Norwood was working as a contract relations manager for a large staffing firm, and DiCosola was vice president of a Chicago startup specializing in construction technology for office managers, having previously worked three years in management positions in a large health technology company.

Half-day CBD (Cannabidiol) took off, and Norwood recalls earning $10,000 to $20,000 a weekend selling products at markets and festivals.

“When COVID arrived we couldn’t hold any more events, so we were forced to go online,” he said.

But the company had serious issues with its shipping provider, including an order accuracy rate of just 77% at one point, Norwood said.

Kameron Norwood, co-founder of PackDash in Tucson.

Courtesy of PackDash

David DiCosola, co-founder of PackDash in Tucson.

Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star

“It was crippling as a business owner because I couldn’t grow my business,” he said.

After finding that other logistics services were lacking or too expensive, Norwood and DiCosola decided to start their own shipping operation.

They rented space formerly occupied by a dry cleaner on Chicago’s North Side and converted the space, cleaning and setting up inventory shelving and a shipping station themselves, Norwood recalled.

Norwood said that after talking about the success of their fulfillment center in the Chicago business community, some contractors shared the same issues and asked if Norwood and DiCosola could ship their products – and some associates offered to invest in their logistics operation.

“We were like, wow, this has legs, and CBD was getting a tough sell, so it was a natural pivot for us,” he said.

After just a few years, PackDash has about 50 customers selling a wide range of products including diapers, pizza condiment packets, croutons and baby formula, including suppliers from Whole Foods and Walmart.

“We found this kind of niche that we carved out among anyone who places less than 20,000 orders per month and cannot find personalized, flexible, affordable and scalable logistics services,” Norwood said. “You have to do a ton of business to get the attention you need, and that’s what we were able to deliver.”

Personalized service

Recognized as a third-party logistics company, PackDash offers a range of personalized services, including personalized ‘kitting’, which can include labeling and packaging of individual items, and responsive support with a dedicated Slack chat channel and an agent for each client.

In some cases, Norwood said, PackDash can also offer more inventory storage than giants like Amazon, which limits the inventory of a particular item that its sellers can store in its warehouses, and also deliver inventory. as needed to companies like Amazon.

He recalled a customer who needed to stock a large minimum order of diapers from a German company that was more than Amazon would keep in their warehouse.

PackDash has been able to store the excess and “feed” Amazon product as needed, he said, noting that Amazon trucks regularly visit PackDash’s warehouses to pick up inventory.

The company connects its logistics technology to a customer’s existing e-commerce platform, schedules inventory delivery and storage, manages packaging and shipping, and works with e-commerce systems to trigger automated tracking and delivery notifications.

PackDash works with all major e-commerce platforms including Amazon, Walmart, Shopify, Etsy, and Google.

The startup is raising capital to expand, with plans to open four more fulfillment centers across the country over the next three to five years, Norwood said.

Edward Garcia, a warehouse agent, grabs a box to fill an order at PackDash in Tucson.

Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star

Find Tucson

When the founders of PackDash were looking to expand with a fulfillment operation in the West, Tucson was naturally at the top of the list, said DiCosola, who often visited Tucson while courting his future wife.

“I would visit, I would love, and then I would have to go back,” DiCosola said.

It was a homecoming for Norwood, who came to Tucson with his family from California when he was 10, attended Catalina Foothills High and earned a bachelor’s degree in regional development from UA in 2011. Norwood, who ran track in high school, served as UA track team manager for five years while studying for his degree.

After graduating, he moved to Chicago to start his career and met future business partner DiCosola.

The founders of PackDash literally walked into their Arizona FORGE experience after arriving in Tucson last year.

They strolled through the FORGE offices in the historic Roy Place building downtown and were greeted by members of Startup Tucson, a non-profit business incubator hosted by UA at FORGE, who presented Norwood and DiCosola to FORGE staff.

DiCosola, who has been involved with several startups and was a mentor at a Chicago business accelerator for nearly three years, said FORGE provides office space and a place to meet other local entrepreneurs.

“FORGE has been a great way to get exposure to other entrepreneurs in the ecosystem,” he said. “Much of the education you need as a business owner can come from structured resources, but much of it comes from other entrepreneurs.”

DiCosola said the company will likely look to move into a much larger facility in Tucson by next year and expects to employ about 50 people here.

The company’s Tucson distribution center, in a brick-built former industrial center at 830 E. 16th St., is already nearing capacity at 6,000 square feet; its center in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois, is 20,000 square feet.

“We want to be part of the community and create opportunities for more than ourselves, and by working with FORGE we can not only be exposed to resources and ways to fundraise and find experts, but we can also make friends and expand our network, even find new clients.

Brian Ellerman, Founding Director of FORGE, said the founders of PackDash have been successful so far and have already attracted interest from local investors, but like all fast-growing startups, they face challenges getting ahead. develop.

“They just need that mentorship and that guidance to help them deal with that growth, how to do it in a way that doesn’t destroy them in the process,” Ellerman said.

Contact senior reporter David Wichner at [email protected] or 520-573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner. On Facebook: Facebook.com/DailyStarBiz