HolaTECH© is a provocative technology start-up based in Madrid, Spain to combat counterfeiting in all its guises. They have developed a broad suite of software solutions to help protect brands, and more importantly, prevent consumers from being duped into purchasing anything that is not genuine. They achieve this through their own QR ID code system using secure technology incorporating Distributed Ledger Technology (underpinned by blockchain). Their engineering team is in Talevera de la Reina, Toledo, one hour outside of Madrid, Spain.
USEC had a unique opportunity to hold an exclusive interview with HolaTECH’s CEO, Susan Creamer, who is visiting the US regularly to meet investors and customers. She is a member of USEC and will be on her way back to the USA in early May 2019 for further discussions for seed funding with Investors out of Chicago and D.C trying to raise around 3 Million USD. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
1) For those not familiar with Blockchain, can you explain in a few words what this technology provides and how your company uses it to provide an effective way to fight counterfeit goods?
Principally for its absolute transparency and, thus security. Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is the generic name for a system of interconnected data nodes (or virtual ledgers” a chain of blocks”) that permit inspection of the journey taken by a product from creation to final sale (it can also be extended to the supply of raw materials). These modules are transparent (accessible) to any accredited individual (including Government officials) with any digital entry made in a module immediately visible. Entries cannot be deleted or altered. Consequently, any criminal update or manipulation is obvious.
The Scan2Know© solution, developed by HolaTECH builds the nodes necessary to validate the supply process. As each sequence in the process is completed, the relevant node is data and time-stamped with the serial number of the product or product batch. The stamping is generated by the HolaTECH system, without human intervention. The HolaTECH solution is based on a private blockchain with access to modules limited to designated organisations/individuals who access a secure server using 2-factor authentication (2FA) to add a further layer of robustness.
This protects commercial interests without compromising the security of the solution.
The blockchain offers an effective audit trail of every transaction, showing where an asset came from and every stop it made on its journey, and because it creates an indelible record offers much greater security and visibility.
2) To have an idea of the impact that your start-up can make, can you provide an estimate of the volume of counterfeit goods in a few key sectors?
As a lot of counterfeiting goes undetected the figures for the size of losses for each sector can vary, and all these are educated estimates. But what is clear is that whatever the real figure, it is huge number, and possibly even bigger than the highest estimates. However, here is some of the latest available data:
Summary data from the Global Brand Counterfeiting Report 2018-2020
- The amount of total counterfeiting globally has reached to 2 Trillion USD in 2017 and is bound to reach 1.82 Trillion USD by the year 2020 which includes counterfeiting of all equipment/products from defense equipment’s to counterfeiting of watches.
- The Global Brand Counterfeiting Report, 2018 estimates that the losses suffered due to online counterfeiting globally has amounted to 323 Billion USD in the year 2017.
- The estimated losses due to counterfeiting of high-end consumer goods amounted to 98 Billion USD
- The losses incurred by Luxury Brands because of sale of counterfeiting through internet accounted to 3 Billion USD.
|CATEGORY||% Total value of seized counterfeit and pirated goods worldwide 2016||Value in Billion $|
|Perfumes & Cosmetics||5%||25.45|
3) HolaTech’s headquarters and engineering team are based in Spain, but its potential market is global and direct access to venture capital might be a challenge. What advantages and disadvantages do you see in the current structure of the company?
You mean beyond living in one of the world’s greatest capital cities?! I believe Spain offers a highly educated and sometimes underappreciated engineering talent pool with relatively low Labour costs. We operate in a stable democracy with stable government coupled with EU backed incentives to develop nascent tech industry. There is a growing interest in Spain as an investment destination with the USA as 4th highest investing country and numbers clearly show all inward investment in Spain increased by 50% between 2012 – 2018. Spain has strong links with Latin America and the USA has proven to like Spanish products with strong Spanish Govt backing to all exporters.
Nevertheless, I recognize many target brands in North America with European subsidiaries rarely HQd in Spain but we believe that may change post Brexit as Spain is increasingly seen as an advanced economy with a high quality of life. An interesting deviation to the European HQ location is IBM – our technology partner – who have taken advantage of the large, highly qualified local tech talent pool. The team based in Spain is made up of a blend of locals and international professionals, each with a wealth of experience in business as well as technology, bringing value as a team to assist the ramp-up growth of HolaTECH.
4) What can you share about your company’s plans to expand its footprint internationally and in particular regarding its US presence?
We think HolaTECH has already created an interesting footprint across Europe with our tech and leadership team based in Spain, sales in Switzerland, Communication out of France and the UK. All but our tech team operate from home enabling our team to at least strive for that work – life balance that often proves difficult during this start-up stage. We as a team want to be close to the brands that will benefit from our solution and believe we can do this from Europe but so much better as we expand and aim to offer high customer support levels in same time zone. We are ambitious and know that a market presence is often the game changer and already identifying suitable talent, through our network, in the US and other potential markets where we will need to have a presence in the near future.
