Ex-Googler Wants to Upend Pigs and Hotels With the Blockchain

A Taiwanese startup led by a former Google employee intends to employ the same technology that underpins Bitcoin and Ethereum to shake up animal husbandry and travel.

Darren Wang’s OwlTing has rolled out a system to establish the provenance of stuff: hotel bookings, or pigs from birth to market. The seven-year-old startup says it’s amassed hundreds of clients across Taiwan and its model enhances not just food safety but also verifies commercial transactions.

One of a growing number of fledgling players seeking to bring crypto-chains to the real world, OwlTing’s ambitions gel with Taiwan’s — an electronics powerhouse that missed out on the internet boom. The island wants to ensure it isn’t left behind as companies from the U.S. to China race to unlock the potential of the blockchain: an open ledger verified by multiple parties that (in theory) safeguards the integrity of all sorts of dealings.

“Getting a new innovative business off the ground in Taiwan is actually really tough. The venture capital scene isn’t that vibrant,” said Wang, 39, who’s helmed two other startups since leaving Google in Mountain View, California, where he helped maintain databases for Greater China. “I want to prove Taiwan can do it too.”

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Twinning sensors and a blockchain tracking system can prove where an agricultural product hails from: for instance, if you wanted to guarantee the grapes in your champagne truly originated in the Champagne region of France. One of the biggest players is International Business Machines Corp., which partnered with food titans including Dole Food Co., Nestle SA, Unilever NV and Walmart Inc. last summer on a pilot to add blockchain to their businesses.

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