Andrew’s practice primarily involves working on corporate transactions, including private equity and venture capital investments, mergers and acquisitions, corporate re-structuring, corporate finance and banking. Many of the transactional matters Andrew works on are for clients that are involved in disruptive technologies, including blockchain, cryptocurrencies and eSports.
As part of a series of interviews, Andrew will talk to a range of businesses and organisations to explore the current blockchain landscape in Ireland and the UK.
In the first instalment, he speaks with Fiona Delaney, CEO and Founder of Origin Chain Networks, about her experience of the blockchain environment, and the biggest challenges to blockchain adoption.
AT: Fiona, thanks for talking to us today. To start, can you tell us more about your business, the work you do and the verticals you operate in?
FD: Sure. Origin Chain Networks bring the benefits of emerging technologies to the agri-food sector. We enable digital supply transparency to foster consumer trust and assurance. We are committed to delivering our services in a way that aligns to the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, goals: 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities and 17 – Partnerships to achieve the goal.
While we are focused on agri-food for the medium term, our underlying platform is designed and developed to scale to different vertices in the long-term e.g. pharmaceuticals: to address counterfeit medicines; fashion and tech: to underpin quality and brand authenticity.
Track and trace is becoming a popular use of blockchain within multiple sectors. What makes your business different or unique?
FD: Right now we offer three services:
D7Food Ecosystem – a local store platform offering sustainable, short-supply chain as a service.
Authenteer – a track and trace platform for sustainable agri-produce.
KiBleep – a family-friendly mobile food app that scans ingredient lists to display allergen alerts and flags popular consumer categories eg. suitable for vegetarians, dairy-free.
In each case, we seek to empower data-owners with our secure, privacy-first approach. We remove as many barriers to adoption as possible by providing easy integration with existing ERP and CRM systems and we have placed a ban on any feature that creates friction for our users.
Lastly, our team! My co-founder Saad Shahid and I are both technical and comfortable in the disruptive tech space with prior experience as entrepreneurs in Europe and Asia. We are on the same page when it comes to offering real value in the marketplace.
AT: Excellent. It’s always good to see several real world use cases on multiple levels.
With the use of any emerging technology there are bumps in the road. Perhaps you can share some of the biggest challenges that you are working through, that need to be overcome in order to achieve widespread adoption and understanding of your offering?
FD: People and business culture. Ours is a disruptive and innovative way of doing business, people need time to adapt. This plays out into finding suitable partners in the industry.
AT: On to the technical side of things, which blockchain platforms/framework are you utilising and why?
FD: We are fairly agnostic on this front and have worked with numerous blockchains, public, private and hybrid including Hyperledger, Ethereum, Hashgraph and IOTA. Our ultimate goal is to enable our users to be able to select their preferred platform for their vertical.
Community means a lot in our sector and can determine the choice of a platform, e.g. IOTA is an important player in smart energy and cleantech. If you are in the sustainability game, promoting shared mobility solutions or re-selling community-generated electricity, there is a benefit to aligning with a foundational service provider committed to energy efficiency into the future.
AT: On a personal level, what was your first experience of cryptocurrencies or blockchain?
FD: Anyone who has studied software engineering in depth will have come across the blockchain concept fairly early on. A blockchain is simply a data structure with a unique set of attributes that make it an excellent data storage solution in distributed business contexts.
My first experience with a cryptocurrency was with Bitcoin. My first crypto wallet, one of the early Tip Bots on Github / Reddit / Twitter called Changetip was built on the Bitcoin network. It was 2013, transaction fees were low and all the nerds were crypto-tipping each other for great content and collaboration.
ChangeTip was bought by Airbnb in 2016 (aqui-hired for their team know-how) and ChangeTip closed shortly afterwards. From crypto micro-financing to creating ‘micro-hosting’… it’s a fairy story for our age!
AT: In terms of the environment you’re working in, what are the unique challenges that blockchain businesses face in Ireland (if any)?
FD: We work extensively with European and global partners, particularly in innovation and R&D. Our experience is that the Irish scene is at least 5 years behind in taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by new technologies.
I would say there is a strong native caution towards disruptive business models. There’s a ‘bite-the-coin-to-see-if-it’s-real’ approach here, as if something needs to happen in the Irish business context first, before industry or Irish investors will take a leap.
New tech just doesn’t operate like that anymore – market culture is a matter of product localisation not a strong determinant of product spec. There is a generalised distrust of deep-tech expertise and this plays out quite visibly in a lack of public sector engagement with new-tech innovation. I’ve just returned from Hyderabad in India where I represented NSAI at the ISO Blockchain Plenary, hosted by the Telengana Goverment. It was held in the ‘Blockchain District’, an initiative that supports and nurtures the development of blockchain solutions and integrates them with government services. The aim is to enhance trust, optimise efficiency and improve communications. There were examples of microfinance systems, organised CHIT Funds, anti-counterfeit pharmaceutical supply chains and much more. All this is in a country that has banned cryptocurrencies altogether. There’s a lot we could learn from the Hyderabadi approach.
Do you have a sense of the appetite from investors/VC’s in Ireland or the wider sphere, to look at blockchain-based businesses?
FD: In the latter half of 2019, we’ve seen considerable interest in sustainability-focused investment and a lot of interest in us. Google’s Kate Brandt recently announced a new climate-change accelerator for sustainability-focused start-ups at Web Summit. Similarly, Alltech, Finistiere and Enterprise Ireland are all looking closely at this space. Blockchain along with AI and sensor-based nanotech are key foundational technologies that can deliver proven, measurable and trusted results. The future is Blockchain+
AT: Looking at what might be in store for you, what are your biggest business challenges in the next 12-18 months?
FD: Our challenges are two-fold: meeting the demands of our integration pipeline and connecting/ adding new partners in order to broaden our route to market.
AT: Finally and more generally, looking further ahead and going 5 years into the future, how widespread will blockchain be adopted in Ireland?
FD: Judging by past performance, I’d anticipate Ireland Inc. will be a follower of new tech. There will be a few companies, including our own, who will make the leap from the Irish sandbox into the global marketplace but I anticipate in the main, that widespread adoption will come about almost by stealth.
There are big players integrating blockchain into their stack adding value to their offerings: IBM, Oracle, Microsoft all have blockchain components as-a-service.
The big food multiples, Carrefour, Walmart, Wholefoods, M&S have all adopted blockchain pilots, as have many logistics companies and port authorities. In each case, we’re not seeing cryptocurrency adoption, rather we are seeing blockchains used to increase supply transparency and optimise data-sharing across decentralised business environments. In these markets, consumers are already purchasing on blockchain-enabled supply chains without even knowing it.
If I’m to make one prediction, it is that the Irish artisan food sector will benefit greatly from the (potential) integration of Facebook’s Libra/Calibra payments feature. So many Irish artisan food brands use Facebook platforms to manage and connect with consumers. I anticipate a surge in mCommerce for them with in-app frictionless payments alongside the high-visibility afforded by Facebook/Instagram/ Messenger/WhatsApp social channels.