Featured: The Block’s list of innovative blockchain companies to look out for in 2021

James is editor in chief of TechForge Media, with a passion for how technologies influence business and several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.

Feature 2021 is going to be an exciting year for blockchain technologies. The launch of Ethereum 2.0, the ongoing volatility of Bitcoin and the intriguing use cases arising from DeFi will continue apace, while enterprise opportunities, from finance, to energy and sustainability, to the wider supply chain, remain.

The Block has selected seven companies to feature for 2021. Read their stories below:

Butterfly Protocol

Butterfly Protocol’s goal is to provide a decentralised alternative to ICANN, the arbiter of Internet domains and namespaces. The promised effect of this mission is much wider.

“The Butterfly Protocol is built for the world of a decentralised internet, one that is free from censorship and centralised control,” Dana Farbo, president of Butterfly Protocol, tells The Block. “It changes how anything digital or even physical can be named so that it can be registered forever using the blockchain and other technology such as the Interplanetary File System (IPFS).

“For domain names, that means you can own your own subdomain like myname.HUMAN without ever having to pay a yearly fee,” Farbo adds. “You won’t lose it due to a mistake with your credit card.”

Last month, the company launched a new naming system which offers a ‘decentralised registry platform for top-level domains that can be purchased with cryptocurrency.’

Another project on the horizon is a social media app called Butterfly Social. The app is based on the protocol, to point content a user creates to distributed data storage which uses decentralised and peer-to-peer routing to get away from a centralised system.

This is particularly prescient following the suspension of Parler by Amazon Web Services (AWS) among other vendors. Yet Farbo stresses that this does not mean users ‘can do a lot of illegal things and get away with it’.

“Butterfly Social can’t be taken down because a cloud provider decides they don’t like your politics,” argues Farbo. “The app can be distributed outside of stores like Apple and Google and true freedom of expression can be realised.”

The Butterfly Social DApp is pegged for release in Q2, while the company is also looking to build a partner network for other developers to help them integrate Butterfly into their product.

CiveQ

CiveQ, founded in September and based in the UK, looks to make investing in clean energy infrastructure available to all.

Neil Pennington, co-founder of CiveQ, argues that clean energy assets, and associated infrastructure such as solar arrays and wind turbines, are typically held by legal entities such as special purpose vehicles (SPVs), with multiple ownership difficult to attain and liquidity tough. CiveQ aims to provide direct ownership, meaning owners can hold it and trade easily.

This is achieved by digitising the asset on a blockchain, using a non-fungible token (NFT) framework, then fractionalising it into pieces to sell to retail investors. Combined with this is IoT connectivity to provide trusted and verified data.

“We call this ‘visible equity’ – a known asset, in a known location, delivering known outputs and returns,” Pennington tells The Block.

The company has a business model ‘built on partnerships’, though CiveQ is entering a funding round early in 2021. One notable partnership with Regener8 Power, a cleantech development platform provider based in Italy and the UK. The collaboration will see Regener8 bring assets to the platform – therefore, more liquidity to the market – as well as entice developers.

Energy is a notable area where many stakeholders can see blockchain benefit. As this publication has previously reported, EDF has initiatives, being a member of Hyperledger and aligning with the Tezos blockchain ecosystem. The company, through its Exaion platform, is looking to become the ‘eco-responsible benchmark’ for cloud computing, as well as provide a blockchain platform to speed up the rollout of customer projects securely.

Pennington, whose experience on the other side of the desk includes stints at npower and BG Group, feels a different kind of energy is required – in more ways than one.

“We are looking to really excite the market, developing huge advocacy and engagement; a waiting list of people and organisations who are excited to own ‘visible equity’ in our first project, and from there a continuous roadmap of new and highly engaging features,” he says. “2021 will be an exciting year for us.”

Flow Blockchain

Flow Blockchain is, in one aspect, the most established company on this list. The project, developed by CryptoKitties creator Dapper Labs as a user- and developer-friendly blockchain platform, has customers ranging from the NBA to Dr. Seuss.

Yet Flow further legitimised itself at the beginning of this year. A January blog from DApp tracker DappRadar, who will itself soon begin tracking Flow blockchain dapps, notes the need to solve the problem of scalability ever since CryptoKitties was born.

This is echoed by Mik Naayem, chief business officer and co-founder of Dapper Labs. “After breaking Ethereum with CryptoKitties back in 2017, Flow was built as a mainstream scalable option,” Naayem tells The Block.

The company continues to innovate, announcing a partnership last month with T-Systems, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, to bolster Flow’s computational storage.

NBA Top Shot, which is built on Flow, has broken milestones of its own over the past few weeks. This includes ranking as the top crypto collectible by sales volume – at more than $30 million – while two ‘moments’, featuring LeBron James and Zion Williamson, went for $100,000 apiece. Naayem argues NBA Top Shot is ‘revolutionising the adoption of blockchain and demonstrating that there is the potential of product market fit to the masses.’

In terms of 2021 plans, Naayem notes a trend towards a ‘fully open, fully on-chain virtual metaverse.’ “Instead of a single app or a single interface, we think of it as the entire state of the blockchain available for any developer to build on, any individual to access, and where the assets can interact with each other and smart contracts can be built on top of each other,” he says.

