Smartcard entrepreneur threatens to take off for US

Another Kiwi IT entrepreneur is threatening to go to the US with his idea. Ted Woodley says he is unable to get funding even for a limited trial with a willing local partner.

Another Kiwi IT entrepreneur is threatening to go to the US with his idea. Ted Woodley says he is unable to get funding even for a limited trial with a willing local partner.

But NZ Venture Capital Association spokesman Christopher Twiss says Woodley, a smartcard promoter, has far from exhausted the available sources of funding, and a local venture capitalist may still pick up the idea.

Woodley’s company, B&I Group, originally saw the multi-function smartcard, adapted from a UK product, as a means of providing services to closed communities such as colleges, clubs and student halls of residence. These would range from secure physical access through to loyalty schemes to a bank-independent electronic wallet (see here).

He already has a prospective partner in Massey University’s Wellington campus.

“We’re interested [in running a trial],” says Massey's regional registrar business, Liam Halpin, “but it would take a lot of administrative work, so B&I is working jointly with us –- have been for a few years -– trying to attract finance.

“We’re looking at one card that would provide a way of accessing a number of services: computer and photocopier time, for example, physical access to parts of the building and registration for meals.”

An e-wallet function for purchase of some small items on campus is a future possibility.

Halpin believes the technology is sound and such applications of it would get buy-in from users. A trial involving about 100 students is envisaged.

Woodley’s ambitions, however, are already stretching far beyond the confines of Massey, to the vexed problem of secure international travel. He proposes a “travel card” with a digitised image of the holder’s face replacing more complex measures involving live reading of biometric data. This would obviate the problem of New Zealanders and other nationals of countries with a visa-waiver agreement with the US having to go through complex procedures to get advance clearance from US authorities.

“By using the very secure smartcard, and incorporating secure network communications protocol, the card is loaded with the traveller’s encrypted digital image which can then be viewed on a standard computer at the point of entry for comparison," he says in a document sent to US companies and the NZ Venture Capital Association.

"As photographs are already accepted on travel documents, implementation of this solution does not require legislative changes or major additional expenses.

Photographs could be taken remotely by a digital camera and downloaded to the embassy database, he says, allowing for quick comparisons between database and camera images.

The multifactor use of the card is its big point of difference, Woodley insists; previous smartcard schemes have concentrated on one particular use. Adding applications cuts the effective cost of the card, he says.

Twiss at NZVCA says he will examine Woodley’s proposal “and give him a view" about which of its members he would be best to visit.

"The association is not a broker,” he says. “It is not my business to evaluate proposals.”

Considerable advice and links to investors are available on the association’s website.

But Woodley says he has had disappointing response from various funding organisations to date. He says the government’s Foundation for Research Science and Technology (Forst) wanted him to have an overseas partner set up and a private venture-capital firm advised listing on the US Nasdaq technology stock exchange.

He and Massey’s Halpin had visited Forst some years ago, he says. A Forst spokesman says there is now no one in the organisation who can recall the details of the meeting: “He was perhaps at the wrong stage of development for the funding for which he was applying.”

That alleged mismatch also hit inventor and IT pundit Bruce Simpson when he sought funding for a personal authentication software development. Simpson has repeatedly threatened to take his company’s businesses to the US, as Woodley now says he may do.

“As much as we do not wish to involve American companies, I believe that we do not have any alternative, as all other avenues have been exhaustively pursued,” Woodley says. "To say that we are very frustrated and sick of banging our heads against a brick wall in New Zealand would be an understatement.”

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