Early this year, MSC launched a new weapon in the war on drugs: a watertight secure system to collect containers. The blockchain solution was developed by imec.istart graduates T-Mining.
When T-Mining was founded in 2016 blockchain was considered the holy grail. “We have always been down to earth, we never believed blockchain was the silver bullet that would change the industry in a magical way”, co-founder and CEO Nico Wauters explains. “But we were convinced that the technology had a lot of potential in some specific cases. Blockchain is mainly being linked to the financial world, with bitcoins and other cryptocurrency. But blockchain technology can also be very useful in the maritime world and the logistics world.”
“My co-founders know that world inside out. The maritime world is a somewhat conservative world. You need to speak the language the port companies speak. You need to gain their thrust. And you can only improve things when you know how they work now. The technological part of blockchain is just one challenge, you also need to make sure you understand how the technology can solve your clients’ problems.”
One of those problems is a secure container release. “When you want to collect a container in the port, you need a pincode. But those codes are being passed on from one company to the other, from one operator to the other. They are easy to intercept or to pass on to people with bad intentions. Just think of the drug gangs who offer tons of money for just one pincode. Port companies were in desperate need of a watertight solution to collect containers in a secure way.”
“Blockchain technology provides that solution. We replace the pincode by a token that can’t be duplicated or manipulated. From the moment you pass on the token, it’s not yours anymore. When the container still ends up in the wrong hands, a 100% reliable digital trace shows who had access to it. The main problem with centralized databases is that it’s very easy to share data, but very hard to keep data scarce. That’s exactly what blockchain does: there’s always just one single owner.”
Authorities and port companies regard the secure container release a gamechanger in the war on drugs and fraud. At T-Mining, they remain modest. “It took us four years to develop our first product. When you develop blockchain technology, you know from the start that you will need a lot of patience. Today, the blockchain hype is over, and we get the chance to prove the technology can add real value to port companies. It was hard work convincing the port community and convincing investors. Investing in blockchain is taking risks. At times, we felt like David fighting Goliath. But persistence pays off.”
T-Mining was a part of imec.istart very early on. “For me, imec.istart is like a trade union for startups. Even today, there is always someone in the network I can call.” Nico explains. “When you found a startup you need to take care of a thousand things. Deeds of corporation, statutes and other practical hassles might be tricky; a poorly drafted shareholders agreement can cost you a lot of money many years later. We were very happy imec.istart helped us out with all those things most founders don’t do every day."