25 May 2022 A secure data vault Bhupinder Bhullar is the CEO and co-founder of Swiss Vault, one of the award winners of Invest Horizon Pitching eForum Digital 2.0 and Deep Tech 2021. Q: Introduce yourself and tell us more about your current position and company? BB: I am Bhupinder Bhullar, CEO, and co-founder of Swiss Vault. The name “Swiss Vault” is meant to convey a secure “data vault” - which would hold one’s valuable digital assets. The team members all rallied around the idea that data privacy is fundamental for a free and democratic society. This idea is universal. The company is now set up in 3 jurisdictions - Europe, Canada, and The United States and we are poised for global growth. Q: What keeps you up at night? BB: The goal that we have undertaken to complete is what one would describe as a “BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOAL”. In a startup, every team member is doing many jobs. Because there are many moving parts, getting everything moving together is a challenge. In my role, the key challenge is to make sure all the team members have the resources they need to get the job done - and the basis for that is fundraising to support our growth momentum. Q: Tell us about your product? What problem is it solving and what makes your solution unique? BB: The problem we are working on is how to store digital data for 100 years with privacy. To solve this challenge, we must address many aspects of a very big problem - like data resiliency, storage robustness to prevent data loss, energy efficiency, automation, the longevity of hardware, etc. Globally, data is growing exponentially because of rapid digitalization! And there is a real environmental consequence to the space and energy consumption needed to store the data. Today 3% of the world's entire energy production is used just to store data in data centers (which is more than what Germany or Japan consumes annually). At the current rate of growth, in the next 4 years, we will need 10% of global energy to store data. Data’s carbon emissions are 3.7% - more than the airline industry. Data’s demand for more space and energy is not sustainable. The current data storage rack technology is difficult to operate and maintain and this makes it challenging to run a data storage center. Swiss Vault re-imagined the data storage system to build a Software and Hardware platform that reduces energy consumption 10X and space requirements by 14X compared to Standard Data storage racks (the industry standard). Swiss Vault’s re-design will enable disruption in the data storage industry because we: 1. Purposely built for the circular economy to reduce electronic waste from the data storage industry (where only 10% of the e-waste gets recycled) 2. Reduced energy consumption by 10X for comparable data storage (this will dramatically reduce data’s carbon footprint from 2.0 Gigatons to 0.2 Gigatons) 3. Decreased weight, volume, noise, and heat output - thus data centers can be made by repurposing old buildings rather than requiring massive construction outside of cities. 4. Reduced the complexity of managing a data storage operation for example, by automating all the data backup tasks, as well as encryption. Swiss Vault’s solution represents a new paradigm through revolutionary hardware designs and reimagined software integration. The patent-pending data management system will enable organizations to manage their data for 100 years, with lower costs and less impact on the environment. Q: How did you start your journey and where are you now on the road to achieving your ambition? BB: We started by asking leading hospitals, especially those who were implementing genome sequencing, how they were managing digital data. We ran surveys and conducted interviews of medical organizations like MD Anderson (Texas), Harvard-MIT (Massachusetts), Princes Margaret Hospital (Toronto), German Cancer Research Center (Heidelberg), Genomics England (London) … and we learned that all of them were struggling with their data, but they gave us key insights on the difficulties of managing growth in a data center. We went to work on a design of a data management platform that could meet the space, energy, and cost constraints. We built prototype systems to demonstrate the energy and space savings, and then got early adopters to install them and give us feedback. The response was overwhelmingly positive. We knew that the prototypes were too small of a data storage solution to really help the hospitals. We scaled up our designs to build larger systems based on the data we collected. We completed the Software and have Beta systems for the hardware. We are now setting up demos with early adopters to get them to install the larger system and give us feedback. Q: Can you share a story of a client using your product/service and what influence it had on them? BB: In the first year, we built prototype systems - and we needed to get them tested by end-users. One of the companies we connected with, by chance is a finance company - that was struggling with connecting all the users to a single data storage server to share files. This company did not want to put its data in the cloud. They already struggled with a standard server - and, because it was extremely loud and produced a lot of heat when it operated, it drove the staff crazy. We demonstrated to them how our then prototype server ran very quietly and cool - they immediately wanted to test it. They bought 2 