The last year has seen the hype around blockchain reach fever pitch. It has moved beyond being seen as merely 'the technology underpinning Bitcoin' and cemented itself as an incredibly disruptive entity in its own right - one with the potential to transform the operating models of entire industries.
This has seen organizations invest heavily in the technology, with CB Insights estimating that corporations have pumped more than $1.2 billion into blockchain since 2012. However, as with any new technology, it is startups doing the most exciting work. We've looked at 50 really worth keeping an eye on. This list is, of course, not exhaustive, and many of these are still in the early stages, but there are already indications of the tremendous changes it could ring.
Telegram is a messaging platform that has already accrued 100 million active users during its two and a half years in existence. Its pivot into blockchain has made waves because of the sheer scale of its ambition, both in terms of the technology it is developing and its Initial Coin Offering (ICO). It is reportedly seeking to raise as much as $5 billion, which would make it comfortably the largest crypto token sale to date, and if the technology it is offering pans out, then it is easy to see why the sums are so high.
In February, the presale for its cryptocurency prior to an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) raised $850 million from 81 investors. Later that month, it launched a second private presale, in which it aimed to double that amount. Bloomberg Technology reports that the company has raised a total of $1.7 billion in March between the two sales, and will potentially “pursue one or more subsequent offerings” beyond these first two sales.
The Telegram Open Network (TON) it is proposing is essentially a decentralized WeChat. According to TechCrunch, it will act as "a platform for future ICOs, future cryptocurrencies, future decentralized applications and a new kind of censorship-proof internet system." Its offerings are to include distributed file storage similar to IPFS, a proxy service for creating decentralized VPN services, a secure browsing environment similar to TOR, services for decentralized third-party apps built on smart contracts, and peer-to-peer transactions. The platform will use its own 'Gram' tokens as its central medium of exchange. These will function as payment for everything on the platform.
In a whitepaper setting out its ambitions, the company said:
"Telegram will use its expertise in encrypted distributed data storage to create TON, a fast and inherently scalable multi-blockchain architecture. TON can be regarded as a decentralized supercomputer and value transfer system. By combining minimum transaction time with maximum security, TON can become a VISA/Mastercard alternative for the new decentralized economy."
While there is some debate around whether the technology Telegram is promising is actually viable, this has not stopped hype hitting ridiculous proportions. Given the organization's pedigree, there is every reason to believe it is well positioned moving forward.
Colony is seeking to revolutionize the world of work. The London-based startup enables new organizations to structure themselves as ecosystems of mutually beneficial interests and groups, rather than with a centralized leadership. The framework proposes the ability for peers, as opposed to management, to incentivize each other to work towards a common goal. This should lead to the creation of decentralized autonomous organizations that function as a true 'meritocracy'.
The concept is simple. Each startup, or 'colony', has its own unique token. The company is divided into groups of people who specialize in certain areas. Each person work on tasks that fit their skills. As individuals complete more tasks, they get tokens. The more tokens they hold, the more equity of the colony they own. Once a certain amount of tokens is earned, workers are also awarded an equal amount of reputation. This is used to confer influence in the colony for voting and dispute resolution, as well as enabling you to set tasks for others. Reputation cannot be transferred and decays over time to prevent any one person having undue influence without continual contribution to the colony. It also means that tokens themselves don't necessarily entitle someone to rewards, rather only those who actually contribute meaningful work to the colony (as evidenced by their reputation score) are entitled to proportional rewards.
Essentially, Colony wants to give agency back to the worker, and it could have implications for the entire economy. The anonymity blockchain enables could even help improve gender parity. Colony shelved an ICO planned for late last year, but its tentatively rescheduled token sale for Q2 of 2018 is sure to be a huge hit.
ShipChain was founded with the goal of turning the $8.1 trillion freight industry on its head. Its platform enables companies and individual buyers to track products across the entire supply chain as they move between all carriers, instead of just one or more single access points as is currently the case. They can also receive real-time information throughout the transport cycle and communicate instantly with all carriers and other waypoints with ease. This brings an unprecedented level of accountability, transparency, and trust to the sector.
