From Taiwan to the World, Taking Digitalized Documentation to the Next Level

Bringing the distributed ledger technology that underpins blockchain and cryptocurrencies to the digitalization of academic certificates and other important documents has won Taiwanese startup Turing Space Inc., customers and awards around the world. Among these is a Special Prize from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) at its City-Tech.Tokyo in 2023, the predecessor of SusHi Tech Tokyo 2024's Global Startup Program.
In 2023, CEO of Turing Space Jeff Hu during a visit to the WHO and the United Nations, with which they are partnering on a project.

Self-confessed "coding nerd" Jeff Hu maintains that his career has been largely shaped by a series of "accidents." Leaving aside philosophical questions around the role of fate, the self-effacing founder and CEO of Turing Space has certainly taken the path less traveled, along which he now steers his startup.

Captivated by robotics at the tender age of nine, Hu says he spent "about 50 percent of my childhood in robotics school" in his native Taiwan. This led to his first visit to Japan, aged 14, to compete in a World Robotics Olympiad, where he was surprised to discover the accompanying presentation had to be in English. Breaking through the language barrier, his team medaled at the next event in South Korea.

Certificates stored on Turing's platform can be verified, easily sent to a third party, and securely preserved over the long term.

Falling into Place

Later going on to study computer science at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, while nearly everyone was focusing on AI, Hu became interested in blockchain. Best known for its use with cryptocurrency, which then suffered from a reputation tarnished by its associations with criminal activities, Hu says it felt at the time like little more than a buzzword. 

But after working "on some projects and papers with a few professors in Hong Kong," he was offered paid work in the nascent field, which morphed into a company. Realizing he relished the ever-shifting challenges of new ventures, Hu put on hold his goal of joining academia for the less predictable world of startups.

Hu says his confidence took a bit hit after applying for 18 of the top global machine learning master's programs, including Cambridge, MIT, and Oxford. "I got 18 rejection letters," he recalls with a broad smile. Not easily deterred, he was subsequently invited to be a research scholar at the University of California, Berkeley Blockchain Lab. While there, he launched Turing Certs (named for groundbreaking mathematician and computing visionary Alan Turing) after experiencing difficulties verifying his own academic certificates during his university applications.

Hu presenting at City-Tech.Tokyo in 2023—an event focusing on how startups can solve issues related to urban living—that opened doors for Turing in Japan.

Keeping It Real

Alongside verification—fake certificates are more common than commonly understood—the other central rationale for this documentation tech upgrade is long-term preservation. "An average person's lifespan is 85 years right now but for digital content to be stored for 85 years is nearly impossible. Computers are evolving every two to five years: We use different protocols, different frameworks, different ecosystems. Blockchain can do it."

Hu goes on to explain that although the distributed ledger tech is similar to that used in blockchain, including for cryptocurrency, his company actually uses what is known as a directed acyclic graph (DAG)—neither a block nor a chain. Utilizing the IOTA network, chosen by the EU to work on the European Blockchain Services Infrastructure project, transactions and verification require a tiny fraction of the computational power and electricity of energy-hungry blockchains.

The fact that the tech is effectively EU-approved has opened doors for Turing, particularly to the dozens of municipal governments and international organizations the firm is now working with. That includes the WHO, with which it is partnering to produce digital documentation for an upcoming Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health event in Geneva.

Tokyo Calling

Hu always had ambitions beyond Taiwan and following the establishment of operations in Taipei and the United States, next stop was Tokyo, with Turing Japan opening in Shibuya in May 2023. Combined with what Hu says is a surprisingly open business landscape in Tokyo, and very reasonable costs, he happens to be a big fan of Japan, its cuisine in particular.

Ishikawa Mari (second from left), president of Turing Japan Inc., with Hu on a company trip to Taiwan.

Turing's success at City-Tech.Tokyo in 2023 and the ensuing introductions from TMG have helped facilitate business connections, says Hu, who reports that Turing Japan landed its first local client in the improbably short time span of a month. Though many domestic companies have been receptive to Turing's tech, and even made introductions to other potential clients, he notes that good local hires are crucial to doing business.

As fake certificates are a rarity in Japan, the main focus of the Tokyo operations is aiding digital transformation (DX), a process increasingly attracting attention from the public and private sectors. "One example is healthcare. In Taiwan and in Japan, both of us have very advanced healthcare technology, but we don't have advanced digital storage of health records. The health data for people is not portable. When I go to one hospital, and then to another one just next door, their databases are not connected."

Geographical proximity is another advantage to doing business in the Japanese capital, which he says is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan. "I don't need to fly 12 hours to the US or Europe. I can just fly three hours to Japan and have my ramen with fellow international founders. It's so good."

Hu is enthusiastic about Tokyo's burgeoning startup scene and has been fielding questions recently from founders about whether they should attend SusHi Tech Tokyo 2024's Global Startup Program. "And I always say: yes, yes, just go. It just launched in 2023 and there will many more companies and countries who will join in 2024, and it will be much, much bigger and more important."

"It will be more competitive. So, if I joined the competition this time, I might not win. But luckily, I joined the 2023 one," he adds with another big smile. 

Jeff Hu

Born in Taiwan (Chinese name: Yao-Chieh Hu), he studied at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland; the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; and University of California, Berkeley. He also founded a number of other startups before establishing Turing in 2018.

Turing Space, Turing Japan


SusHi Tech Tokyo, short for Sustainable High City Tech Tokyo, is a Tokyo-based concept that aims to create 'sustainable new value' by overcoming global urban challenges through cutting-edge technology, diverse ideas, and digital expertise.

Interview and writing by Gavin Blair
Photos courtesy of Turing Space, Turing Japan