Q&A: The founder of St. Louis startup blossom on how blockchain can help utilities

The first step for any entrepreneur interested in using blockchain technology is to understand what it actually is. That’s according to Chris Mertens, the co-founder and CEO of blossom, a St. Louis-based startup that’s working to build its business around the technology.

“It’s just a distributive ledger. It’s just something that stores data,” Mertens said of blockchain. “It’s complicated how the whole network actually works, but at it’s heart that’s all it is.”

blossom is creating a system for “smart contracts” designed to help users to exchange goods and services according to a set of user-defined rules. The company will initially target the energy industry, which it was exposed to during its time in the Ameren Accelerator program.

blossom was one of seven startups selected from a pool of 200 applicants for the program’s first class. The company received $100,000, along with mentoring and technical assistance, during the 12-week program. Now, blossom is hoping to finish up a pilot program with Ameren by the end of the year.

Mertens recently visited with Missouri Business Alert about blossom. An abbreviated version of that conversation was featured in an episode our entrepreneurship podcast, Speaking Startup. Audio of the full conversation is available through the player embedded above.

Topics covered with Mertens included:

Energy is just the start

“We want to establish really interesting relationships between industries, start in the energy industry and then go elsewhere. We’re a bartering marketplace. We have a lot of ideas for where else to go, but we’re focusing on the energy industry right now and getting all of our main market data together before we go out and try to extrapolate. There’s no better industry for us to start in. It’s the most difficult. It’s the most complicated and slow-moving because of the nature of the business. We figured if we could do it there, we could do it anywhere.”

Utility companies are evolving

“The potential benefit of our product in the energy industry is incredibly huge. There’s a big problem with stranded power right now, and that’s mainly due to over-generation. There’s no way to deal with that in the lines right now. Because of this, the energy industry is moving in really interesting way. …  A lot of utilities are trying to adopt a more forward thinking mentality because they’ve already built the gridlines, even if they no longer need to generate the power. So utilities are seeing their role shift from power providers to grid providers. Our application in the energy space is catered toward that mentality, making the grid itself way more valuable, and making these lines more powerful than they already are.”

Building a blockchain

“We’re working with Hyperledger right now to build our blockchain software. It’s open source and lets you build on top of it. There’s a lot of really good tools out there right now. You can go on Ethereum and develop smart contracts, but then it’s all tied back to Ethereum coins. We didn’t want to be connected to any cryptocurrencies. We’re integrating directly into the industries we’re working with, and basing all the values of those agreements in that industry on the market value of whatever the transaction is.”

 


A version of this interview aired during the July 13 episode of Missouri Business Alert’s Speaking Startup podcast. Find that episode wherever you get your podcasts, and get more Speaking Startup from the show page.


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