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The Real Cost of Fakes

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Counterfeit products cost the global community billions in dollars and even worst, millions of lives lost. A Tucson tech startup wants to change all that. Startup Tucson finds out more.


Let’s be honest. Buying online is a joy. UX designers and savvy advertisers have crafted seamless purchase pipelines that ooze safety, security, and trust. Through colorful, well-targeted insta-ads and Prime accounts that are our collective life-blood, we have been lulled into a false sense of security.

We trust implicitly that within a matter of days (or hours!), the exact item we saw on our screen will be delivered in perfect condition right to our door. However, the stark reality is that most likely all of us have received a fake at some point in time. A recent study showed that by 2020 the global counterfeiting business will have ballooned to a staggering 1.82 Trillion USD market. Facilitated by mass globalization and runaway digital commerce, counterfeiters exploit vulnerabilities in trade logistics to swap out real products for fakes, costing the 98 Billion USD in losses.

Counterfeit products cost $98 billion a year
While occasionally being slipped an off-brand pair of sneakers is nuisance, it is by no means the full gravity of counterfeited products.

The counterfeiting market has been largely taken over by organized crime as a way to not only increase economic influence, but also seize vital products like medicine and defense equipment.

A Tucson technology startup company is working on a product that very well may be a key solution to this global problem. SGNT, (pronounced signet) has created a patent-pending secure radio frequency identification (RFID) that creates a tamper-proof seal on any product to prevent in-transit theft or counterfeit interference. The seal can be authenticated through a smartphone application providing a low-cost single-platform solution to guarantee the authenticity and integrity of goods. SGNT takes RFID, which has been around for a while, into the next generation of smart technology.

The technology has the potential to save billions in consumer product loss, but SGNT CEO and co-founder, Emil Tremblay is profoundly motivated to make an impact counterfeit medication. In a recent conversation with Tremblay, he mentioned that thousands of children die each year because of counterfeit medication. The World Health Organization estimates the one in ten medications sold to developing countries are fake-- estimating that 72,000 children die in sub-saharan Africa each year from treatable diseases because of fake medicine.

Bogus medicine sold in developing countries cause millions of preventable deaths
SGNT believes their technology can change this. And the National Science Foundation is inclined to agree.

SGNT is one of a just a very few local companies that won a coveted NSF SBIR Grant Phase I grant to accelerate the development of their technology.


“Every day that we haven’t grown to where we know we can grow, 197 kids are dying a day...that’s when I say ‘get over yourself and get back to work’ on the days when startup life is hard.” - Emil Tremblay, CEO and Co-founder

Startup Tucson has been routing for SGNT and has been excited to see their growth -- from a tiny startup with a big idea, to a People’s Choice Award winner at IdeaFunding 2018, to an NSF-funded company rapidly growing and securing investment capital.

We recently got the chance to chat with CEO & Co-Founder Emil Tremblay and hear more about their journey.

How did you decide this idea was worth pursuing as a business?

I’ve worked in RFID for years, but this new tech-idea (for what became the SGNT Technology) was really exciting. One day, in my co-founder Tommy’s kitchen, I drew a quick sketch of how the tech would work and he immediately said that we needed a patent on it and build a business around it; and that seemed like a good idea to me. As soon as we started looking at the world of product counterfeiting we realized how massive and disruptive this idea could be and that an incredible business could be built around it.

What has been the company’s biggest challenge? How did you overcome it and what advice would you share?

The easy answer to the biggest challenge is funding. It is very hard to get the product/team/traction/etc. to the point of being investible without the financial resources to build the product/team/etc. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. This entrepreneurial journey means that Tommy and I, then our team as it grew, had to work extremely hard, never stopping, and uniting around the idea that we can get to where we need to be. Getting to where we are now would not have been possible without Startup Tucson; it was Startup Tucson that lead us to many of the people we count as our growing team.

Describe your proudest moment with the company and what it meant to you.

On Feb 26, in cooperation with Startup Tucson and the Tucson Metro Chamber (TMC) we held a big event with press, a ribbon cutting, and networking. Standing in front of that room with over a hundred people, with Liz Pocock (Startup Tucson CEO), Amber Smith (TMC President & CEO), and the Mayor of Tucson on one side and our team on the other, I shared a bit about how far we’ve come. There’s still a very long journey ahead of us, but that was a very proud moment.

Where do you envision the company 5 years from now?

Our ambition isn’t simple. It’s bold and maybe a little crazy. We want to be Tucson’s next great company. We want to grow our team and build a company where people love to work. A company that solves really important problems for billions of people.

Why Tucson/Southern Arizona?

Tucson is at an inflection point. I feel it in my bones. I was very lucky to arrive here in 2017 just in time to benefit so much from the foundation built and ecosystem grown by so many people, organizations, and companies.

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