ShipChain isn't just special because of the impact it could have on such a major aspect of business. It already has a beta product, a large company partnership to test the platform, and has won a place in the Blockchain in Trucking Alliance. It has also assembled a core group of backers made up of some of accomplished entrepreneurs and logistics personnel on the planet, including former CEO of DHL, Roger Crook, Kevin Harrington from Shark Tank, and former CEO of Miramax, Steve Schoch.
The startup's public token sale launched at the beginning of January 2018 with a target of $10 million (in ETH) via the first token sale, and then by market price, with a soft limit of $30 million by the end of the first public sale.
The WHO estimates that one in ten medical products circulating in low- and middle-income countries are either substandard or falsified. More than 120,000 die in Africa alone as a result of fake anti-malarial drugs alone, either because they are substandard or simply contained no active ingredients at all.
FarmaTrust has decided to confront this issue head-on using blockchain technology. They assign each medicine a unique ID and add it to their immutable ledger, enabling it to be tracked from the point of origin through to the point of consumption, making copies and undocumented drugs far easier to spot
FarmaTrust can also be used to automatically notify law enforcement if significant numbers of counterfeits are uncovered in a particular area. The system also helps pharma companies avoid waste incurred through expired drugs, and avoid returns fraud which is endemic in the pharma industry. They benefit from their exclusive focus on the pharmaceutical supply chain, which positions them to best understand the regulations that apply and the issues faced within the sector.
FarmaTrust’s CEO, Raja Sharif, told ccn.com, "We believe not only is there commercial profit to be made from this system, but it is one of the few companies that is there to service society. After all, we have a strong conviction that our project will save lives."
In Virtual Reality (VR) today, you are at the whim of the developer. They can alter a virtual reality at will, if they go bust then the whole VR world gets shut down, and they have control of the increasingly large amount of personal information players must provide to partake.
Decentralized VR changes this dynamic, handing control of online worlds back to the user. One startup making waves in this area is Blockchain-based virtual reality universe, Decentraland. In Decentraland, you can use the platform's own cryptocurrency 'MANA' to purchase a plot of virtual land. You can then build whatever you like on it, whether this is a house or a virtual neighborhood, and populate it with unique virtual objects. You can even turn it into a profitable business, as well as host social events. Virtual landowners can monetize their worlds by selling space to advertisers or renting them out in exchange for MANA. The number of Decentraland land parcels are purposefully limited to ensure that it is not left abandoned and so that the value of land increases if the platform gains traction. These transactions don't require any central authority to broker the deal because it is done using cryptocurrency, which further means users receive 100% of the compensation generated through their creation.
The popularity of the platform's ICO suggests that this is also something the public want. Decentraland held its initial coin offering (ICO) last year and raised $25 million from 4,000 investors. Ariel Meilich, founder of blockchain-based virtual platform Decentraland, explained the motivation behind the project: "We believe Virtual Reality will flourish once users have a more prominent role in controlling their creations. Currently, the companies that create the virtual worlds own all of the content built by the users. They are the ones who profit, reap the benefits from the network effects, and have the power to undo, change or censor what happens within the world itself. The true potential of VR might be realized, and certainly surpass what already exists, if this power were put into the hands of the users instead."
Blockchain expert Simon de la Rouviere adds that it may also be vital for the future of blockchain. He argues that, "If you can 'earn your keep' in bitcoin in a virtual world, governed by incorruptible smart contracts, and it is a world you want to live in and cooperate in more than the real world, what would that do to us? I suspect we will most definitely see a new surge of people demanding exactly that reality into the real world." Ultimately, both blockchain and VR could well need each other to succeed, and Decentraland is likely to be at the heart of it.
Filecoin is a blockchain-based marketplace built by San Francisco-based and venture-backed Protocol Labs, the creators of the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS). Filecoin made headlines last year with its record-breaking ICO, which raised an estimated $257 million for the company in September, including buy-in from traditional VC investors such as Andreessen Horowitz, Union Square Ventures, and Winklevoss Capital.
