In the latest Q&A in our CTO Talks series, the Allinfra CTO explains how the startup is pulling its way to help solve the climate change crisis, one transaction at the time.
Michel Dinh is the CTO of Allinfra, the tech startup leveraging blockchain technology to help institutions reach their climate goals. Before joining Allinfra as CTO, Dinh spent his career in different roles at Credit Suisse, Fusang and Oyster Security.
Dinh joined as the new CTO of Allinfra just as the Hong Kong-based venture scooped up $6m in a Series A funding round in May 2022. Nomura, the Japanese brokerage firm, led the raise. Unsurprisingly, the venture would use the cash injection to bolster its range of solutions.
So what does Allinfra do? Allinfra leverages blockchain to make it easier for investors to invest in infrastructure and environmental assets. While it’s a bit complicated, one of Allinfra’s solutions makes it easier to buy and trade unlisted infrastructure assets.
Unlisted infrastructure funds refer to privately held funds – hence the unlisted part – in areas that provide a common good to society. This refers to things like transport and utilities. These are usually good and stable investments allowing investors to diversify their portfolio.
However, they can prove quite cumbersome to trade. According to Allinfra, the industry is held back by paper-based and outdated processes. It solves this by splitting and tokenising the ownership rights of stock and ownerships rights of these unlisted infrastructure funds. Each piece represents a share of ownership in that stock. Each piece is tokenised on the ethereum blockchain. Essentially, it’s a smart contract that is easily tracked and enforceable. It also means that trading these tokens becomes easier.
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Another Allinfra solution makes it easier for businesses to track and keep abreast of their sustainability targets. It automatically tracks data on things like businesses’ energy usage and carbon footprint to make it easier for them to meet their targets in a clear and auditable way.
Allinfra and its CTO are not alone in using blockchain to boost sustainability
Abhishek Paul Choudhury, senior disruptive tech analyst at research firm GlobalData, recently noted that using blockchain this way can help solve huge issues for supply chain companies.
“There is no straightforward way to monitor a product’s provenance and authenticity in today’s supply chain networks,” Choudhury said. “Centralised systems are fundamentally insecure as they rely on centralised certificate authorities and centralised databases having single points of failure. Blockchain solutions, which are decentralised and immutable, enable product traceability and authenticity by tracking the products back to their origin and through the supply chain.”
Allinfra is part of a growing number of so-called climatetech, or cleantech, startups that are trying to innovate in order to save the world from environmental disaster. These companies cover everything from supply chain tracking startups to innovators developing robots to clean out the oceans.
Climatetech companies have enjoyed a funding boom lately. Plenty of investors have dedicated funds towards cutting greenhouse gas emissions, such as Bill Gates’ $1bn Breakthrough Energy Ventures and French venture capitalist firm Eurazeo, which announced a new €80m smart city fund in February this year.
This is particularly prevalent when you look at supply chain startups, many of which are solving sustainability issues with technology. Venture capitalists have invested almost $7bn into the supply chain technology sector since 2018, according to data from GlobalData. Of that, $2.46bn was raised by the sector in the past two years. That figure is bigger than the 24 deals worth a total of $180m raised in 2013. However, that’s still down from the peak of 2019 when 240 deals injected $2.99bn into the sector.
Eric Johansson: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you end up in your current role?
Michel Dinh: Prior to Allinfra, I worked for a private regulated digital asset exchange, because I strongly believe that blockchain is a game-changer for the financial sector. After 20 years working with traditional finance technology, for the likes of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers and Credit Suisse. I could see blockchain’s potential to radically improve the efficiency of the sector. Cryptocurrency is often a victim of media and price speculation, yet the underlying blockchain technology could be a huge force for positive change across industry sectors. Allinfra takes green finance and ESG problems and tries to solve them by using the best suited technology available, which is currently, in many cases, blockchain technology.
Where did your interest in tech come from?
