Meet the Aussie using the blockchain to expose the blood diamond trade

Just last year, Everledger was valued at $50 million. Halfway through this year that figure has already jumped to $80 million. Like Kemp’s own star, the company’s value looks set to balloon.

But Kemp is instantly dismissive when asked if her goal is to build a ‘unicorn’ – a privately held startup valued at more than $1 billion.  “Unicorns are mythical creatures, I’d rather be a zebra – something that is exotic and real.

“I tell our team we’re building a forever company,” she says. Kemp ultimately wants to track “one billion objects” with her company with the aim of affecting “one billion lives.”  “That’s probably more important than the money on the top line and on the bottom line,” she said.

Everledger’s success is built on the development of the Blockchain – the unalterable ledger that uses secure codes to record transactions between two parties.

Everledger tracks gems, metals and minerals from the point they are taken out of the earth to their sale to guarantee a stone’s authenticity and crucially, how and where it was mined.

The company captures a stone’s 3D digital fingerprint or “ultrasound” and then lists the quality of the stone and its cut on the Blockchain enabling retailers to guarantee consumers that they are buying ethically-sourced stones. The company makes its money through the certification costs for both rough and polished stones.

Leanne Kemp, Everledger founderCredit:Atitila Csazar

“The type of the work that we undertake looks at opaque supply chains… when we think about the backdrop of the diamond industry we, of course, have the atrocity of the Blood Diamonds which is a very real part of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Blood Diamond movie but the reality is parts of those concerns still exist,” Kemp said.

There are currently more than 2.5 million diamonds on the ledger and Kemp wants to have listed 10 per cent of the global trade of natural certified diamonds by next year.

She founded Everledger at the same time the outgoing British prime minister Theresa May, then as Home Secretary, introduced her world-first Modern Slavery Act, aimed at exposing supply lines using forced and child labour.

“If I was back then, they’d think I was like a Salem witch, they’d think I was a crazy person, we were super early.”

From an Australian perspective we celebrate Brexit, I think it’s bloody great

But she said ultimately the growing “consumer consciousness” and in particular the “demographic of Millennials that are asking questions” was the driver and would be the basis for future companies using the Blockchain to guarantee supply lines. The company started out with diamonds but now lists other precious stones, minerals, metals and fine wines.

‘Brexit – I think it’s bloody great’

Kemp’s standing is confirmed by her appointment as Queensland’s chief entrepreneur last year. The prestigious role has previously been held by Steve Baxter, the multi-millionaire telecoms founder who has appeared on TV show Shark Tank, and Mark Sowerby, the founder of once high flying fund manager Blue Sky.

But despite her ties to her homeland, Kemp decided to establish Everledger in the UK, in part due to her belief it would have a global impact from the outset.

“The beating heart for us in global operations came out of the UK,” she said. “The UK for startups is incredibly founder friendly,” she said, citing the British government’s Entrepreneur Investor Scheme which offers tax breaks to individual investors for startups established in Britain raising a maximum £12 million ($22 million).

She said talent and access to the UK’s mature capital market, compared to the “handful of players” in Australia were the main reasons.

“Multi-lingual disciplines run quite rife here, it’s very difficult to find a person in Australia who can speak nine languages, whereas there are many people with diversity and linguistic talents here in the UK.”

While Britain’s business community is generally negative about Brexit, Kemp welcomes the split.

“From an Australian perspective we celebrate Brexit, I think it’s bloody great.

“We get to turn around and have strengthening bilateral relationships and I remember my first divorce – I went home to family so it’s kind of the same thing that’s happening to Britain isn’t it? So they can come back to the Commonwealth cousins!”

Everledger operates in Australia, Britain, the United States, India and Israel. It is about to expand into mainland China, increasing total global staff from 85 to 100.

The tech race

Kemp is also carving out a reputation as a futurist, capable of predicting how technology will reshape society and the economy.

She sits on two bodies relating to sustainable production and the Blockchain under the umbrella of the World Economic Forum.

While there has been global discussion about the environmental “global commons” like the climate, air quality and clean oceans, there has not been a similar effort in how to manage the risks involved with the digital communications systems on which the entire world is now reliant.

“We have not grappled well with understanding a digital global commons,” she said.

“We’re starting to now because part of the conversation is around ethics with artificial intelligence (AI) – how do we bring the rule set together around training AI, particularly when we start bringing AI and robotics together and they become self-learning beasts?”

She sees this bot-based friction as the next frontier of the global tech arms race.

“So just as much as we have human frictions in our globalisation efforts and we have geopolitical tensions could there be geo-robot tensions or geo-AI tensions that come out? I’m not hearing many people talk like that, we’re still talking around geopolitical tensions”.

Britain is pondering whether to follow it’s Five Eyes partners Australia and the United States in banning Chinese telecommunications supplier Huawei from the 5G rollout over spying concerns – an expensive decision given Huawei’s strong position in the UK market. Kemp predicts China will seek to dominate technologies that reflect its national character.

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“In Australia, we will automatically seek and start to run towards technologies that support who we are as Australian, or who we are as British.

“I don’t think [China will] outstrip us on everything but they’ll certainly embed themselves in certain parts of technologies to identify themselves in the community in who they are – foundational technologies that reside and rely in parallel against who they are as a Communist [nation]…for the protection of who they are as China and the identity of who they are as China.”

People’s Technologies

Big Tech’s dominance is now being challenged by governments. But Kemp believes it will ultimately be socially-conscious consumers rather than legislators who have the most success in breaking down the monopolies of companies like Google, Facebook and Apple.

She says moral awareness, combined with easier funding models, giving founders the ability to bypass traditional suppliers of capital like banks and even venture capitalists, will give rise to “People’s Technologies.”

“And there’s the power – if we are starting to have innovations that are people’s technologies and the conscious consumerism is starting to drive and the money doesn’t have to come from the large corporates, then all of the sudden there’s another rise.”

Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.

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