When a startup is working within an industry in need of a technology boost, they are going to find a new approach that will set them apart from others working in the same space. An example of a recently formed startup is DUST Identity.
DUST Identity is a company out of the MIT ecosystem that is innovating supply chain security by taking a unique approach; using applied science engineered diamonds for customers to keep track of their chains.
Last month, the company exited stealth mode and immediately announced their successful seed round with $2.3M raised courtesy of Kleiner Perkins, New Science Ventures, Angular Ventures, and Castle Island Ventures.
We spoke with DUST Identity Co-Founder and CEO Ophir Gaathon to learn about how and why the company chose to use diamonds as a core part of their technology and Gaathon went into detail about the development process.
Colin Barry [CB]: A lot of startups born out of MIT have a story to tell. What are the origins behind the company and how did the team come together?
Ophir Gaathon [OG]: My co-founders (Dirk Englund and Jonathan Hodges) and I started to work together a few years ago around using diamonds for quantum computation and cryptography. It was clear to us that there are several very interesting applications that can be greatly impacted by the use of diamonds. However, we realized that, for any commercial application, there are three fundamental things that we need to tackle first: 1) know how to make and nanoengineer diamonds at scale, 2) develop the hardware technology that can “talk” to our diamonds, and 3) build an intuitive software interface platform that will enable any user to extract value from our diamonds.
DARPA really liked this approach and as a result, funded us first. They pushed us to gel together all the hard tech to a point where we could start working on application development. Then, about two years ago we started to look at threats to supply chains of electronic parts that can jeopardize defense platforms and critical assets. We found that, in many cases, the issue (and cause of friction) is that the parts or the data about the parts (or both) are difficult or impossible to identify, link, and trust. Trusted physical identity was simply missing. So we decided to build it. And that's how DUST (Diamond Unclonable Security Tag) was born.
CB: How does the DUST Identity technology work? What are some of the problems that the technology is going to solve?
OG: The integrity of supply-chain security is at greater concern than ever before, and there really hasn’t been a cost-effective and truly secure and unclonable end-to-end solution for object identification.
DUST is made out of nano-engineered diamond crystals that we apply onto objects. We spray billions of tiny diamonds on the product and then scan it to enroll it on our platform. We also developed a scanning technology that allows us to read the angle of those diamonds very quickly and use that to “encode” a secured unique identity. We can then use that identity to link the object to data, ledgers, processes, and other objects. The main idea is to anchor the digital thread onto physical things.
This is really the foundation for supply-chain security. We started with the hardware where we focus on delivering high-security authentication with end-to-end tracking that traces down to the component level for the commercial IT, defense and government sectors.
There are deep complexities in the operations and challenges of current workflows - on top of some inherent risks. So we’ve built a solution to support those needs and alleviate those pressures.
CB: What was the development process like for the technology?
OG: Hard. But also a lot of fun.
To bring DUST to the market we had to build a cross-disciplinary team of developers and scientists. We have three parallel development thrusts: DUST nanoengineering, hardware systems, and a software layer. We leverage the team of teams approach and bring all of the technology together so that the product will be seamless to our users.
CB: Why is DUST Identity targeting the supply chain market? Are there plans to go into other markets?
OG: We are taking a broad approach to product development. We have an ambitious roadmap and plan to bring DUST to market across several industries in the next few years. However, at the moment, we must stay focused on a few limited verticals where we work with key stakeholders and move the needle on the supply chain security challenges. Because this is an extremely complex, multi-stakeholder environment, there are wide gaps in what current tech can cover. The industry is missing tools and there are unaddressed vulnerabilities. We think that DUST is uniquely suited for that challenge and can really change how we think about supply chain trust and integrity.
CB: Who are some of the clients of DUST Identity?
OG: Because of the nature of what we provide, we can’t share details on our customers within the DoD and ICT space. However, we can share that we have a strategic relationship with SAP.
CB: You’ve recently exited stealth mode and made the announcement of your seed round totaling $2.3M. Congrats on the funding! What are the plans going forward?
OG: The investment will be used to accelerate the research and development of our advanced, proprietary technology and product line-up, accelerate business development opportunities, and to double headcount over the next twelve months. We want to build the best team we can in order to get the solution in the hands of our customers so they have a better way to manage risk factors.
CB: Going back to MIT, are there any organizations on campus that DUST Identity is associated with?
OG: One of our co-founders, Dirk Englund, is a Professor at MIT (RLE) while myself and the other co-founder, Jonathan Hodges, have strong relationships with several research groups on campus. MIT is a great resource for talent and the ecosystem around it is helpful in facilitating and encouraging engagements with world-class scientists and market leaders. The MIT Industrial Liaison Program (ILP) has a fantastic staff that works closely with MIT born startups to create synergistic partnerships and collaborations with many global enterprises who are committed to innovation.
CB: How did the team come up with the name?
OG: The name is a natural fit for two reasons: 1) DUST stands for Diamond Unclonable Security Tag and 2) the diamond coating actually looks like dust.
The second part - identity. Is because that is what we are delivering.
CB: Any other additional comments you’d like to make?
OG: Our mission is to ensure integrity in a value chain by improving overall security and building trust. Ultimately we want to help an operation have accountability, transparency and a much more resilient end-to-end value chain where assets are protected throughout the lifecycle. We plan to do this by rolling out our solution into the market in the end of 2018 and beyond.