Ottawa’s Bluink wins $1.2M contract to store Ontario ID data on smartphones

Pilot project could eventually render physical driver’s licences, health cards obsolete
Steve Borza
Bluink founder Steve Borza is looking to raise $2 million in new funding. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

An upstart Ottawa software company is testing an app it says could one day make all those photo ID cards jamming up your wallet a thing of the past.

Bluink, which has been working on its password authentication technology since 2014, has won a contract with the Ontario government to develop a platform that would store electronic versions of driver’s licences, health cards and other government-issued ID on a user’s smartphone.

CEO Steve Borza said the $1.2-million pilot project could eventually render physical versions of such documents obsolete.

“For us, it’s a great start, and the opportunities beyond Ontario are huge,” he told OBJ. “As smartphone penetration in Canada gets deeper and deeper, it becomes the de facto standard in my mind.”

Safeguards

The provincially backed Ontario Centres of Excellence is funding 75 per cent of the project under the new Small Business Innovation Challenge, a program launched last spring to help SMEs bring new technologies to market. Bluink has teamed up with several other partners on the pilot, including Crypto4A, Canadian POS and Carleton University.

The app, called eID-me, will allow users to protect their privacy by revealing only as much information as necessary to prove their identities, Mr. Borza said. For example, the app can be set to show a cashier at the LCBO or a doorman at a bar a user’s age and photo but not his birthdate or address.

Health cardIt will also speed up access to services such as medical care, he added. With the touch of a button, all of a patient’s relevant OHIP information can be instantly downloaded to an electronic registration form during visits to hospitals and clinics, saving time and cutting down the potential for fraud or human error.

“(Staff) can focus on what they do best, which is providing health care,” Mr. Borza said.

Users with existing ID cards will be able to register for eID-me directly from their smartphones and will also have the option of renewing documents such as their driver’s licence through the app without having to go to a ServiceOntario centre or website.

All data is encrypted, Mr. Borza said, and users will not need a separate password to access the app. They’ll also have the option of an adding an extra layer of security through safeguards such as requiring facial recognition or fingerprint biometrics to access the platform.

Bluink’s CEO said the app could ultimately be synched up with corporate security systems, allowing workers to bypass the time-consuming process of verifying their identity before logging on to servers or databases.

“Having a single e-identity that can be used throughout a nation, I mean that’s pretty huge,” Mr. Borza said.

International interest

The company launched its 12-month proof-of-concept in October and aims to start testing the app at medical clinics and universities next spring. It expects to begin marketing the concept on a limited trial basis next summer, charging users a one-time licensing fee.

Mr. Borza said eID-me is already attracting interest from as far away as South Africa. He sees huge market potential in developing countries where many citizens don’t have formal ID cards but smartphone penetration is deep.

“We’re excited to be able to take the solution to export markets beyond Canada.”

“There seems to be a huge appetite for this sort of thing in other countries,” he explained. “We’re excited to be able to take the solution to export markets beyond Canada.”

Now at 14 employees, Bluink expects to expand its headcount to 20 over the next six months and is projecting annual revenues of $1.5 million by the end of 2018. Bootstrapped for the first three years of its existence, the company recently received funding from the Capital Angels Network.

Mr. Borza said he’s eyeing another venture capital round down the road, but for now he’s concentrating on delivering on the proof of concept and seeing what further market opportunities arise from it.

“You can quite frankly spend a lot of time running around trying to raise money from VCs,” he said. “A lot of people are interested in this solution, so if a VC presented us with the right offer, valuation and strategic connections, then we’d absolutely look at it. But it’s not my main focus right now.”