Filecoin is looking to disrupt the cloud storage industry. They are attempting to create a distributed data storage network in which participants earn the company’s cryptocurrency - called filecoin - by leasing out their spare digital storage. The Filecoin can be used within the network or exchanged either for more conventional cryptocurrencies or fiat currencies through exchange platforms like Coinbase.
By decentralizing data storage in this way, the company says it can improve the resilience of the internet and make it harder for governments to shut down access to certain sites and apps. Juan Benet, the founder of Protocol Labs, told TechCrunch, "There’s a ton of storage in the world that’s not getting used. Think of it like Airbnb. You had people with rooms that weren’t being used; Airbnb built a marketplace for them. We’re also creating a marketplace for storage that’s decentralized so removes third parties, so you can access your information in the future without worrying whether this entity [like an AWS] will continue being around." While the competition it is up against is large - Dropbox and AWS - it is a well thought out project built by an experienced team, and one of the few giant ICOs that may actually be justified.
Energy is often cited as the industry outside of finance most likely to see disruption from blockchain, and Grid+ is leading the charge as the world's first blockchain-based energy retailer with market-driven pricing.
It is common practice for electricity retailers to buy wholesale energy and sell it to their customers at over a 100% markup, despite doing little more than billing you. Grid+ is looking to change all this. They are offering consumers direct access to wholesale energy markets through blockchain, creating a secure Ethereum-enabled gateway that stores cryptocurrencies and processes payments for electricity in real time.
Last year, Grid+ raised $29 million through its token pre-sale, which will fund the development and launch of its blockchain-based competitive retail provider in Texas. The company is aiming to pull in up to 20,000 customers by the end of next year and 100,000 by the end of 2019, at which point it expects to be processing around 120 gigawatt-hours of electricity purchases a month using the blockchain. The company also plans to start licensing its technology to utilities worldwide from 2019.
Anybody who has ever worked in medical records will know that they are often a confusing mess - part-digitized, part-handwritten scraps of paper siloed across disparate locations. Blockchain has the potential to revolutionize how individuals’ medical records are stored, and it is already proving popular. Indeed, BIS Research projects that 10-15% of healthcare entities will be integrating blockchain in their operations by 2020.
California-based PokitDok is among a host of startups looking to apply blockchain for healthcare verticals such as claims, pharmacy, and identity management. PokitDok has developed DokChain, a "distributed network of transaction processors operating on both financial and clinical data across the healthcare industry," which, according to CNBC, is already being tested by a consortium of partners including Intel and Amazon, among others.
PokitDok’s platform-as-a-service plugs directly into 650 trading partners to access real-time transactional data at scale, without having to replace legacy systems. It is intended to provide a secure network for all sources of patient data, from EMRs to medical devices and pharmacies, with the various APIs, as well as those provided by others, connecting to a distributed blockchain network rather than a hospital or pharmacy's central system. PolitDok provides identity management to validate that each party involved in the transaction is who they say they are, whether consumer or provider. It also facilitates the immediate machine-to-machine processing of financial transactions based on previously agreed upon smart contracts, essentially eliminating the current 90-180 days for a claim to be processed.
The company has raised a total of $55.3 million from six funding rounds, with investors including GIS Strategic Ventures, McKesson Ventures, and New Atlantic Ventures.
Brooklyn-based uPort is a self-sovereign identity and data platform that enables users to register a globally unique identifier to the Ethereum blockchain, giving them control over their identity, private keys, user accounts, and private data. They've also got their own mobile app available on Android and iOS, the uPort ID app, which is a mobile identity wallet that stores private keys and serves as the foundation for interacting with Ethereum and web 2.0 applications.
They launched a pilot program late last year in Zug, Switzerland, to register residents’ IDs on the blockchain. Through this, Residents are able to unlock access to government eServices like online voting and proof of residency. If successful, this will be rolled out to other cities.
The complexity of the educational system in the US is seeing costs spiral out of control. ODEM is looking to revamp this broken system by using blockchain technology to connect teachers around the world directly with students. They are developing a global marketplace that will offer students tailored curriculums, programs, and more, facilitating private learning that is more cost-effective, more accessible, and of higher quality than current systems.
