EyeVerify investors are bullish on the Kansas City-based company, which they believe will help reach customers globally “who currently have no way of paying or being paid.”
Jason Lu, an executive with China-based Ant Financial Services Group, told a collection of Kansas City civic and entrepeneurial leaders Monday that’s why the Alibaba affiliate jumped to make its first investment outside of China. Alibaba is China’s largest e-commerce company.
Ant Financial had begun using EyeVerify’s Eyeprint ID, a technology providing a smartphone alternative to entering passwords, on its platforms earlier this year. In September, it reported that it bought the company for an undisclosed price that observers estimated at $70 million to $100 million.
EyeVerify now operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of Ant Financial, which operates Alibaba’s payment gateway Alipay.
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The technology, Lu said, will enable individuals, as well as small and medium businesses, to trade “fairly and securely,” and will help the Ant Financial network expand from 450 million customers to a billion or more.
EyeVerify, which grew from research by Reza Derakhshani and colleagues at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, caught entrepreneurial fire after Toby Rush was hired as chief executive and propelled the company out of Kansas City’s StartUp Village.
Rush said the journey is part of the American dream — taking a concept that was “so far out there” that it was “almost sci fi” — and turning it into an entrepreneurial success.
Officials from EyeVerify, Ant Financial, investment groups, UMKC, and entrepreneurial support groups gathered Monday afternoon at EyeVerify’s new headquarters at 1712 Main St., surrounded by posters picturing the company’s growth from invention to acquisition.
The EyeVerify technology allows users take “selfies” to read the individual pattern of blood vessels in their eyeballs, authenticating who they are, much like a fingerprint. The technology encrypts the image data so that it doesn’t leave the user’s device and can’t be stolen.
Rush said that he’d received “plenty of offers” to move the company to Boston or San Francisco, but that he resisted in order to stay in Kansas City.
“I’m not cashing out. I’m stepping up to a new platform,” he said. “There’s a lot of room to grow here…We’re not anywhere near done.”
Rush said the company is “always looking” to hire more people beyond the 40 it now employs and intends to keep its principal research and development work in Kansas City. He said EyeVerify particularly is looking for software engineers.
Derakhshani, who continues to hold a UMKC professorship and work at EyeVerify, said it’s been exciting to move from concept to patent to commercial application.
“It’s nice to have a lot of people share in it,” Derakhshani said of EyeVerify’s growth.
Mayor Sly James said the company was an important addition to Kansas City’s entrepreneurial heritage and shows that local residents are “not just thinking outside the box. We recognize there is no box.”
James said he hoped stories like EyeVerify’s would help entice other technology companies to relocate to Kansas City.