5) Unfortunately, many people associate Blockchain, the underlying technology, with one of its many applications, cryptocurrencies, and more specifically Bitcoin, whose price dropped 80% last year. What can you say about the potential for Blockchain to become a solid, long-term disruptive innovation in some sectors?
The issue is not the technology but the use to which it is put. Cryptocurrencies are viewed in pejorative terms with money laundering associations. However, the success of these (and blockchain value shifts a reflection of a robust market) is a vindication of the root technology. Increasingly we are seeing examples of the ways that blockchain can be used for social good – giving people in developing markets access to bank accounts, providing secure voting systems in emerging democracies and, of course, food, drink and medicine security as well as more mundane commercial solutions. In a recent Ernst & Young article (28thMarch 2019) about blockchain the company stated “2019 is shaping up to be a breakthrough 12 months for the technology”. While still thin on the ground, use cases are proving the benefits of blockchain and disassociating the technology from the opaque world of cryptocurrencies to the disrupting the marketplace and revolutionizing many business and business models, in particular with the disintermediation of the supply of products and services.
6) Your prior experience was in the Spanish food and wine sector. What led you to make such a drastic change and what lessons have you learned from that transition?
I am getting this question a lot, as to how anyone can flip from one particular career path and go off in a totally different direction; for me it’s the easiest answer in all your questions, it changed because I changed.
I am here because of a five second slip on a wet car park floor one busy Friday night leaving the office in central Madrid in March 2017. One slip, one ambulance, one broken left arm, wrist, hand and badly bruised body, multiple surgical interventions, 10 months in rehab relearning how to function through a pain complication which ironically gave me time to breath. Working full time, travelling with my three sons and husband at home, I often lived my life with what was going on in front of my face but didn’t have the time or energy to delve deep into areas that did not DIRECTLY impact my world, my professional life or my bubble. I could have reeled off stats on gin or whisky, on markets from Shanghai to San Francisco but other sectors, not so much!
My accident took me out of that bubble and forced me to look at life in a high dependency unit where men and women had amputations or in wheel chairs who fought every day to take a step, I thought I was in pieces until I looked around me and found I was without question the healthiest patient in the unit. Trust me, I was a minor league patient with a high pain disorder (CRPS) left with a paralyzed left arm but up against these warrior men and women, I was fresh as a daisy. And in the friendships I built with both the medical team and these triumphant humans, I began to care deeply about each and every one of not just this unit, but every human who was fighting pain battles daily and I knew, we were the lucky ones, we had private healthcare, the best of professionals and pharmaceutical drugs that made us function better. Others globally are not so lucky, 450,000 children die annually from counterfeit malaria medication. Prince the artist died from an overdose involving counterfeit opioids a crisis that is paralyzing the streets of the USA. And there in lay the journey from a hospital unit to a kitchen table discussion when someone asked me could block chain verify premium whiskies and I said “Yes we could do that, but why not do it for medicines and vaccines, high end luxury goods, football shirts and why not take this piece of architecture and take it all the way to the street for everyone?.”
I called it HolaTECH because I am not techie, I am not a block chain specialist, I am not some woman with decades of history leading Fortune 500 companies but what I am is, determined to take take that one slip, that one moment, that one experience and flip it 360 and take this piece of Spanish tech into the market to stop men, women and children suffering from counterfeit of any kind that swamp our market place, take it to the street as it were henceforth HolaTECH works as everyone understands Hola.
7) It is rare to see women leading technology start-ups, both in Spain and the US. What advice would you give to young women that may be interested in entrepreneurship?
Sadly, it is often rare to see women leading any company across any sector, but it is changing, and I believe changing fast but maybe not fast enough. Often times working in the same place, men and women have vastly different work experiences because men can look up the chain and see other male leaders and role models they can aspire to. For women it is different, we look up and often don’t see leadership roles filled by women; that is what I want to see changing for tomorrow’s generation of women leaders and to do that, there needs to be a shift in thinking at all levels not just the board room. Young female professionals need to look up the chain and see women leading companies, shaping strategy as with more women in positions of leadership our work place can be more adaptive and productive.
To young women, I would urge them to believe that we are working hard to change the thinking, that we are making strides to create a more equal and balanced board room of decision makers but it’s a process and takes time. Leadership irrespective of gender takes courage, tenacity and sometimes a keen ability to know how to choose your battles and know when to walk away and be gracious, always. It is only through an environment of mutual respect and understanding, and a cultural shift in management thinking that we can truly achieve a landscape for today’s young women to take up the mantel on a pathway paved today. We can’t sit around and talk about it, it is incumbent upon us to just do it. And please look in the mirror and say “I can do that, I can start a company” and this generation of female leaders are busy creating that pathway so look up.