Entrepreneurs @ work: AuthentiQ

Don’t know your plonk from your Pinot? AuthentiQ is a new app that scans your wine bottle to detect whether it’s the real thing.

Don’t know your plonk from your Pinot? AuthentiQ is a new app that scans your wine bottle to detect whether it’s the real thing.

This article is provided by the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.


To the purchaser of fine art or antiques, provenance is everything. In a world where fakes are abound, evidence of authenticity is highly prized. The difference in value between a real van Gogh painting and a good forgery is measured in the tens of millions. And authenticity is not just important to the fine arts consumer. It matters to business brands, too. Counterfeiting accounts for some five to seven per cent of world trade, according to the Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau (CIB), and is worth an estimated $600bn a year. Luckily, entrepreneur Adena Shao’s start-up firm authentiQ has come up with a smart solution to the issue of authenticity.

After spending over a decade in the software industry, working in China, France, the us and the UK, and also having launched and run a fashion business, Shao was unsure what to do next. “Ten the opportunity to take an EMBA at London Business School came up,” she says. “During the programme, I looked into several opportunities including the private equity/venture capital sector. However, I knew that I was creative; I like to build things. And, although I had success with a previous small business, I wanted the next opportunity to be global in scale.”

While she was studying for the EMBA, Shao continued to think about ideas for a possible business. In particular she wanted to find a way to be part of the phenomenal growth story in China. It was on her EMBA international assignment in Beijing that she had a moment of inspiration that would eventually become authentiQ.

“While I was in a small city in China, I went into a wine store. Although I could read French, it struck me how strange the experience of buying a bottle of wine must be for someone in China who couldn’t read French or English. There is a price and a foreign label. It occurred to me that it would be useful if you could use a mobile phone to scan something or take a picture of something on the bottle, and that would tell you more about the product you were thinking of buying. At the same time it would tell you whether the product was the real thing.”

After returning to the UK, Shao discussed the idea with some trusted contacts, challenging the concept and refining it. With the help of developers sourced through the recommendations of people she knew, she built a prototype and then tested it out on different players in the value chain to see if they could see the merit in her proposition.

So, how does authentiQ work? “It’s a technology product and platform that provides product authentication and marketing,” says Shao. “For example, in the wine trade we provide the wine maker or the brand owner with a unique code to be put on the wine bottle. It travels with the bottle and can be scanned anywhere along the value chain to check the item’s authenticity. The system itself is actually sector-agnostic.”

For consumers there is a mobile app they can download and use to scan products. “Say you are a consumer in a store in China and you see all these bottles of wine that you have no clue about. You scan them to get their provenance details in your own language. Or, if you order something online that looks like good value, you can scan it when it is shipped to you to check it is authentic.”

With the prototype being trialled in 2014, Shao is looking for trial partners in key sectors and for funding, having bootstrapped the business so far. And while she has focused on the wine industry initially, the product could be used across a wide range of sectors.

Anti-counterfeiting is not the only application for authentiQ – it could be used as a marketing tool to enhance brand value – however, it is the most obvious use. As Shao notes, companies often invest vast amounts of money in a highly competitive struggle to create a successful brand, only to face another battle trying to protect their market share from counterfeiters. Now, using authentiQ, at least it’s a battle that the wine industry and wine drinkers might win.

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