ServBlock: Building a blockchain future for biotech

9 May 2022

ServBlock co-founder and CEO John Ward. Image: ServBlock

A trio of sibling entrepreneurs from Bray have a new venture helping to heal a pain point in pharma through digitisation.

John Ward came up with the idea for ServBlock while consulting for a large multinational back in March 2020.

“While executing a manual paper-based task at a supplier’s facility in Sweden, we got a call from the large multinational client to down tools and get home immediately. Ireland was going into lockdown,” he recalled.

“It was at this moment I realised that this paper-based task could be executed digitally without flying halfway around the globe.”

And that’s how Ward found himself “building the blockchain future of biotech”.

Founded last year, ServBlock uses blockchain-based auditing and compliance to help pharma manufacturers guarantee quality across their supply chain.

“As more and more pharmaceutical and biotech companies choose to outsource their manufacturing projects, companies must evaluate the performance of their contract manufacturing organisations and determine whether it meets industry and regulatory standards,” Ward explained.

“ServBlock’s compliance management software helps ensure pharmaceutical contract manufacturers adhere to the same integrity, compliance and quality operations as in-house manufacturing.”

Ward said ServBlock’s technology can improve processes in supply chains adhering to good manufacturing practice (GMP) standards.

“The complexity and the lack of transparency, coordination and trust among stakeholders in GMP supply chains can be greatly reduced by the introduction of blockchain or distributed ledger technology,” he said. “ServBlock allows for data security, traceability and trust between counterparties that current industrial complexes lack.”

Data from ServBlock is presented to clients via a tailored dashboard that can be configured to the needs of different manufacturing roles. This, Ward explained, allows for “continuous auditing of the process through a permission matrix and distributed ledger technology, while ensuring every party to the audit has access only to the information required for their role”.

‘Our goal at ServBlock is to reduce the cost of drugs to the patient’

ServBlock is a family business founded by Ward and brothers Thomas and Kevin, headquartered in their home county of Wicklow.

“[We] have a long track record in business together,” said CEO Ward. “Thomas has a long track record in the tech industry and has led teams as a principal cloud engineer in the likes of Microsoft and Oracle. We call Kevin the sales genius as he has managed to turn the last business the three of us founded – Reward Catering – into one of the largest manufacturers in its category in Europe.”

Ward himself comes from a science background. He initially studied chemistry and spent the last decade consulting in the biotech industry, “providing validation and compliance services to many of the household names in pharma”.

It was through this experience that the idea for ServBlock came about. “I am the frustrated end user in the process,” he said. The cause of his frustration was the lack of digitisation in what is largely considered a cutting-edge field in the STEM industries. But the real end user that stands to gain from ServBlock’s technology is the patient receiving medication.

“Our goal at ServBlock is to reduce the cost of drugs to the patient by eliminating the inefficiencies of verification and re-verification that currently exist,” said Ward. “And, perhaps more importantly, [to reduce] the time it takes to get these life-saving medicines to the people that need them.”

‘We aim to hire a founding engineering team to bring engineering in house’

Ward and his team of sibling co-founders have completely bootstrapped ServBlock up to now, but they plan to initiate a seed round later this year. This will no doubt go toward building a team, as ServBlock is currently hiring.

“We aim to hire a founding engineering team to bring engineering in house,” said Ward. “Kevin is busy building out our sales team with the aim of hitting the ground running as we have just successfully launched our traceability platform. This has all taken place in the background of our first deployments across client sites.”

As is evident, things are “extremely busy” for this young start-up and its experienced founders.

One of the company’s biggest challenges has been in explaining itself. “As we are utilising a relatively new technology, customer education has been a key enabler,” said Ward.

Another key factor enabling ServBlock is a “healthy and vibrant” start-up scene here in Ireland. “We have been lucky enough to have the support of our Local Enterprise Office in Wicklow, who have been superb. We have also participated in some start-up programmes offered through the NDRC,” said Ward.

“It has been absolutely invaluable to us in both practical execution terms but also with networking and mentorship. We really couldn’t speak highly enough of how much these programmes have helped us.”

And that hasn’t stopped ServBlock aiming beyond Ireland and connecting with international programmes. The business recently joined Microsoft for Startups and US-headquartered R3’s venture development programme, offering a gateway into the latter’s enterprise blockchain ecosystem. The Irish start-up was also recently selected for CV Labs’ incubator in Zug, Switzerland’s ‘crypto valley’.

All of this feeds into CEO Ward’s plans to “supercharge” growth in 2022.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.