With blockchain still in its infancy, the race for domination is still a long way from being resolved. Evidence is there, however, that it is kicking off in a big way. Venture Capital firms pumped a record amount of investment into Bitcoin and blockchain-related startups last year at nearly $1 billion, and we have seen signs that major IT corporations, particularly IBM, and Microsoft, are making a long-term commitment to the support of blockchain development.
Microsoft, for one, has recently teamed up with Bank of America Merrill Lynch to try and make trade finance transactions faster, cheaper, safer, and more transparent using a blockchain-based framework. They also recently launched Project Bletchley, the Ethereum-based consortium blockchain technology they announced in June. According to a blog post by Marley Gray, principal program manager at Microsoft Azure Blockchain Engineering, Bletchley v1 ‘reduces the estimated three-week process of setting up a globally distributed multi-node consortium Ethereum network down to 8 questions and 5-8 minutes. Not only does Bletchley v1 automate the setup of the network infrastructure but it sets up a portal for rapidly getting started developing applications on Ethereum.’
IBM has also made some eye catching moves, recently announcing a partnership with China UnionPay to create a blockchain-based system that lets the bank’s customers trade bonus points in different loyalty schemes. They have also set up its Industry Platforms business unit in a bid to deliver blockchain solutions to its customers, which ‘will focus on Watson for financial services, blockchain and strategic partnerships.’
If their gamble on blockchain pays off, the benefits the two companies could realize would be tremendous. But they are not the only ones, with many startups entering the field that have huge potential to become major players. We’ve looked at seven of them.
Called the ‘Uber for fund management’ by some, ICONOMI has been developed by the team at Cashila as a decentralized alternative to the multi-billion dollar fund management industry.
Fund management is one area that is ripe for disruption from blockchain, and ICONOMI’s potential to lead this has been recognized early. It was recently announced that they have raised approximately $5.8 million in equity and operational capital from over 2,270 investors in an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) - making it the 20th most highly capitalized crowdfunding project to date. The investors will eventually own 100% when the ICO closes on September 29.
Those who have invested in the ICO will be issued ‘ICN’ tokens, which serve as equity shares in a new type of fund management platform specifically focused on blockchain, using cryptocurrency to invest in actively or passively-managed funds managed by ICONOMI. They are to be rewarded in weekly profit dividends as soon as ICONOMI funds are launched which will come from both the funds and from the fees of investment funds of independent traders.
Ripple is a distributed financial technology that allows banks to send real-time international payments across networks, exploiting both the speed and security of blockchain technology. It is also in the process of creating a new ‘inter-ledger’ tool that will enable blockchains to connect with one another.
They recently announced a $55 million Series B round - taking its total equity raised to $93.6M in seven rounds from 27 investors - as well as a series of partnerships with heavyweights including Standard Chartered, Accenture, BMO Financial Group, and Shanghai Huarui Bank.
According to Chris Larsen, Ripple’s chief executive and co-founder, ’Our mission is to make cross-border payments truly efficient for banks and their customers, and in doing so, lay the foundation for an internet of value where the world moves money as easily as information.’
Otonomos is a Singapore-based blockchain startup that helps entrepreneurs incorporate their businesses on a digital distributed ledger. Its online service allows users to form, fund, and govern their companies on the blockchain simply by opening a digital share wallet on it.
FinTech entrepreneur Han Verstraete told FinTech website Let’s Talk Payments that: ‘We increasingly see that the underlying Bitcoin protocol could become a ledger for broader financial assets. Cash was the blockchain’s first application. Traditionally, it’s held either in banks or under people’s mattresses so to say, and Bitcoin made cash digital. Commodities especially gold is next: by linking digital tokens to a physical bar of gold or any other commodity, its ownership can be irreversibly documented hence it can be exchanged peer-to-peer. But if you look around for broader financial assets, more than 80% of the world’s financial value is held in a legal container called the limited company. So we are bringing company shares on the blockchain.’
Chain, Inc. partners with leading financial firms to design and build blockchain networks. It developed and maintains the Chain Open Standard, an open source blockchain protocol for high-scale financial applications. Chain's platform includes Chain Core, an enterprise-grade production node, and the Chain Sandbox prototyping environment
Chain is building a suite of blockchain-based tools for banks, stock exchanges, credit-card companies and other major industry participants that will enable them to move, store, trade and manage financial assets quickly, securely and with less risk to the system.
This time last year, Visa, Nasdaq, Citi and other industry players invested $30 million in Chain.com, which brought its total equity funding to-date to $43.7 million.
Based in Palo Alto, ShoCard uses blockchain technology to verify identity. ShoCard co-founder Jeff Weitzman told TechCrunch: ‘We’ve created a digital identity card that is as easy to use as a driver’s license but it’s so secure that a bank can rely on it. We’re using public and private keys, data hashing, multi-factor authentication.’
Founded in 2015, ShoCard raised $1.5m in venture capital shortly after launch and in May this year struck up its first major partnership with airline IT company SITA, joining forces to build a proof-of-concept for a technology streamlining the way airlines verify passenger identities.
BigchainDB is attempting to do for databases what Bitcoin's blockchain did for ledgers, enabling both developers and enterprise to deploy blockchain proof-of-concepts, platforms and applications using the scalable blockchain database it has developed. This database is capable of one million writes per second throughput, storing petabytes of data and sub-second latency.
Bruce Pon, Founder/CEO BigchainDB and ascribe.io, said: ‘BigchainDB was built on top of an enterprise-grade distributed DB, from which BigchainDB inherits high throughput, high capacity, a full-featured NoSQL query language, efficient querying, and permissioning. Nodes can be added to increase throughput and capacity.’
To date, it has raised a total of $5.6 million in two rounds from three investors, with the most recent raising $3.37m.
Among the companies looking to utilize blockchain directly, the rise of blockchain presents many opportunities for those looking to help businesses integrate the technology into their operations and strategic planning and exploit it to its full potential.
SmartLedger is a blockchain that has been set up to cater for Smart Ledger Technology and Smart Contracts as its own stack (SLT) for the Asset Management, Capital Markets and Custody markets.
According to Blockchain Operating Model Architect, Nick Ayton, ‘Blockchain is having a fundamental impact on financial services and the City of London remains at the centre of this effort. Many executives struggle to agree the strategic way forward when it comes to investing in Blockchain.’