Things are looking good for the Salzburg-based startup Authentic Vision, as they did back in 2014 when their patented label-verification technology won them attention and six-figure investment from the Dolby Family Trust, among other business angels.
Today, several new markets and product areas have opened up to the company, thanks in large part to the excellent network brought in by their board, which includes various Dolby Trust managers as well as former senior executives for Sony Corporation. “We could tremendously strengthen our executive team with the experience of our new CEO Chris Reiser, a former executive at Sony DADC International”, Weiss continues.
Academic spinoff wins critical public support early on
The company was founded in 2012 after Weiss (32) and co-founder Jürgen Mathwich (37) completed their Masters degrees in Information Technology at the University of Applied Sciences Salzburg. Before going back to university, Mathwich had previous entrepreneurial experience working with 3United which exited to VeriSign in 2006. After earning his Masters, Weiss continued on as a university researcher and filed patents for his brand-protection technology.
Before founding the startup, Weiss got some marketing experience as a product manager at an enterprise data services company. “I tried to get my patented ideas developed through a standing company but they told me that they would need a million euros investment, so I decided to do it myself. It wasn’t sufficient for me to follow others but rather to realise my own ideas.”
The Business Creation Center Salzburg’s incubation program took the co-founders under its wings, giving the some lean pre-seed capital and, more valuably, an incubator space for their first year or so. Even more valuably, a member of BCCS’s advisory board, Andreas Spechtler, president of Dolby International, became their mentor. “He gave us a tremendous acceleration and from then on we started to grow,” recalls Weiss.
Other public support soon came from the Austrian federal promotional bank (aws) and the Research Promotional Agency (FFG) – a combination of grants and loans. “FFG funds the research – about 200K euros per year, ongoing,” according to Weiss, “and aws awarded us a middle six-figure number, which they pay down in tranches as project milestones are met.” Without this early public support and imprimatur, Authentic Vision could not have developed their product, researched its possible applications or secured their subsequent private investment.
Authentic VisionDiversifying the products and markets
As a researcher employed at the University of Salzburg, Weiss originally came up with the idea for a telemedical device that could tag objects uniquely. At its core, Authentic Vision’s product is a patented tagging technology – a highly secure combination of QR code and hologram – that allows a scanner to determine if a product is authentic or counterfeit.
“The original idea was to identify counterfeit medicine,” he says, “but the pharma industry has proven a very difficult market to enter. Project times and sales cycles are three to five years, so we chose to hit other markets with faster-moving products and life cycles, such as consumer electronics, luxury goods, and alcohol.”
“CheckifReal” – their smartphone app for scanning their labels – can also be integrated as a whitelabel plug-in for a commercial brand’s own app thus allowing the brand to collect data on its customers and integrate product authentication into its marketing campaigns. “If it is combined with payback goodies or sweepstakes, consumers are encouraged to use the app,” suggests Weiss. “It depends on the use case. For alcohol, we approach it with a payback system to get consumers in the habit of scanning each bottle purchased.”
Helping our clients to get in closer dialogue with their customers, while at the same time protecting their brand and values is our motivation for driving innovation
Hitting the bottle
“We have a business development team in South America that has proven quite successful,” says Weiss. However, counterfeit alcohol is not just a problem in the developing world but in the EU and USA as well, where bar and restaurant operators seeking wholesale bargains might end up serving their customers some watered-down antifreeze or paint thinner poured from a top-shelf bottle. With Authentic Vision’s solutions, authenticity can be checked by not only the end-consumer at the point-of-sale, but also at all points the along the distribution chain.
While the originally intended medical use for the invention may have been inspired by the founders’ desire for social betterment, their movement toward the conspicuous-consumer market doesn’t seem to bother Weiss. “In my heart, we are still in the health-risk market. Counterfeit alcohol or spare parts for autos and bicycles are just as dangerous as fake medicine. With apparel, the trend now is toward sustainability in the supply chain and avoidance of child labour in manufacturing. But with the fake products, all this effort is rendered obsolete.”
What makes Authentic Vision a tough sell for Weiss and his growing staff of 20 internal employees and 25 external contractors in their sales network is that “There are so many stakeholders in the mix – not only the lawyers, but also the product and marketing guys are involved in our solution – and this makes the sales process much more difficult,” claims Weiss
“We are thinking about partnering with trust labels like Fair Trade,” Weiss continues, “because the number of worried consumers has reached a critical mass. In the luxury-goods field we have some interesting leads where we have a good network connection, but there is a lot of competition and it is difficult to get a foot in the door. With the wine and spirits sector, it is easier.”
Authentic Vision is growing steadily by building up a dedicated team in the USA (Bay Area) and strengthening its business development team in Europe. According to Weiss, “We’ve just announced a global deal going with HDMI a multi-media interface standard. This deal is a great example of how Authentic Vision’s solution addresses three challenges with one solution. Firstly, the solution will help consumers to authenticate cables they intend to buy and thus distinguish quality from non-authorised products. Secondly, the solution will help HDMI adopters to communicate with their customers with use of the label and mobile app. An additional hidden benefit is that of License Compliance. The solution helps HDMI internally to ensure license fees are in line with market demand and allows HDMI to have better insight into the supply chain.”
Together, the two co-founders still hold a majority equity stake in the company and are now doing a second A-round with some existing and new investors, according to Weiss, who believes the new capital influx will help them grow and help them get to break-even and beyond.
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