Photo of a chain with analog code on the chainsPerhaps because the myLaminin story features blockchain, chain-type metaphors about links and their strength come a little too easily when telling it. But they just work so well – what Deanne and Ash Bassili have created does resemble a chain – a series of strong separate links, each firmly connected to its predecessor. And it’s that piece-by-piece building that has enabled them to take their startup, myLaminin, from incorporation to the point where it may just be ready to take off.

They added the latest link to this chain in early December. Cooperathon, brainchild of Fédération des caisses Desjardins du Québec, is Canada’s largest open innovation contest. Held annually, and currently virtually, it brings together hundreds of teams to compete in a variety of challenges, ranging from developing ideas to reduce people’s carbon footprints to boosting the use of public transit in a post-pandemic world. myLaminin was successful in responding to one contest from international consulting firm Deloitte. The challenge? Come up with the best third-party risk management solution – in layman’s terms, a way organizations and governments can safely and securely share the results of cybersecurity controls and methods, but in a manner that keeps them anonymous. Deloitte believes there’s a potential path to success by customizing myLaminin, based on third-party cyber risk management requirements, and offering this to a large pool of businesses.

Blockchain is talked about largely in conjunction with crypto currencies such as bitcoin, and most of us have little idea of what it actually means. Ash explains it. “Blockchain is just another data base,” but while more conventional databases allow you to do four actions -- create the database, read, change or delete records -- blockchain allows you to perform just two: create and read a database.

“But if I can’t change a record, how can I update it?” says Ash. “What blockchain does when you create a record, it’s called a block. I can’t update that physically, but I can add another record, or block, and link or chain that block to its predecessor.” Nothing ever changes, nothing is ever lost. Based on cyber-security technology, blockchain is an inherently safe system where all the blocks within a chain are validated and agreed on by consensus. That includes not just cryptocurrencies but more conventional documents, too -- anything from transcripts to professional certifications to the pictures that we take of our passport, credit card and so on that we share and hope – hope – won’t wind up in the wrong hands thanks to a data breach. Deloitte has a global client base and has the responsibility of sharing important client information with confidentiality. “They saw the value of having a secure way to deliver those reports and findings,” says Ash. More they saw it as a way of building “an exchange-like paradigm” a secure network “that would facilitate sharing and cooperation amongst network participants to prevent cyber-attacks.”

It's not even a year since Ash and Deanne created myLaminin (laminins are proteins that bind our cells and organs together, another apt metaphor), with the express goal of creating a system that would allow organizations and people to share documents more safely than they can now. Both have extensive management consulting experience working in public- and private-sector organizations, part of the spur behind creating myLaminin. Incorporated in January 2021, they set up in Kingston (Ash is a graduate of Queen’s University) hoping to tap into the innovation network surrounding the university. They connected with Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) in February to that end and joined the Queen’s Startup Runway Program. Since then, they have taken part in QPI’s Go To Market Masterclass program, and in June, they enrolled in QPI’s Wings acceleration program for pre-revenue startups.

“We went into the programs with a kind of a ‘Let’s see what we don’t know’ kind of perspective,’” says Ash. They quickly discovered that, for them, the one-on-one sessions were the most helpful.

“We were with Andrew [Jackson, co-director of the Wings program] for the oneonones,” says Deanne. He was “full of energy, and whether it was one on ones or the group he always tried to really work with participants. “Speaking of the final session, where participants presented their completed pitch, she says, “It validated the entire journey of two months when they brought in that wider community to present to.”

In the months since finishing Wings, Ash and Deanne have continued to forge links in the myLaminin chain. “We’ve been moving mountains on getting our product up and running,” says Ash. “We moved well beyond a prototype,” he says. “it’s now technology ready.” Just around the time that they were participating in the Cooperathon, he says, “We did a beta test with St. Lawrence College,” running over a week and a half with real users. The test was a success or as he puts it, “Nobody said the system blew up, and we had a few suggestions about usability that we’re incorporating.”

They continue to work with QPI. “Janice [Mady, director of QPI] has been phenomenal with helping us make connections,” says Deanne. Says Ash, “They’re helping us engage with the Centre for Advanced Computing” (part of a consortium of Ontario universities that share high powered computing capabilities), whose director is helping them connect with possible opportunities in the medical research sector. QPI is also working with them on their patent applications. “Stephen Scribner [QPI’s intellectual property and patents expert] is going to help us put in our formal filing in February 2022,” says Ash. They are also working with Don Aldridge, the city’s lead for the Health Innovation Kingston Project, to see if they can make any possible future inroads in the health sciences sphere.

And in the meantime, there is Deloitte. Their prize for winning that challenge is to have Deloitte “collaborate” with them for five-months. “We don’t know what that is yet,” says Ash, “but it seems likely it will be more than just cheerleading.” He’s optimistic: “I hope that we find that, maybe Deloitte is our pivot point”, that key that can lead to opening up the professional services sector and one more link in the growth of myLaminin’s chain of successes.

QPI offers the Wings program as part of the Scale-up Platform Project and the Startup Runway program and mentorship support under each of the Scale-up Platform Project and the Health Innovation Kingston (HI YGK) Project as part of QPI’s Growth Catalyst program. The Scale-up Platform Project is led by Invest Ottawa in Eastern Ontario and includes Queen’s as a regional partner; the HI YGK Project is led by the City of Kingston and includes Queen’s as a local partner. Both Projects are supported with funding from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.