As many have predicted, 2017 is the year blockchain is set to break out of the Proof-of-Concept stage and into production environments. Over the past few years, I’ve been immersed within the bitcoin and blockchain space. It’s exciting to see the myriad of use cases for this technology being explored — conjuring up both the optimist and the cynicist in me at impressingly rapid intervals.
While it’s still early days, given that now nearly every financial services institution, professional services firm, start-up hub, and an increasing number of governments and NGOs are wanting to get in the game, as we slowly come down from peak hype, it’s a good time for players to start showing their hands in order to determine who might stand a chance of winning and who may have to fold.
The question then, which projects will we see move into real-world implementations in 2017. Here are five firms which I will be watching closely (in no particular order):
Since 2012, the team at Provenance, led by CEO Jessi Baker, whose platform enables transparency along food & drink supply chains, providing consumers with accessible, verifiable information about product history and creation. Last year, they successfully completed a pilot which traced responsibly-caught tuna from from origin to export in a highly robust yet accessible format without the need for a centralised data management system. Not only does this help consumers make more positive choices about what they buy, the network of real-time data it creates aids the prevention of fraud, contamination and other supply chain risks.
[Disclosure: Monax is a portfolio company of Anthemis, where I am currently a Fellow]
Will 2017 be the Year of the Marmot? Monax, formerly Eris, is an ecosystem application platform for developers looking to build enterprise-scale blockchain applications which can be used across multiple organisations. Their software is most noted for its use for building smart contracts, arguably one of the most transformative applications of blockchain technology. They recently completed a reinsurance prototype for Deloitte, and SWIFT have already built two prototypes on their platform. What’s most interesting is the firm’s focus on blockchain applicability for complex network designs — essentially, working on a solution to the issues of scalability, shardability, interoperability and privacy currently facing the blockchain ecosystem as it graduates into more complex, non-linear use cases. For more on that and to get a deeper glimpse into the possibilities, read Monax CEO Casey Kuhlman’s insightful blog post on insurance linked securities.
21 emerged onto the bitcoin scene with quite a bang in March 2015 when it was announced they had raised $116 million in venture funding and was being led by Balaji Srinivasan, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Since that time, they’ve offered an interesting range of developer tools for making machine-to-machine micropayments for the future use of the HTTP 402 error: Payment Required. It seems the future is now and, to kick off 2017, they’ve released a consumer app and I have a feeling there will be much more to follow this coming year. The easy-to-use app (download for iOS, coming soon for Android) allows anyone, anywhere to earn bitcoin, either by completing simple tasks or as payment for responding to emails outside of your network. Naturally, you’ll have to be someone who people are willing to pay to get in touch with, but if you are, there is also the option to donate the funds to charities such as Black Girls Code. With their platform designed for interoperability in the IoT space, there could definitely be interesting things to come.
Axoni started the year hot off the announcement of their $18 million Series A raise, led Wells Fargo and Euclid Opportunities, ICAP’s fintech investment business, and additional investors including Goldman Sachs and Andreessen Horowitz. With a team of tech entrepreneurs and cryptography specialists led by CEO Greg Schvey, the firm focuses on distributed ledger technology (DLT) for capital markets. Notably, last month the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC) announced Axoni, together with IBM and R3, was selected to provide a DLT framework for derivatives post-trade processing, in which Axoni will be providing the DLT infrastructure and smart contracts applications. The project is focusing on integrating distributed ledgers into the DTCC’s information platform which currently manages more than $11 trillion worth of derivatives assets. So no pressure.
Abra is another name we’ve known for quite some time in the bitcoin space who have recently begun the shift from beta to live, and with plenty of plans for growth. Last month, at the North American Bitcoin Conference, Bill Barhydt, Abra’s CEO, announced the company’s next phase of global expansion following last year’s successful launch of Abra in the Philippines and the US. In the coming month, they will be enabling Abra worldwide, using a global network of Tellers (which they refer to as “Human ATMs”) who can transact in over 50 currencies, including Bitcoin. It will be interesting to see what geographies the app gains traction as a simple and convenient way to send, convert and withdraw funds around the world.
I’ve highlighted just five here, but there are currently over 1,000 startups and initiatives in the blockchain / bitcoin / distributed ledger space and I’m sure more will be making some big announcements this year. While venture investment in the space has been slowing down, the number of projects does appear to be rising. In short, 2017 should be a telling year in understanding which sectors and players will be the first to move beyond the whitepapers and press releases and start gaining some traction. Watch this space.