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From Academia to Start-up — Looking back at 2020

What a year to start a company. Global pandemic, economic crisis, DeFi hype, Bitcoin ATH… 2020 was a roller-coaster ride all way long. Nevertheless, 2020 was a fantastic year for Interlay.

Interlay has been growing fast (even “aggressive” as some would say). We started as two PhDs with a vision and have grown to 10 people, surpassed all revenue targets, closed the year with profit — and are just getting started.

From PhD to Start-up Life

Dominik and I met in London in October 2017 — we were the first two PhDs in the Imperial College’s cryptocurrency research lab. For two years we worked on various research projects, publishing more than 20 papers on blockchain security, scalability, interoperability and DeFi — “collecting” over 400 citations.

In the summer of 2018, XCLAIM, the first trustless protocol for cross-chain “wrapped” assets was born. What started as an academic project, quickly turned into a full-time endeavour. We presented trustlessly wrapping Bitcoin on Ethereum using XCLAIM at Scaling Bitcoin’18, EthCC’19, EDCON’19, and published the paper at the top-tier security conference IEEE S&P’19. By this time, XCLAIM had undergone the scrutiny of various communities and we had gained confidence that it worked in practice. It was time to bring XCLAIM to life.

Interlay co-founders Alexei and Dominik presenting XCLAIM at ScalingBitcoin 2018

Paper >> Spec >> PoC >> Launch

We did not want to raise money straight away. XCLAIM did not require a token and raising an equity round with only a paper would have been costly. Instead, we decided to bootstrap Interlay the “traditional” way. We found a great partner in the Web3 Foundation, who offered funding to bring Bitcoin to Polkadot in a trustless manner — PolkaBTC was born.

Over the next months (January — April 2020) Dom and I brought XCLAIM from academia to practice: we created a 200 page specification and developed a working PoC for trustless BTC on Polkadot in Rust using Parity’s Substrate. During this time, we incorporated Interlay in the UK and hired our first 3 employees — all while finishing our last PhD papers at Imperial. The PoC project was a success, and in August 2020 we won the public call for the production-ready PolkaBTC implementation (the BTC-Parachain). Within 2 months, we grew to 10 people, distributed across the globe, and started shipping PolkaBTC — launching Alpha Testnet in November 2020.

Remote and Decentralized

Even before COVID-19 forced everyone into home-office, we decided to build Interlay as a decentralized and fully remote company (following the example of Gitlab). Today, our team is distributed across London, Vienna, Edinburg, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Budapest, Belgrade, and Bavaria. To stay in touch, we organize daily stand-up calls, bi-weekly socials, and virtual coffee-breaks — and are patiently planning our long-overdue company retreat.

The Interlay team dialing in from around Europe to pose for a “screenshot” during the Christmas social event.

Vision and Products

At Interlay, we envision a future where blockchains can seamlessly connect and interact, regardless of their design and purpose. Anyone should use any digital currency on any blockchain platform without restrictions.

We have set out to build a decentralized cross-chain settlement layer, “a network to connect them all”. We work with Bitcoin, Ethereum, Polkadot and others, shipping the infrastructure for cross-chain applications. Our latest products include:

PolkaBTC, the official trustless Bitcoin-Polkadot bridge, in collaboration with Parity Technologies, funded by the Web3 Foundation. Under the hood, PolkaBTC is based on XCLAIM, the only cross-chain framework that is financially trustless, permissionless, and censorship-resistant.

XOpts, the first trustless and non-custodial cross-chain settlement layer for derivatives. Built on Ethereum for Bitcoin options, XOpts enables physical settlement of contracts and removes the need for price oracles and wrapped assets.

Our products are designed to be inherently decentralized and the majority of our code is open source (Github and Gitlab). We follow a research-driven approach, back up our work by top-tier scientific papers, and collaborate with leading research labs around the world.

2020 Achievements

Starting a company, launching two alpha testnets, winning two grants. The numbers speak for themselves, it was a busy year for Interlay: we shipped short of 90 000 lines of code across more than 4000 commits.

Below, a short summary of 2020 highlights.




Conferences and Talks

Despite the pandemic, we gave (invited) talks on new interoperability research at numerous conferences — mostly online.

Regulations and Partnerships

The global regulatory landscape is constantly evolving and the lawsuits of 2020 were just a sneak peak of what may yet come. David, our new Head of Operations and former financial regulation lawyer at two magic-circle law firms, is making sure we stay on top of these laws. Aiming to contribute to a dialogue with European regulators, we have recently joined the Multi Asset Managers Association (MAMA).

Finally, Interlay also joined the Polkadot DeFi Alliance as a founding member to help boost the adoption of DeFi applications on Polkadot and foster collaboration between projects.

What’s next?

While 2020 was great, 2021 is even more exciting — we’re finally launching our products!

PolkaBTC Beta testnet including first integrations to other Polkadot applications will go live in January 2021, followed by final testing and audits. After that, PolkaBTC will go live in February/March 2021, as soon as Polkadot Parachain are ready.

PolkaBTC Roadmap. We’re getting close to mainnet launch.

But that’s not all! Here are another four highlights to look out for in 2021:

  1. XOpts will go live in 2021 (expected in Q3).
  2. We will release XCLAIM 2.0 with massive security and collateral efficiency improvements.
  3. Lots of integrations with Polkadot projects.
  4. More bridges…

Stay tuned and follow us on Twitter (@interlayHQ) or join our Telegram and Discord channels.


Building a company from the ground up is tough and we would not have been able to do it alone. Apart from our friends and families, a big thanks goes to the Interlay team. Great thanks also to our the great folks at Web3 Foundation and Parity Technologies who awarded us their trust and have been awesome partners to work with, supporting us on all fronts. Finally, Dom and I also want to thank Will Knottenbelt, who made it possible for us to pursue our dream while completing our PhDs, and Oskar Mencer who gave helpful advice during the early stages of Interlay.



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