Emma Cui, CEO of Longhash spent a decade in the financial industry as a corporate banker and two years as a management consultant with McKinsey, a United States headquartered global management consulting firm, before diving into the world of start-ups. In May last year, she co-founded Longhash Singapore, a blockchain incubator that provides various support services for early stage blockchain start-ups, including technical support, mentoring and fund-raising.
Thriving in the male-dominated tech industry
Women are the minority in the male-dominated world of information technology start-ups – just 29 per cent according to research by Carta, a leading software platform for managing equity and ownership. What makes Emma Cui even more exceptional is that she is CEO of Longhash, an incubator of start-ups whose ideas are unlocking the full potential of blockchain. She says the number of women in this sector is even smaller, consisting of only 14.5 per cent overall and just 7 per cent in executive positions.
There are two key challenges women face not only in tech, but across all industries, she points out. “Most of the established industry players are male, so we have to be more diligent in getting sponsorship for our projects. Secondly, we have to travel constantly to keep up with the industry’s evolving technology and landscape and this makes it hard for a woman, especially if she is raising children.”
But Cui believes women can thrive in start-ups because of the culture of “embracing change” in this industry. When she made the plunge to get into blockchain, she recognised it was the future and wanted to be a part of its development.
A change of industry
“I had a background in the financial industry as a corporate banker,” she says. “When I came across blockchain technology in 2015, I was immediately fascinated by the technology and could see how syndicated loan and trade finance can potentially be disrupted.”
“But I was wondering how to pivot towards it and then joined McKinsey Digital. It was a good platform because it allowed me to get close to what the technology trends were and their real-life applications in the business context. It was a stepping stone to get into the technology start-up space.”
Now well-versed in how blockchain works and what is needed to develop it, she directs a 12-week incubation programme in the Science Park campus for eight start-ups at a time, providing a full range of support for early-stage projects.
Blockchain today, she emphasises, is where the Internet was in the early 1990s when only governments and multinational corporations adopted it. It is in the process of building infrastructure to make it user-friendly for all industries.
The technology, though, is still incomprehensible to everyday people for whom the Web is an indispensable tool. The downside of the Internet is that details of users, including their names, e-mail and websites they visit are stored online in a centralised huge computer of each company or organisation. This makes it easier for hackers to attack and steal information.
How does blockchain work?
In blockchain, data is decentralised, recorded and stored onto several different computer devices on the Internet. It is then packed into blocks that are linked together to form a chain, which makes it very difficult to hack. Information that is added into the chain is always assigned a special code, which would be rendered useless if anyone tries to change the data. Every user will then know about the breach.
Cui says: “In simple language, blockchain is a chain of blocks that records all valid transactions in a network. For the current Internet: Imagine a classroom of 10 people, where the class monitor is the only one who validates and records all transactions that occur in the room. It requires everyone to trust his integrity record. But in blockchain, every one has a record and only when this is consistent among the majority can it be considered as authentic. This takes away the need to trust one or a few centralised entities.
“Blockchain’s unique features are the immutability, traceability and transparency of data. That is why it is called the ‘trust machine’.”
Longhash is incubating start-ups that are addressing fundamental infrastructure issues such as private key management, digital identity and attestation (claims that other entities endorse), distributed data storage and content acceleration, says Cui. Here’s a sample of three that underwent Longhash’s programme.
Allows users to monetise under-utilised bandwidth and storage from any NAS (search engine for blockchain), desktop, or mobile devices around the world.
Allows companies to quickly build and launch their blockchain applications/services around their tokenised assets.
Builds trust among exchanges, financial institutions and governments through its intelligent KYC/AML platform which analyses intention and risk behind every transaction.