February 15, 2023 | Alumni
This alumni-powered startup brings blockchain to Ukrainian refugees
By Alexa Battler
Ali Zaheer (left) and Zain Zaidi co-founded TransCrypts to give people direct access to official documents such as medical records and income verification forms.
For many, blockchain is best known as the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies. But startup company TransCrypts is using it to give people more control over their personal information – including refugees who fled Ukraine. A document verification platform, TransCrypts is making waves, recently landing US$2.4 million in funding from backers that included Mark Cuban.
At the helm are 23-year-old CEO Zain Zaidi and co-founder and chief technology officer Ali Zaheer (BA 2021 UTSC), a graduate of U of T Scarborough’s computer science program. The pair developed the startup with the support of The Hub, U of T Scarborough’s entrepreneurial incubator.
“Our goal is to give you control of all your documents,” says Zaidi. “We can do away with this 20th-century way of verifying documents and create a world where I can instantly show you who I am, my employment and income history, and, hopefully one day, my criminal and medical history.”
The company, which also received initial funding via startup competitions organized by The Hub and U of T Entrepreneurship last year, uses blockchain technology to break files into thousands of pieces, or blocks, and store them on computers around the world. The files are so thoroughly encrypted that even TransCrypts itself can’t access them without direct permission. For official documents, such as medical records, the credentials that make a file legitimate are converted into a block in its blockchain. Owners can share and access those verified files, but can’t alter them.
“One thing we really pride ourselves on is that we don’t store your data like a lot of big tech companies,” Zaidi says. “We consider ourselves like the postal service. We’re delivering the letter. We don't open it – we don’t know what’s inside, we’re just helping share it.”
In the case of the health-care system. Zaheer says providers often use different platforms to store electronic health records, leaving patients with a disjointed medical history scattered across clinics and hospitals.
“Patients are unable to easily take their complete health data and records with them if they change hospitals or relocate,” says Zaheer. “This makes it very hard for doctors to see the history and rationality of decisions made by previous doctors.”
Thousands of Ukrainian refugees access medical records with pilot project
TransCrypts is developing a way to let both patients and health-care providers easily access and share electronic health records via the blockchain. When the war in Ukraine broke out, the company worked with grassroots organizations helping refugees to set the idea in motion.
“A lot of refugees didn’t have their medical records and couldn’t contact hospitals that were now in a war zone,” Zaidi says. “They were receiving poor quality health care because they didn’t know the local language and couldn’t communicate, say, an allergy to a medication or a proxy condition that would impact treatment.”
TransCrypts’s pilot project let Ukrainian hospitals upload medical records straight to its virtual platform. Refugees were then able to view, access and share their records with health-care providers via QR codes and translate them into their host country’s language through a built-in feature. The project has given more than 4,000 refugees direct access to their medical records, which TransCrypt says resulted in significant increases to their quality of health care.
Blockchain-based service freeing up thousands of hours for HR departments
Zaidi says easy access to medical records would save patients from waiting for their files – not to mention the fees hospitals and clinics often charge to share them. The same logic applies to any official documents held by an organization. That includes criminal background checks and independently sharing school transcripts or confirmations of employment.
The same goes for getting a mortgage, lease or loan, which typically requires HR deparatments to send documents that verify income or employment. TransCrypts offers a service that integrates with an HR department’s existing software and lets employees access their own verification documents. Employees can then email their files straight to the third parties – with the email coming from their employer’s email address, adding to the validity.
The company says more than 100 organizations using TransCrypts collectively saved tens of thousands of hours last year that would have otherwise been spent filling employment and income verification requests. “HR departments love us because they don't have to worry about filling these requests anymore,” Zaidi says, “and consumers love us because now they don't have to worry about being the middle person between HR and the bank.”