Diamond Fortress Technologies receives Gates Foundation funding


Birmingham-based Diamond Fortress Technologies (DFT) recently secured a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant through DFS Lab, a seed stage accelerator for financial technology startups, for its work in financial inclusion.

DFT, located in Innovation Depot, was founded in 2012 and, through its technology ONYX, provides security through fingerprint biometrics on mobile devices without the need for touch-based fingerprint hardware. The company is also committed to promoting financial inclusion with its technology, specifically in the developing world, through its subsidiary, DFT Empower.

“I feel like we have a lot of momentum going into the rest of the year,” said Chace Hatcher, Chief Executive Officer of DFT. “We’ve found a way to reach a niche market and accelerate our growth, and the Gates Foundation had a lot to do with that. The grant will allow us to press forward and deliver technology for financial inclusion for the lower-income world.”

This win continues an especially busy 2018 for DFT. The company was recently recognized with a Governor’s Trade Excellence Award for exporting to every continent except Antarctica. The team also traveled to Finovate Europe in London to meet with investors. Recently, online publication The Tech Tribune named the company the best tech startup in Birmingham.

DFT is the first company to successfully develop a mobile touchless fingerprint biometrics software solution by using the rear-facing camera on smartphones and tablets as the fingerprint collection sensor.

“Essentially what we do is take the camera on any smart phone and we turn the camera into a high-quality fingerprint sensor that is capable of acquiring quality prints,” said Mac Funchess, DFT’s director of marketing. “We intend to change the way people interact with technology, making it more secure, easy and cost effective.”

The company’s financial inclusion work is what caught the attention of the Gates Foundation, who were impressed specifically with the company’s work in Pakistan. In that country, it can be a day’s journey to reach the nearest bank. With DFT technology, people can open a bank account remotely using only their phone, and it doesn’t require a touch-based fingerprint sensor. By using only the phone’s camera, fingerprints can be acquired and sent to a country’s national database for verification. This allows individuals to not have to go to a branch or office in person to participate in banking.

“DFT Empower has a narrower focus,” said Funchess, who also serves as DFT Empower’s director of financial outreach. “We work to provide financial inclusion to low and low-middle income countries as designated by the World Bank.”

Pakistan is a country DFT Empower has focused on specifically, and its work there has been noticed by the Gates Foundation, who the DFT team recently presented to in Seattle.

“DFT allows individuals to sit at home and prove their identity well enough to open a bank account without having to go to a bank,” Funchess said. “They use our software to authorize payments and transfers. That is making the most impact globally. We are not just financial entrepreneurs but social entrepreneurs. Through DFT, 2.2 billion people can get bank accounts, and that enables many of them to participate in the global financial system.”

It is this mission that drives DFT and DFT Empower, Hatcher said.

“We really can make a difference in people’s lives by enabling people to rise up out of poverty in the developing world,” he said. “A bank account is something we take for granted, but it is powerful and has reshaped our mission and focus and has become our driving purpose.”

While DFT has been recognized by the Gates Foundation in Seattle and Finovate Europe in London, one of the company’s most significant honors recently has been winning a Governor’s Trade Excellence Award in Montgomery last month.

“It’s always great to have success from all corners of the world, but to know that you’re appreciated at home makes all the difference,” Funchess said.

Carolyn Turner, senior international trade specialist at the Alabama International Trade Center, said DFT and DFT Empower represent Alabama well.

“Diamond Fortress Technologies, and their wholly-owned subsidiary DFT Empower, are a perfect example of the kind of innovative and successful company that Alabama needs,” Turner said. “DFT has grown year over year, creating jobs and earning recognition across the world. They partnered with the Export Alabama Alliance, including the Alabama International Trade Center at The University of Alabama, to help them succeed internationally.”

Though investors from London, Silicon Valley and New York City have urged DFT to relocate its headquarters to their cities, DFT is Birmingham-born and will continue to be Birmingham made, Funchess said.

“We are asolutely proud to call Birmingham home,” he said. “The cost of living here, the strength of workforce and the help we’ve gotten – we really wouldn’t be in such a good position without the help we've gotten. Everyone that has advised us, helped us, and has been excited about what we are doing – we would not have made it this far without them.”

Here are some statistics about ONYX Fingerprint Technology usage:

·         Used over 15,000 times every day

·         Performed over 30 million authentications

·         Installed on 2.5 million devices on 2,700 different device models

·         Operating in 207 countries