Xylene works with companies in the coffee, cocoa, timber, minerals and cotton industries that act as importers and producers, giving them transparency and control over their supply chain. This innovative approach combines supply chain management with satellite technology (SatNav and SatEO) and blockchain to create supply chain transparency.

As part of their journey on BlockStart’s Acceleration Programme, as a DLT/blockchain startup provider, they were looking for new opportunities for collaboration with end-user SMEs that could validate and help them improve their sustainability and transparency project for raw materials blockchain solution.

We spoke with Co-founder and CEO Christopher Edwards to know more about Xylene and their participation in BlockStart.

In one paragraph, what is Xylene?

Xylene is developing a traceability software that enables importers and producers to import and process raw materials sustainably and responsibly and to disclose this origin to consumers. Xylene combines a specially developed data collection process coupled with an independent validation of this data using satellite and blockchain technology. This not only leads to an authentic data collection, but also to a trustworthy procurement of the raw materials. For example, we make it possible for coffee to be produced in a traceable manner, without child labour and with ecological certification, and for end customers to see the production by the coffee farmers.

Can you tell us how the idea for your startup began?

During our time in the automotive industry we worked in different fields of business. I was mainly involved in procurement whereas Giuseppe worked in quality management. At some point we had the idea of combining these two areas with our experience and developing a traceability system that enables the sustainable and legal origin of materials to be tracked and communicated to end consumers. Right from the beginning we wanted to leverage new technologies to achieve traceability with authentic and trusted data which brought us to the benefits of blockchain and satellite technology.

What is Xylene passionate about achieving?

Many products contain raw materials that are imported from countries outside Europe. Many of these raw materials come from countries with high levels of corruption and from unsustainable production. Therefore, laws and certificates require producers to show the origin and sustainable production of their products. At the moment, however, importers cannot confidently prove the origin and sustainability, which is why many companies record losses and endanger their brand image. On top we as consumers are raising our expectations for the products we buy in terms of responsible production and sustainability. Xylene is passionate about driving a change in modern supply chain and allowing consumers to see where their product is from and how it was produced. This is a change that is going to happen, and Xylene will contribute to its success.

Who are the team members and what backgrounds do you have?

I am one of the two founders of Xylene together with my colleague Giuseppe and I grew up in Germany. We met at our former employer in the automotive industry after I had completed my business and supply chain management studies in Vienna and Cranfield. Giuseppe is originally from Sicily and studied mechanical and manufacturing engineering in Lyon and Dublin. In February 2019 we packed our things and came to Stuttgart to set up Xylene. Florian has been part of our team since March 2020. We got to know each other as participants in the Gründermotor Meisterklasse in Stuttgart, an early stage incubation programme. He has a background in system design and studied in Stuttgart and Edinburgh. The three of us are very excited about where our journey is going and enjoy it every step of the way.

Can you tell us about the prototype you have developed with the support of BlockStart Acceleration Programme?

Xylene is creating a transparent supply chain for SME adopters where essential steps of the material journey are tracked to deliver a more responsible and sustainable product to consumers. With the development, consumers will have the opportunity to experience the origin of the products themselves and connect to the community to interact with farmers in the country of origin. As part of the prototyping stage we significantly developed our traceability app and tested it with SME adopters in the field. This helped us to validate the user experience and begin with software development to achieve the successful pilot testing with real products.

What were you most excited about in taking part of BlockStart Acceleration Programme?

The most exciting part for us being part of the BlockStart programme was the opportunity to develop our product from the prototype phase to the piloting stage and having the opportunity to find interested SME adopters to collaborate with. The funding from the EU H2020 was hugely encouraging and opened an opportunity for achieving development milestones much faster. Also, the support throughout the stages was something we were particularly excited about. Even though all was virtually held the exchange was brilliant and we could really leverage the know-how of the mentors, fellow startups, and SME adopters.

Which were the major challenges you have faced during the development and market/fit validation of your prototype?

Our approach is the development of a user experience through the mobile application with does not disrupt current processes in supply chain. This brings with it challenges in testing our current status with adopters and iterating to achieve the best outcome to be implemented. Key is communication and structured testing to gain the most feedback from customer tests.

What unique aspects does your company and the prototype you have developed have to offer to the market sectors/type of companies you wish to enter/sell and to the blockchain ecosystem in Europe, as a whole?

Xylene’s unique approach and differentiation to competition is targeted toward the utilisation of satellite technology to gather reliable and authentic data in the supply chain and make it more visible. Through this, Xylene can ensure that the gathered raw material due-diligence data is validated through authentic data sources. This ensures that uncertainties are identified more precisely and can be mitigated.

Is collaboration with SME adopters important for piloting your solution?

Collaborating with SME adopters is essential for us and our development towards a standardised system which can be scaled into various industries and supply chains. To offer companies a way to introduce Xylene to achieve traceability it is important to test our approach in various cases. Our target of completing 7 pilot projects can only be achieved through SME adopters open to innovation and the benefits it brings to their business.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?

We were recently selected as one of the top 10 startups of the European Space Agency 2020 and would like to continue on this successful path. In the next two years we will be working in pilot projects with the first customers, with whom we will implement transparency and traceability in a tailor-made approach in their supply chain. For example, we work with the coffee manufacturer Rainbow Coffee from Germany, who import Ethiopian wild coffee and produce tasty roasts. Xylene ensures the tracking of the coffee beans from the area of origin and enables consumers to see the origin through QR codes on the product. With further pilots like this we want to achieve a system standardisation ready for scalability. Xylene shall be a system which helps producers and importers to achieve traceability in a smart and efficient way without having to incur high costs in the implementation. In 5 years, we want to be a proven solution for trusted and sustainable material traceability.