If you want to hear a blast of enthusiasm about how blockchain-enabled technology can improve supply chain logistics across a range of industry sectors, then talk to Susan Ramonat. If you want to learn why a former Wall Street banker is now an entrepreneur in the world of software development, then you need to speak to this CEO of Spiritus. And if you want to understand how The Data Lab and its trade missions are helping to bring such talents to Scotland, then she has the answer: “With them, it is never just a transaction. It is about building a relationship, understanding the business and providing support.”
She should know - together with her partner Bob Clint, Spiritus won several hundred thousand pounds in first-round backing from Scottish Enterprise to establish a development centre in Edinburgh which now has six full-time employees. With its origins in an outreach programme into Silicon Valley run by The Data Lab, the pair launched in Edinburgh in early May 2017, becoming regular visitors as they hired the talent to kick off a pilot project with NHS Scotland and Edinburgh Napier University, before gaining their Tier One entrepreneur's visas and taking up full-time residence in early November last year.
“Initially, we were talking about the access to near-shore talent, then for us, the interesting thing with The Data Lab and Enterprise Scotland was the opportunity to get to senior levels of the NHS and other industry figures across sectors. They were very thoughtful and helpful with how to present ourselves in the right way,” she recalls.
Spiritus was originally focused on using blockchain to manage chain of custody for medical equipment, but has since opened out its scope to embrace inventory management and supply chain in many different fields, including the extraction industries.
“If you look at the Shell Delta field, for example, they are leaving behind assets for between 100 and 300 years which they have to monitor, service and govern,” explains Ramonat. Placing critical information into a blockchain, where smart contracts can also be executed, significantly reduces the friction in that process as well as increasing its transparency and resilience. The same is also true for complex obligations around health and safety, where risk assessments, records and reports need to be stored and maintained up and down a supply chain.
Ramonat earned her spurs with two decades working in banking, implementing technology and providing operating services for credit managers. She moved up from sales and product development to serving as an analyst for strategic technology projects under the chief information officer . “I got to learn what it means to build on technology using the modern suite of solutions and also to understand the commercial point of view,” she recalls.
It was the financial crisis and the need to review how risk was understood that ultimately led her towards blockchain as fintech began to emerge as a new area of development. Exposure to new thinking in New York and Silicon Valley, as well as among start-ups and the emergence of Bitcoin triggered a feeling that a new opportunity may be in view. With Clint’s experience in blue-chip IT firms like IBM and CSC, they had the perfect combination of a developer and a commercial person to launch the new business.
It proved to be exactly the sort of start-up which The Data Lab was created to draw towards the Scottish economy, blending data, technology and knowledge skills. “We are driven not just by sales cycles, but by working to bring about change,” says Ramonat.
Blockchain is a key driver of that type of transformation and Spiritus fits what resource-intensive sectors like healthcare and extraction industries need to govern over the long term. The fit with The Data Lab’s strategic objectives could also hardly be more ideal. As Ramonat says: “I’ve learned a lot from them, from the way they have introduced us to senior figures in government, to accessing legal services and marketing. We have been very pleased with the experience.”