Starting Up: Thin Edge of the WEDG

Manchester-based start-up WEDG is riding on the power of crowdfunding to tackle data insecurity

Feature by Jacky Hall | 08 Dec 2014

From five million leaked Gmail passwords to stolen celebrity nude photos, personal security online is big news. As we store more and more information in the cloud, we face the challenge of keeping our information out of the sweaty paws of intelligence agencies, hackers, and 4chan. It's a problem so desperate for a solution that a Manchester-based start-up building an innovative cloud solution hit its Indiegogo funding goal of £70,000 within a single week of launching.

WEDG (pronounced 'wedge') is a device capable of storing self-hosted emails and files, making private data totally secure but still available in the cloud. “You can share your private photos without them becoming intellectual property of whatever cloud service that you're using, like Dropbox or Twitter," explains WEDG's CEO, Shehbaz Afzal. "WEDG is capable of hosting websites, it can act as a Bitcoin wallet, and it can stream media – whether you're on a local network, or you're out and about on a business trip or holiday and want to watch a movie.” Following its recent crowdfunding success, it will be available to buy from March 2015. 

Being forward-thinking techies, Shehbaz and his team decided against the traditional route of putting on their best suits and asking the bank manager for a loan. Instead, they went to the people with the most support for the ideal: potential customers, using Indiegogo's Go Crowdfund Britain campaign, which aims to raise over £1m to boost creative and technological innovation throughout Britain. Successfully funded projects so far include Aberystwyth-based Digital Diana Camera, an update of the cult film camera for the Instagram generation, and Edinburgh-based Tens, fashion-forward sunglasses promising a “real-life photo filter.”

Shehbaz is grateful for his start-up's strong business idea and skilled team, as well as Indiegogo’s mentoring and strategising, which ranged from support for a video explaining the product, to a strategy for a 'stretch' crowdfunding goal (an HDMI connection for streaming on TV, which will be added once the campaign hits £90,000).“They've helped us not just from day one but from day zero,” says Shehbaz. “They've been a literal part of Team WEDG."

A graduate of the University of Manchester, Shehbaz speaks with a passion for all things IT and security – a spark ignited in June 2013, when former IT professional Edward Snowden blew the whistle on America’s National Security Agency and leaked classified government information to the world media. The ease with which anyone with the technical chops and determination can access private data stored in the cloud, and the signing away of intellectual property rights to cloud services, inspired Shehbaz to seek a solution. “I thought to myself that we don’t have to go into data centres in the cloud to store all our digital content,” he says. Finding no suitable alternatives, he began developing WEDG.

Manchester has shaped WEDG. It was not only conceived and developed in the city, but will also be manufactured in Manchester. For Shehbaz, Manchester's buzzing community of tech start-ups and entrepreneurs has been instrumental in the development of WEDG. The team are based at Innospace, a co-working space run by Manchester Metropolitan University. As well as Innospace, Shehbaz praises Space Port X, a hub for tech start-ups in Manchester's Northern Quarter. Sharing ideas and resources, he believes, is incubating Manchester's tech scene as a world leader: “You only have to go on Twitter for a couple of minutes to see there are so many Manchester start-ups who are doing innovative things, whether it's in mobile payment, Bitcoin or social media. For me it feels like the 'b' of the bang.” Another goal for WEDG is to provide a platform for some of these developers, with apps such as photo galleries in development.

Today, with the successful crowdfunding of WEDG, Shehbaz is able to pass on knowledge and enthusiasm to others. “It's great to partly mentor businesses or individuals who are at a stage that I was at a year or two ago, and see them achieving,” he says with satisfaction. “It's a real buzz.”