Manchester leads the world…again

In his poem, This is the Place, the poet Tony Walsh, aka Longfella, lists some of the ways that Manchester has led the world – from the cotton trade to computers via Emmeline Pankhurst and Madchester music. Well he should get ready to add another to the list – the VCode.

Manchester entrepreneur Louis-James Davis is in the process of taking over the world from his base in the centre of the city. If you’ve ever scanned a bar code at a supermarket or used a QR code then you have some experience of how he’s doing it.

If you look at the tattoo on his left wrist you can see a VCode.

To the uninitiated it may look like it’s just a round version of the traditional rectangular bar code or square QR code box but it is much cleverer than either of those.

“The idea behind the bar code first appeared 70 years ago and the QR code is nearly 25 now,” explains Louis. “What we’ve done with the VCode is create something that is far more complex, constantly updating and will lead the way in creating secure information and combatting counterfeiting in all sorts of areas of our lives.”

Louis and the team at VST Enterprises have worked with a Cambridge University professor to create a system which enables end-to-end encryption on all sorts of information and has the potential to change the way society works in many countries.
Louis gives a remarkable example. “We went on a British trade mission to India last year and now we’re working with two states to reissue their identity cards so each person has an individual VCode. With that they can receive benefits, pay their taxes, access their bank and a whole range of other services. The state governments are already seeing financial benefits as fraud is reduced and tax payments go up.”

The potentially revolutionary aspect is that Louis is keen to encourage governments to use the money they get to benefit the poor in their country. “When I’m somewhere like Brazil, I’m pointing out that when the VCode brings in finance and reduces fraud, the money they have could be used to build public housing and get rid of the shanty towns…imagine the way lives could be changed if they do that.”

And in a further combining of Mancunian leadership and sound ethics, VST Enterprises have worked with Manchester University’s Graphene Institute to shrink the VCode down to 225 microns – the size of a very fine grain of sand. So a VCode can be applied to very small objects or be very discrete. There are plans to use it in Africa to trace the supply chains of minerals which could mark conflict-free diamonds.

If you’ve voted in any of our recent elections then you may be bemused that we still use a pencil on a piece of string to make an X on a sheet of paper. The VCode is already being developed as a voting method in places like India – so why not here?

“Because we have 45 million people who will resist the idea of an identity card,” explains Louis. “It’s much easier to introduce something like voting through the VCode in a country where people are used to having an identity card.”

One of the concerns is the potential for hacking. But Louis and his team are well aware of the need to combat this – and the figures are mind-boggling. “The VCode can generate 300million codes per person on the planet,” says Louis. “Unlike a bar code or QR code, the V code is constantly changing. We’re working with the American military to challenge our system and secure it all the time.”

At a more prosaic level, we in the UK will get our chance to become VCode familiar and friendly from the autumn onwards. That’s when VApparel should start appearing in the shops as a way of guaranteeing that what you’re spending your hard-earned money on is genuine, not a counterfeit. All you need to do is download the VCode app, hold your phone to the item and it will tell you if it’s genuine.

This will bring the VCode full-circle. Louis started out as a professional musician. “I was a drummer but when I was 21, I got a rare strain of pneumonia that nearly killed me,” explains Louis. “I couldn’t go back to drumming because my lungs were so badly damaged so I got into the music press side of things.”

He wanted to make the magazine available on phones and computers with personal adverts and information for each reader. But the existing technology wasn’t up to delivering what he wanted, it was too slow and too costly.

He started working with a Cambridge Professor to develop image recognition – so with the VCode you can be at a distance or an angle and it will still work, rather than close up like a QR code. He was also working with his team to create algorithms that would avoid collisions to reduce the chances of fraud and give the consumer speed and convenience.

Around the same time, the European Union was seeking a new, secure way to combat counterfeit goods. Louis and VST Enterprises won the tender.

“Things weren’t straightforward though,” says Louis. “We’re 4 ½ years into a 7 year plan for the business and it’s only now that we’re on the brink of seeing a return on investment.”

“We’ve had 4 stages of investment – with 70 of the 84 investors being friends and family,” he explains. “I didn’t want to lose control of the company by bringing in venture capitalists so it’s been tough going. In fact, The Accountancy People’s knowledge of the R&D tax credit system has kept the company going at key points. We’ve had £400,000 in R&D tax credits so far with another £155,000 to come but if James and Andrew hadn’t worked with us to make that happen then the story could have been very different.”

With VST Enterprise offices already open in New York, Reno, New Delhi, Hyderabad and Singapore and conversations taking place in every continent on the planet, the VCode already has a global presence and reach.

As we use it to check our designer clothes or fan merchandise is genuine, around the world it may be starting to have a beneficial impact on millions of lives if governments use it to its full potential – and that might make it the biggest Manchester revolution yet.