In an interview with The Drum, ODEM CEO Richard Maaghul explained that, "We’re strapping blockchain technology on Excelorators’ network of more than 200 professors at top universities. By reducing the role of intermediaries, we strengthen the relationship between those professors and students. Both sides of the equation have more power to affect positive educational outcomes."
With an experienced team of educators and technologists, ODEM is regarded as one of the leading projects in the space. Their token sale took place in February.
Founded in 2015 by artist, economist, and developer Christoffer Wallin, Pindify is a decentralized platform that enables providers of music, art and media to connect directly with fans. Its intentions are noble, cutting out intermediaries and enabling artists to publish, distribute, and monetize their content while cultivating a community of subscribers, with Pindify taking 9% from every subscription.
Their website explains the way the technology works, noting, "The power of attorney combined with the decentralized distribution of digital content, creates a new paradigm shift in the era of digital management culture. The Blockchain technology and smart contracts can ensure user verification, registration and certification of copyrights and intellectual property. Payments and transactions are secured by offering a transparent and innovative online marketplace."
Early reports suggest it is already attracting thousands of artists and media creators and, having just completed a successful ICO in January, could prove a game changer for the music industry.
Data ownership is an issue that is attracting more and more attention, as awareness spreads around how companies make money off us - often without our knowledge. Social Reality’s BIGtoken pitch notes that, "As a consumer, you are a commodity that generated $130 billion in revenue last year - and none of it went to you."
Social Reality is a micro-cap advertising technology firm attempting to become the first public company to deliver a transparent data management and distribution system via a secure blockchain platform. Through its BIG Platform, consumers will be able to claim their data, decide how it gets used, and get paid themselves whenever it’s purchased. "BIG resolves the unanswered question others in the landscape haven’t addressed: How can blockchain put the consumer front-and-center in the consumer data and advertising ecosystem?" the company said in the slideshow.
The BIG Platform will use an open-source governance structure and token rewards, with its BIGtoken having already launched as an ICO in January.
Trust in charities is at a low, with the recent Oxfam scandal in particular detrimentally impacting the public's willingness to give to good causes. AidCoin's worthy aim is to boost trust and transparency in the charity sector, using the Ethereum blockchain to track donations made using cryptocurrencies to ensure they are spent correctly.
AidCoin also allows charities to integrate a payment gateway, called AIDPay, on their website so givers can donate directly using different cryptocurrencies, which are then instantly converted into AidCoin.
Backed by fundraising platform CharityStars, AidCoin raised over $4 million in its pre-sale in November 2017 and took just 90 minutes to raise $16.5 million in its ICO. CharityStars has already run a successful blockchain charity campaign, raising over $50,000 for a list of good causes that includes WWF and Save the Children.
Nicolai Oster, Head of ICO at Bitcoin Suisse said: “The AidCoin project is an extremely worthwhile initiative that has the potential to increase transparency, regain trust, and overhaul the nonprofit sector. With the great success of the token sale, we believe that the team has a good foundation and ground for achieving their ambitious goal.”
The drone market is expected to reach $16.7 billion in sales by 2022, despite numerous challenges still existing, particularly around regulation. BlockchainTaxi combines blockchain technology with historical flight data to automate operations such as air traffic control, pre-arranged inspections of structures, disaster responses, and any other large-scale drone application needing logistical coordination on a macro level. BlockchainTaxi’s Coin (BCT) serves as the medium of exchange for payments between service providers and customers. Their official hardware partner is Passenger Drone, the first company to successfully complete a manned drone flight. Fulfilling a potentially vital function in such a fast-burgeoning market should see them grow rapidly.
The clamor around cryptocurrencies has been astounding, but there is one question many struggle to overcome - if it's money, where do I spend it? Graft is looking to change this. "The fact that consumers pay the transaction fees as opposed to merchants in credit card payments discourages the mass adoption of Bitcoin," the company said. "Graft is looking to solve the problems of transaction costs and settlement times with a merchant-centric, agile blockchain.". They are looking to become the first global, open-sourced payment gateway blockchain network built around the merchants’ systems and processes and designed for Point-of-Sale. It launched its mainnet on January 16, 2018.
