Beyond Banking – The innovative start-ups taking blockchain in a very different direction
Provenance is a real-time data platform that allows brands to take steps toward greater transparency by tracing the origins and histories of products. With its technology, users can easily gather and verify stories, keep them connected to physical things and embed them anywhere online.
Jessi Baker and Dr Jutta Steiner bring some serious technological chops to this project, as both have a deep understanding of supply-chain engineering and cryptography, which lends well to a unique perspective on product ‘proof of existence’ and transparency utilising the blockchain.
Provenance is based in South East Asia and while this is area
host to a few important financial services centres, an even larger opportunity for transformation lies within shipping, logistics, and commercial trade. The region is home to four of the world’s top five shipping ports: Shanghai, Shenzhen, Singapore and Hong Kong. Under this vast industry umbrella exists a rich variety of sub categories that would all be well served by the Provenance platform. Luxury goods is a great example, as it’s faced an ongoing battle to wipe out the scourge of counterfeit products which Provenance seems primed to mitigate. Outside of this area, one can only imagine what the technology could mean for the art world.
Coming in a close second on my list is a stealthy startup coming out of the MIT media lab called Enigma. Lead by Guy Ziskind and Oz Nathan and advised by Prof Alex Pentland, Enigma is a decentralised cloud platform that guarantees privacy. Private data is stored, shared and analysed without ever being fully revealed to any party. It provides secure multi-party computation, empowered by the blockchain.
This is as futuristic and radical as the blockchain gets and if proved – it’s still in beta – could be one of the most important innovations to come out in the space as it solves two of the most dif cult and pressing problems in technology today, privacy and security. This core function, layered on top of distributed cloud technology, is a dynamic combination that could transform
how data is stored and retrieved. It could potentially provide industries as diverse as nance, health and civil services with the underlying trust and security to truly unlock the potential of next generation mobile applications.
A small offshoot of the Ethereum Project lead by the project’s co-founder and core C developer, Dr Gavin Wood, EthCore has an all-star cast of hardcore developers and thought leaders, including Dr Jutta Steiner and Vitalik Buterin, who aspire to enable businesses and organisations to capitalise on blockchain technology and benefit from the new opportunities it presents. They develop cutting-edge software solutions for enterprises and industries to unlock the full value of decentralised technology.
At the vanguard of blockchain technology, the Ethcore team is primed to be working on and driving a lot of the change in the industry for multinational businesses and governments.
Based in Tel Aviv, with a well defined and broadly skilled team of engineers and thought leaders, Backfeed develops resilient technology and new economic models that support free, large-scale, systematic collaboration. Based on a distributed governance model, Backfeed protocols make it possible for people to easily deploy and maintain decentralised applications and organisations that rely on the spontaneous and voluntary contribution of hundreds, thousands or even millions of people.
Backfeed is led by Dr Matan Field, a theoretical physicist turned entrepreneur who was also the founder of open-source and decentralised collaborative transportation system LaZouz and is dedicated to challenging the notion of work and organisations in the age of globalisation. Building on the emerging blockchain ecosystem, Backfeed develops grassroots-powered technology that enables scale-free human cooperation. The toolkits it provides offer resilient infrastructure and innovative economic models that promote the viability and sustainability of decentralised communities as well as legacy organisations through equitable distribution of co-created value.
As an analogy, if the blockchain can be regarded as the TCP/IP (communication layer of the internet), Backfeed is building a canonical protocol and platform (akin to the HTTP protocol and the web browser) to enable blockchain-based decentralised collaboration as easily as one would deploy a website today.
Under the stoic leadership of Joseph Lubin, Consensys is an antifragile organisation that is steeped in the theoretical frameworks of Ronald Coase. A hub and spoke model, it nurtures a loose federation of blockchain technologists all working in multiple verticals, yet leverages their collective understanding and skills. Some of the companies currently under the Consensys umbrella are good enough to stand alone here on this top ten list, especially Uport and Ujo music.
Look for Consensys to build upon
their success with Block Apps and the Microsoft collaboration on Azure, as their federation and core team grows to bring some exciting innovations in the blockchain space.
Warning: this company is only about 10,000ft high on the hardcore tech-nerd scale but is extremely important none the less. IPFS is short for Interplanetary File System and it does exactly what that name entails.
Think of it as rewiring and re-routing the entire internet so that trains run and stop on time and go precisely where they need to go, all while greatly reducing redundancy. Designed by the visionary technologist Juan Benet, IPFS is a peer- to-peer distributed le system that seeks to connect all computing devices with the same system of les. In some ways, IPFS is similar to the web but IPFS could also be seen as a single BitTorrent swarm, exchanging objects within one Git repository. In other words, IPFS provides a high throughput content-addressed block storage model, with content- addressed hyperlinks.
Look for more early stage startups and innovators to experiment with this open source technology to truly create some out-there next generation technologies.
One of the most thoughtful and ambitious projects in the blockchain this year is lead by a former artist/designer named Jack Du Rose. Before Colony, Jack was the jeweller who created For the Love of God – the infamous Damien Hirst diamond skull. Jack and Colony are taking on “the future of work” and are now dropping the future into our hands, and also our laptops. They have created a beautifully designed decentralised autonomous organisation that replicates a company, except instead of being managed by fallible individuals, Colony harnesses the wisdom of the crowd using AI to ensure that the right things get done by the right people, at the right time. People can now convene and collaborate on large scale projects, even startups, and have a way to manage and measure productivity in order to provide the means for people to get paid. Colony allows creators to stock value in their own cryptocurrency, called ‘nectar’.
Watch for startup accelerators, hackathons and open source projects around the world to take notice of what Jack and the Colony team have created, as it solves many of the organisational issues of talent and capital localisation, as well as compensation for open source projects.
Slock.it stands at the intersection of two of technology’s hottest areas – IoT and blockchain. It explores how Ethereum light nodes embedded in connected cars, homes and businesses could revolutionise the emerging sharing economy infrastructure by enabling anyone to rent, sell or share their property without a middleman. It’s led by one of the co-founders of the Ethereum project, Stephan Tual, and the Jentzsch brothers Simon and Christoph. The Slock.it crew has been at the vanguard for a while now, creating some interesting products around physical locks, mobility and connected devices.
Enough has already been said about Ethereum and the precocious and visionary leader Vitalik Buterin, so I really don’t have the capability to add much more other than the courage and verve of the project, and team, are inspiring and everyone should watch what they put out this year. I wish them the best in growing and scaling the project so that more innovation can spring from their insights.
These guys are small and just starting out but I got a chance to talk to the founder, Terek Judi, and I really liked his focus and ambition. Plex is an automotive telematics platform that uses Ethereum, machine learning and artificial intelligence to give insurance companies real-time, remote diagnostics on a car and its driver.
Insurance is a staid and well monied industry that deserves more attention from the blockchain community, especially with the dawning age of automated driving.
So there’s my list. They’re all great teams working on some seriously interesting problems and opportunities that are helping transform industries and the world through the use of imagination and blockchain. Anyone who’s ever scaled a startup will know that it’s an unglamorous process that takes a significant amount of energy without any guarantee of success. I applaud all the founders and teams I’ve listed for their vision and courage.
This article originally appeared in the autumn issue of D/SRUPTION magazine