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Digital cellar doors and grapes on the blockchain: Meet the startups in FOMENT’s first wine-tech accelerator

Priscilla Pho /

ZionTech co-founders

ZionTech co-founders David Stokoe, Paul Saigar, Chris Hogg, and Hoggie Estate owner Gavin Hogg (left to right). Source: supplied.

In South Australia, seven agtech startups have been selected to bring a bit of tech savvy to the super-traditional, yet still booming, wine tourism industry

The startups will take part in the FOMENT accelerator pilot program, consisting of six intensive bootcamp sessions, with support from industry mentors.

At the end of three weeks, each startup will pitch their product to the Foment Advisory Board of thought leaders in the wine, tech and tourism industries.

Startups range from digital wine maps for tipsy explorers to a micro-influencer marketplace focused on Chinese consumers, to a solution helping festival-goers remember their favourite wines, even after a few.

Have your wine and drink it too

Jake Wallace, founder of Dionysus, doesn’t have an extensive work history in IT or business. But, he tells StartupSmart, he has all too often experienced the inadequacies of napkins at festivals when trying to note down the wines he’s enjoyed.

The idea of Dionysus — named after the Greek deity of wine and festivity — came to him in 2015, but he’s been working on it in earnest for the past two years.

The app lists wine-tasting events, pre-filled with the products available on the day, allowing attendees to find and buy the wine directly from the winemakers.

“Our vision is to shift the focus from the cheapest wine to the winemaker and their story,” Wallace says.

The founder has taught himself how to build and develop the android app, and has been learning about the liquor licensing regulations in different states.

It’s been a learning curve, he admits.

“I guess it’s like riding a bike or flying a plane,” Wallace says.

“It’s challenging at first, but you pick up things and keep moving forward.”

He’s also been building the product between his day job in the finance sector. And, to date, the startup has been self-funded.

However, it hasn’t all been a hard slog. Research was a legitimate excuse for “over the years, just attending wine festivals and wine tours and various wine education courses”.

During this time, he noticed a “winemakers don’t like spending on digital”, despite seeing it as a necessity for marketing purposes.

So, Wallace says he is excited to work with the mentors of the FOMENT program, challenge his assumptions about the industry, and potentially build out a team.

The accelerator will give him a chance to explore how to wedge technology into the business of winemaking, he explains.

“Gone are the days of filling out forms and handwritten notes,” he adds.

“Just go in and enjoy the experience of the festival.”

From grape to glass

On the other end of the spectrum, Gavin Hogg is heading up Hoggies Estate Wines, in South Australia’s Coonawarra region, into his 70s.

Despite his years of experience, Hogg is no technophobe. He was very much open to the idea of implementing blockchain technology into his business model to create ZionTech, a solution that record the entire production process from grape to glass.

His open mindedness was perhaps in part due to the fact that one of the developers in the business is his son, Chris.

The new venture launched in 2017, along with co-founded with David Stokoe, who was working in eCommerce for the government, and Paul Saigar, who worked at Microsoft and specialises in information security background.

ZionTech developed a user-friendly digital platform allowing wineries to track the provenance of a bottle of wine, dubbing the app ‘Titanium Thread’.

“Winemakers are able to track where a grape is grown and picked, all the way through to bottling and when the bottle is ready for distribution,” Stokoe tells StartupSmart.

According to Stokoe, the blockchain technology offers vineyards an easier way to capture and consolidate information already required to be compliant with their audits.

“The other part is the digital cellar door,” he says.

The digital nature of Titanium Thread allows winemakers to “seamlessly” connect with digital audiences, Stokoe says, by extending the in-person experience the trio saw on wine tours.

This part of the platform was inspired by “watching these uniquely Australian experiences as cellar door producers absolutely coming to life and selling their particular wine,” the founder explains.

“Some of the wineries that were riveting were incredibly proud of the organic worm fertiliser they were using and these little aspects that had gone into making that one bottle of wine,” Stokoe explains.

In this regard, Titanium Thread was made to streamline existing processes within the supply chain, and preserve the experience of tours and learning about the craft of winemaking into the digital age, he says.

Much like Wallace, Stokoe and his co-founders are concerned about the “gap in literacy between digital literacy and the wineries and the ability to actually connect”, but thanks to the Hoggs’ input, ZionTech is also keen to help winemakers spend “less time on the computer and more time making wine”.

With agriculture know-how and IT backgrounds, the three co-founders are now keen to learn about best practices on the business side.

Still in beta mode with “fairly stark revenues”, ZionTech is currently being trialled by four wineries across Coonawarra, and is set to expand across another 10 across Australia in time for the 2020 vintage.

The 2019 FOMENT startups are:

  • ZionTech: The startup behind Titanium Thread, an online platform using blockchain to track the production process of specific wine bottles.
  • ROVER Journey: A Chinese micro-influencer marketplace connecting Australian businesses to Chinese consumers via local brand advocates.
  • Twenty Five Doors: A digital map for wine tourists, and marketplace connecting cellar doors with ‘qualified’ consumers.
  • Dionysus: A journaling app that helps consumers find wines they tasted at festivals and purchase bottles directly from the wineries.
  • Taglog: An integrated platform with field devices logging work process in real time, including a GPS stamp.
  • Consilium/GAIA: A cloud-based and automated vineyard identification and mapping system.
  • Cellr: A packaging solution promotes direct-to-consumer marketing and aims to tackle counterfeits.

READ MORE: South Australia’s new wine and tourism accelerator Foment will open its doors to national and international startups alike

READ MORE: Subscription startup The Wine Gallery raises $2 million, after using the power of social media to increase its user base tenfold

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Priscilla Pho

Priscilla is a reporter at SmartCompany. You can contact her at [email protected].

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