Graft offers a payment blockchain that is compatible with major existing payment technologies. This allows merchants to accept both fiat and cryptocurrency payments, enjoy instant settlement, and have seamless access to their funds in their preferred currency.
The gig economy has been much criticized, with the likes of Uber and Deliveroo receiving significant column inches for the way they hire freelancers. ConnectJob is looking to revolutionize the gig economy, providing a blockchain-based marketplace for on-demand services that connects both jobbers and those who need work directly based on geolocation through an Uber-like counter. Users exchange value without having to rely on third-party intermediaries in a single click by using CJT (ConnectJob Tokens), a utility token that can be used as payment for all services available on our app. They can also use fiat money (euro, dollar) at an hourly rate that is unique and pre-determined for each type of 'job'.
It has already launched an app on the Apple store and Play Store and has been tested in Europe for three months successfully. At the time of writing, ConnectJob is in the second stage of its initial coin offerings (ICOs), and has already raised nearly $5.3 million in the process.
The anti-establishment nature of blockchain is perhaps exemplified nowhere better than Civil. In the era of fake news, their crusade to take down the fourth estate has really gained traction, and they have already received $5 million in funding from blockchain development firm ConsenSys.
Civil is looking to create a self-governing marketplace in which users can directly sponsor newsrooms using the platform's 'CVL' tokens, while enabling journalists to work together to run their own publications. They are also seeking to protect journalists against censorship and intellectual property disputes. Matthew Iles, Civil’s founder, explains that using blockchain technology means “no one will be able to remove the record or prevent her organization from publishing what it wants to publish.”
Although there has been some skepticism as to whether it can achieve its lofty ambitions, it has attracted its first publication, Popula, an alternative news and politics site run by journalist Maria Bustillos. Iles argues that "By providing the economic incentives and governance structures for newsmakers – writers, editors, photographers, fact-checkers – to self-organize, Civil offers a new business model for journalism." It is a new business model that is urgently needed.
Conjoule provides a blockchain platform designed to support peer-to-peer trading of energy among rooftop solar panel owners and interested public-sector or corporate buyers. The company was created in Innogy’s Innovation Hub in 2015 and has already raised investment of $9 million, including $5.3 million in funding from Tokyo Electric Power Company and others last July. Conjoule has been running a pilot in Germany since October 2016.
CEEK is looking to create an authentic virtual concert experience using VR and blockchain. CEEK already has an established VR kit, which is available in the likes of Best Buy and Target, but they are also now introducing blockchain technology onto their platform to create a decentralized concert viewing experience. The company's website explains that, "CEEK virtual reality environments are governed by Ethereum Smart Contracts, allowing token holders ability for flexible, tokenized ‘in-world’ interactions, rewards, voting, contests, virtual goods and more ‘in-world’ transactions utilizing ERC20 compliant Tokens called CEEK. Each CEEK Token holder will be able to participate in virtual reality space for real-world celebrity concerts, charity fund-raisers, sporting events, VR commerce, classroom learning and much, much more as the exciting world of virtual reality meets real-world opportunity through Smart Contract governance."
CEEK even has a live, revenue-generating product and a deal with Universal Music Studios granting them the rights to live performances by the likes of Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and U2, which puts them some way ahead of other startups in the blockchain space.
Founded in 2016 by Kelvin Coelho and Tim McCulloch, MEvU is a peer-to-peer decentralized network that allows people to bet on anything, anytime, against anyone operating on the Ethereum blockchain network. By eliminating 3rd party gouging, they are able to provide a historically low 2% fee for members. MEvU uses smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain to immutably and transparently inventory players funds and information, providing players with confidence that their bets will be executed securely and quickly. Pre-sale opened on January 22nd 2018, with 20,000,000 MVU available.
In an announcement on CNN, Coelho asked, "how many times do we hear the House always wins? I see a future where players around the world will say 'let’s MEvU it!', challenging players to a friendly competition to put their crypto where their mouth is."