My interest in tech really started when it made an entrance into the day to day back in the late 80s/early 90s. I have always been interested in innovation, particularly looking at how we can make the often essential yet repetitive and daily things in our life better. I actually started out in architecture and had a passion for building, using various computer softwares to help design buildings. This sparked my love for technology and I moved my studies to computing.
What is the biggest technology challenge you are solving with Allinfra now?
Perhaps the biggest global problem of them all is what’s happening with climate change and the challenges surrounding it. It’s something that is hard to make sense of with the continuous introduction of new global initiatives bringing lots of noise and very little verifiable action. At Allinfra we are changing perspectives as to how climate change could be solved and building the tools necessary for institutions to make a positive impact on climate change. Allinfra is simultaneously helping to solve issues in the climate finance market with blockchain technology by making sure data is auditable and tamper-proof whilst also verifying it from a financial perspective so that there is credibility.
How do you separate hype from genuine innovation?
I would define hype as something that is talked or bragged about a lot but actually there is very little evidence or actionable proof to support those claims. More and more we are seeing companies jumping on the climate change bandwagon, sometimes with limited evidence to support their claims. One area Allinfra is focusing on is to provide a means of easily and verifiably demonstrating a green project is actually doing what it is claiming to be doing from a climate perspective.
What one piece of advice would you offer to other CTOs?
If your role is to manage an innovative tech team, try to lead your team with confidence and passion even if things are a bit uncertain or have an element of risk. Too many leaders like the comfort of ticking boxes and playing it safe, yet this doesn’t encourage innovation. A good CTO provides a safe working environment where people feel empowered to take calculated risks and they create an environment where employees are allowed to fail if things don’t work. True innovation cannot happen without trial and error.
What’s the most surprising thing about your job?
Nine times out of 10, common sense and pragmatism can solve most problems. In this role, people tend to deliberately overcomplicate things when the problem is actually quite simple to solve. An example of this is shown with the perception of blockchain - it’s fundamentally simple, but it has been made into such a complicated concept with lots of jargon that most people don’t understand. Generally, a lot of the problems I encounter are about needing to make things more efficient, accessible, cheaper or faster for a client - not necessarily building a space shuttle for Mars.
What’s the biggest technological challenge facing humanity?
Beyond computing, the biggest challenge facing humanity is making the day to day essential elements of life accessible to everyone at an affordable cost. If we can build a spaceship for Mars, why can’t we use technology to get water to a country that needs it? We don’t have control over natural elements like flooding or fire, but innovation can help. We just need to prioritise the important things like preventing another pandemic rather than putting another robot on Mars.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for fun?
Perhaps not so much for fun, but I recently adopted a stray cat despite not being much of a cat person. I did this to challenge myself and can safely say it’s been an eye-opener. I am sure that one day soon in the future I will be glad to have challenged myself. The once-very-shy stray cat is now fully socialised.
What's the most important thing happening in your field at the moment?
Humanity tends to wait for disasters to happen before innovation takes place. People in my field are starting to grasp that this needs to be reversed and that it is essential for this to be the other way around instead - imagine if we were properly prepared for the Covid pandemic before it took place? In terms of climate change, the same principles apply. We can only hope that global events that have created significant supply and other disruption will motivate governments to reconsider reliance on non-environmental friendly resources from concentrated sources and accelerate the use of alternative sources of energy.
In another life you’d be?
Probably not a cat! I’d like to have been Jacques Cousteau, the French diver and pioneer who developed the first fully automatic compressed-air Aqua-Lung. This has allowed humans to explore the amazing wonders of the ocean for extended periods of time. I love the ocean and scuba diving, yet without Jacques Cousteau, none of that would have been possible. It has also meant that scientists have been able to discover that seagrass is much more efficient in absorbing Co2 than forests, something we owe to the scuba diving equipment Cousteau invented.
GlobalData is the parent company of Verdict and its sister publications.