AID:Tech at LAUNCH Festival 2017 in San Francisco
AID:Tech at LAUNCH Festival 2017 in San Francisco

Competing against over 500 startups worldwide, AID:Tech claimed the winning prize for IBM SmartCamp at LAUNCH Festival 2017 in San Francisco. The Dublin-based startup was part of IBM SmartCamp’s annual global pitch competition which started in August 2016 and culminated at the LAUNCH Festival on April 6 and 7. The grand prize? A $25,000 investment from Silicon Valley angel investor Jason Calacanis in the SmartCamp global finals and participation in the LAUNCH Incubator this summer! Watch their pitch at LAUNCH Festival 2017, below.

So what did it take for this startup to beat out all the competition across 26 cities around the world? AID:Tech is building blockchain solutions with the goal of providing digital identities to the 2.4 billion undocumented people around the world. They work with governments and NGOs to increase efficiency in the flow of funds and welfare services, as well as to make the process of receiving donations more transparent, traceable, and immutable. Their pilot project with the Red Cross provided Syrian refugees currently living in Lebanon with tokenized vouchers to buy goods and services from participating merchants, resulting in a transparent process in which the Red Cross, donors, and merchants could trace where every cent went in real time.

The idea for AID:Tech was inspired by an incident that co-founder Joseph Thompson experienced in 2009. That year, Thompson, an avid marathon runner participated in Marathon Des Sables, an annual 6-day marathon in southern Morocco in the Sahara Desert. He fund-raised for a charity in Morocco as part of his participation in the marathon and the money he raised was supposed to go to an NGO that provided reconstructive facial surgeries for children suffering from a gangrenous disease called Noma (cancrum oris). A few months after the race, he followed up with the NGO on behalf of his donors to learn about the impact of their donation and was surprised to learn that the funds were given to a different NGO with the purpose of building a school. Disappointed that the funds weren’t used as planned, but interested in learning more about the school that was being built, Joseph followed up with the new NGO. What he learned was that they could provide no information as to what the school was or where it may be being built. This experience left Joseph and his donors disenchanted and in disbelief.

A few years after that incident Joseph was studying in a pioneering master’s program for Digital Currency at the University of Niscosia, Cyprus, where he came across a module on blockchain for the developing world. The concepts he learned were eye-opening and the potential was endless. Joseph realized there was a major opportunity to use blockchain to solve the traceability issue he faced in 2009 and decided it was the right time for him to start his own venture solving this and many other social and financial issues disenfranchised populations face everyday with this game-changing technology.

Joseph and his long-time friend and colleague, Niall Dennehy, set off to build the AID:Tech blockchain platform to create digital identities for disenfranchised communities as a gateway to accessing goods and services while maintaining a system that was transparent, traceable, and immutable to those who participate in the process of funding and dispersing goods and services, be it donors, governments organizations, NGOs, shopkeepers, welfare agencies, and so on.

Joseph gives a great first-hand account of a story from a shopkeeper he spoke to while in Lebanon launching the pilot project, which illuminates how powerful his solution is. Before AID:Tech’s pilot project, another NGO in Lebanon was handing out paper vouchers to refugees to use to purchase goods with participating merchants. At the end of the week the merchants were supposed to bring the vouchers that they received to the NGO to exchange for cash. This shopkeeper brought in $6000 worth of vouchers to the NGO that week, but the NGO informed him that there were only $2000 worth of vouchers in circulation, meaning not all of the vouchers he received were real. The shopkeeper frustratingly spent the next month trying to get compensated by the NGO for all the goods he gave out at his own expense.

This same shopkeeper participated in AID:Tech’s pilot program and was thrilled to find that every time he was handed one of AID:Tech’s tokenized vouchers, he could scan it and instantly access a ledger that indicated how much value remained on the voucher and what had been previously spent. That information was also accessible in real-time, to all stakeholders in the process, including donors and The Red Cross. There were zero instances of fraudulent transactions, though not zero attempts. The shopkeeper was compensated for every good he sold and the Red Cross and its donors could track every cent spent.

AID:Tech is built on IBM’s Cloud infrastructure, which has been particularly valuable when working with NGOs in Africa who would like for their data to stay in the continent. IBM is the only major cloud provider with data centers located in Africa, a valuable proposition for AID:Tech and their partners.

Jason Calacanis and pitch competitors at LAUNCH Festival 2017
Jason Calacanis and pitch competitors at LAUNCH Festival 2017

Over the past several months, AID:Tech has been engaging with IBM teams in London and globally to grow their business and, as a result of making it to the IBM SmartCamp global finals, received an opportunity to travel to San Francisco where they attended LAUNCH Festival as VIPs, gaining access to potential investors and clients. They also received a demo table in the IBM SmartCamp demo pit. We are excited to see IBM’s SmartCamp global winner move to San Francisco this summer to participate in the LAUNCH Incubator and continue fundraising efforts to secure its future.

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