This is the start-up behind the digital vaccination card

The Cologne-based company Ubirch is helping to develop the digital vaccination certificate. But the technology can do much more.

First, all of Germany wanted to get the needle in the arm, now they are all waiting for the digital vaccination card. Travel restrictions within the European Union are to be abolished for vaccinated, genesis or tested persons. Therefore, the digital vaccination card should be ready on time before the summer holidays, instruction from the Ministry of Health. And indeed: Since Thursday, the long-awaited card is in use.

For the commissioned companies, this meant a lot of pressure, but now also fame and glory - after all, it could improve the lives of millions of people. That's why big names are behind the project: IBM, Bechtle, govdigital. But Ubirch, a small, unknown start-up from Cologne's Mediapark, which is programming much of the software for the vaccination card, has also been working tirelessly for weeks. For Ubirch, the tender is a prestigious project, founder and CEO Stephan Noller speaks of a "spectacular order". More than 50 people are working on the digital vaccination passport, about half of them from the Ubirch team. The start-up is not allowed to say too much about the project. The Ministry of Health has taken over communication of the project, which is running late and has taken a lot of criticism.

However, the start-up behind the vaccination card is not only on the road to success because of the prestigious project. It currently employs 40 people in the Cologne Techquartier and, according to its own information, has a seven-figure turnover. But what does the company actually do besides the digital vaccination card?

The start-up was founded in 2016 by 51-year-old Stephan Noller. He had previously founded Nugg.ag, a company that tailored online advertising to online users. In 2010, it went to Swiss Post, and later to Zalando. He himself devoted himself to another major project. With Ubrich, he wants to achieve what the economy has been craving for a long time: the measurement of the world thanks to the networking of devices. And as securely as possible, secured via the blockchain.

"The idea is to breathe new life into old things by connecting them to the Internet," Noller explains. He's talking about the so-called Internet-of-Things, the idea, in other words, of networking many devices so that they can communicate with each other, much like people on the Internet. Hence the name: Internet-of-Things. Noller sees the potential in power generation, for example, whose consumption measurements and sensors must provide precise and reliable data. "The data from the photovoltaic system on the roof of a single-family home must be correct and get to the energy company, for example, for billing."

Ubirch programs the software to make that happen. Noller was already writing the program code and developing the idea two years before the company was founded. Noller relies on the blockchain for security. The idea behind the technology is to have a decentralized database where the same information is stored in many places, matched, and therefore tamper-proof. While critics object that using blockchain is often costly and too cumbersome depending on the use case, Noller is confident in its secure encryption.

Ubirch offers its products mostly on the software level, only one project also relies on sim cards as hardware. "Blockchain on a Sim" is the name of the product. It is intended to enable mobile phones to become measuring stations themselves. The process seals the data directly at its source - the SIM chip, and thus before it has been stored in a blockchain in the cloud, which, according to Noller, should provide additional security. Ubirch is working on a larger project with the Sozialhelden association that relies on the technology. The association offers a "Wheelmap," which it says is the largest free online map of wheelchair-accessible places in the world. For wheelchair users, they say, it's important to know whether a lift marked on the map actually works. "With Sozialhelden, we are working on a solution to equip elevators with sensor technology that measures whether the elevator is actually moving," says Noller. Elevators are thus "hacked" with a sim card because operators often refuse to provide live data from their elevators.

Since its founding in 2016, his idea of a connected blockchain world has apparently caught on. The number of employees has grown to 40 and investors are also giving money to the Cologne-based company. Last year, Ubirch was able to close its third financing round worth millions. Investors include NRW.Bank, Hubraum, Deutsche Telekom's tech incubator and London-based VC Breed Reply. "The Internet of Things is a megatrend with endless possibilities for every industry," said Michael Stölting, member of NRW.BANK's Managing Board, at the announcement. "That's why we need companies from North Rhine-Westphalia that develop approaches to solutions and also set international standards in the field of digital security technology, for example."

Ubirch now has offices in Cologne, Berlin, Munich, Tel Aviv and Dubai. For further internationalization, Noller brought Karim H. Attia on board as co-CEO in November 2020. Attia and Noller have already worked together at Nugg.ad as peer bosses. In 1999, Attia founded Xenion, one of the first and later market-leading online marketing agencies in Germany.

Noller speaks of an almost infinite range of possible uses for his Ubirch technology: precisely wherever data from the real world needs to be digitally secured, the blockchain comes into play. Even behind the vaccination certificate, which is created via the Corona Warn app or the new CovPass app, is the new technology that Ubrich is betting so heavily on. When the digital vaccination certificate launches now, millions of citizens are likely to carry around a bit of technology from Ubirch on their smartphones .


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