systems and they continue to use them today and are one of our biggest supporters. I think the lesson here is that if one takes data privacy seriously, one needs to insist that the data is within sight, but it is only possible to do that if the technology is easy and friendly to use. Q: What is your company’s biggest achievement to date? BB: Since its foundation, Swiss Vault has earned awards and recognition because its purpose resonates with every industry struggling to maintain data sovereignty and data privacy. For example, Swiss Vault has received the Seal of Excellence from the European Commission. For example, Swiss Vault has received the Seal of Excellence from the European Commission. Swiss Vault was awarded the London Business School’s Real Innovation Award in 2020. Swiss Vault was 1 of 26 deep tech startups invited to present their solution for reducing CO2 emissions at the latest COP26 conference in November 2021 in Glasgow, UK. Swiss Vault is part of the #beyond1000solutions, and was awarded the Efficient Solutions label after an extensive review by the Solar Impulse Foundation The US Department of Defense (DoD) selected Swiss Vault to work with their many agencies (Air Force, Navy, Army, Space Force) to build a unique solution because of their massive data needs. The Swiss Vault team will now work on contracts with the different agencies. Q: What was the tipping point that made you a doer and impacted your vision? BB: I first started thinking about the data storage issues while I was working on a drug-discovery program where we needed to sequence genomes. We generated raw data from a single cancer sample’s genome equal to 1000 DVD movies. I realized then the immense amount of data generated during the sequencing process would be physically difficult to store by hospitals where these tests would be done. The tipping point came a few years later when a colleague published that they could discern a person’s last name from one’s DNA sequence (see publication: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23329047/). The light bulb moment came as I realized that this makes everyone on this planet vulnerable to misuse of their DNA information. And, since one’s DNA sequence is that person’s most private data on the planet - and this data is shared with his or her future generations - this also puts future generations in a vulnerable state. For example, denying someone life insurance because of a specific genetic variant will mean that their children or great-great-grandchildren could automatically be denied as well. The need to urgently secure genetic information for the lifetime of the individual became clearly in focus. Then I started to act and figure out how to do this - especially for the most vulnerable in our society, who need the DNA sequenced to get the best healthcare possible. Q: How do you see your company making a difference in the future? BB:As is now self-evident, all data is vital and important for innovation. Thus, not only in hospitals do we need to secure data, but just in about every sector of society. Our technology of Software and Hardware enables low-cost and long-term data storage. Our hardware runs on 1/10th of energy consumption compared to industry-standard racks. We build systems that are small and lightweight (1/5th volume, and 1/5th weight) compared to conventional comparable systems. Organizations can put their vital data in their office - and see where their data is located. At the same time, our platform makes data storage a “Green Technology” and enables organizations to reduce their data storage costs and increase their energy efficiency by 10-fold. The key difference we can make for the future is enabling every organization to secure its data assets. For example, Swiss Vault’s systems can help indigenous societies participate in the data economy by having sovereignty over their data. Q: How did Covid impact your business? What was your company’s immediate response to the situation? BB: he current COVID situation has had both positive and negative impacts. The positive is that we were able to focus on the priorities we had, with less distraction, and we made great progress. We were forced to work remotely, and this allowed us to expand our team without the limits of geographical location. This I think will be our strength as we grow - because we have already put together a working culture and tools to be efficient. The negative impact of COVID was due to the supply chain disruptions. Shortages in microchips resulted in not being able to scale production of a popular Mini-server product. We had pre-orders and had to return the money to the customers. However, we learned a valuable lesson. Never depend on a single part. We immediately pivoted on our other products to build them so that we are not dependent on a single supplier or part. This learning will strengthen our future development. Q: How did Tech Tour help you on your journey? What is the most useful part of our programmes for you? BB: The Tech Tour’s recognition of Swiss Vault as a Top startup has helped our team with our visibility. We participated in all of the webinars and in-person events. We met industry experts and successful entrepreneurs who gave us valuable insights and expanded our network. Through this network, we were able to connect with individuals that have resulted in exciting collaborations with other businesses that are aiming to make a change in the world.