“In the upcoming year we expect crypto experiences hitting the mainstream and greater adoption of our products,” Naayem adds. “We also hope to bring more beloved IPs and partnerships to Flow and Dapper Labs.”

GoodDollar

GoodDollar, a project which is led by Yoni Assia, the CEO of eToro, aims to deliver digital universal basic income (UBI) at scale. The offering is built on Fuse.io and the Ethereum mainnet and enables those who sign up to receive a small daily income in the G$ digital currency.

When this publication first reported on GoodDollar in December, more than 40,000 people from 180 countries were signing up and using G$. Within this are case studies which are variously interesting in themselves. One entrepreneur is building a new gift business which enables people to use GoodDollars in more than 35 different countries for food and assorted vendors, while another member in Spain is planting trees for GoodDollars as part of his environmental activism.

“Core to the mission of GoodDollar is creating new incentives that make it easy for all of us to use our money to ‘do good’ for others,” Anna Stone, strategy and go-to-market lead at GoodDollar, tells The Block. “We tackle this by lowering the barriers to entry and designing super simple products that enable any person with a cell phone to begin to collect digital money and use that digital income in a digital economy.

A recent report from Flipside Crypto, as picked up by SimpleMoneyLyfe, found that approximately 2% of crypto wallets control 95% of all Bitcoin. This disparity is at the heart of GoodDollar’s vision.

“So much of crypto has been enabling thsoe who already have resources to get even richer,” Stone adds. “The goal of GoodDollar is to flip market incentives on its head, and enable a world where crypto fans can maximise for themselves while also doing good for others.”

The rest of 2021 will see new features around increasing daily digital income distribution, a new community governance framework, as well as market education to help create more projects from entrepreneurs and ambassadors alike.

“We will be undertaking initiatives that make it as simple, easy, and rewarding as possible for philanthropists to support the basic income network,” adds Stone.

GrainChain

GrainChain is an agritech firm currently working with supply chains in the United States, Mexico, and Honduras. The company operates a cloud-based blockchain platform that provides end-to-end traceability from producer to consumer, helping to alleviate the complex challenges facing agricultural supply chains.

The company’s operations, which currently process millions of dollars in commodities daily, simplify the complex logistics of the industry by making the process of payments easier, faster, and safer for participants whilst simultaneously providing reliable data on food’s origins for suppliers.

“We stand out in the industry on a couple fronts. Our approach is unique in the sense that we provide a centralised platform connecting the entire agricultural supply chain,” Tom DeRosa, director of marketing at GrainChain informs The Block. “We provide tools for each segment with portals for each user type. Numerous benefits are realised through connecting these historically disconnected groups.”

The need for blockchain ledgers in the agriculture industry is becoming increasingly realised by global financial firms, as demonstrated by Mastercard’s partnership with GrainChain in October 2020.

GrainChain’s platform does more than bring traceability to supply chains however, it also allows producers to receive better prices.

“Currently we are wrapping up a pilot program with coffee farmers in Honduras and preparing to roll out our platform to approximately 12,000 participants in Q2 2021. Our tools are not only creating efficiency for their workflows but also enabling the farmers to demand increased margins since the GrainChain platform authenticates and ensures the quality of the product to the marketplace,” DeRosa adds.

Looking forward, GrainChain is expanding its operations in existing markets whilst also beginning operations in Peru, Colombia, and Brazil.

“We will also be processing new commodities such as palm oil and offering our technology to global conglomerates, with an announcement coming later this year,” says DeRosa.

Minima

Minima, a blockchain startup based in Switzerland and the UK, is currently building an ultra-lean blockchain network that will run entirely on mobile phones. In doing so, Minima is striving to become the most decentralised and secure blockchain ever built.

The company’s ambition of running a node on consumer devices will bring this decentralization to life. To date, any scaling blockchain has required specialised groups of powerful and professionally operated computers to function.

“This has created significant barriers to entry: only those with the resources, technical expertise, and access to cheap electricity necessary to run a complex mining or validator operation can participate in blockchain,” Hugo Feiler, CEO at Minima, tells The Block.

The concentration of 65% of Bitcoin’s hashrate being produced in China is one example of this, and it leads to major complications for a system that relies on decentralisation for its security.

“As demand for blockchains increase, this concentration will likely become worse. Minima’s technology solves this. Our blockchain runs entirely on mobile phones, eliminating the need for specialised computers that only a handful of service providers can afford to operate,” Feiler adds. “By running on mobile phones, Minima can become the most decentralised, and therefore the most secure, blockchain by orders of magnitude.”

Having carried out a successful proof of concept with Manx Telecom in 2020 and securing £1.8 million in funding from Blockchain Ventures in December that year, Minima’s ambitious goals are steadily becoming a reality.

In 2021, Minima is working with two major network operators to run pilots for rolling out loyalty and reward programs.

“Minima has been selected because it has the unique ability to leverage the compute resources of the mobile phone. It is flexible, scalable, and above all the operating costs for the services are significantly reduced because end users mine their own transactions on the mobile phone without the need for a central database. This will all be done without damaging the user experience,” Feiler concludes.

Wintermute

Wintermute, headquartered in London, is an algorithmic liquidity provider for digital assets. In other words, the company aims to create liquid and efficient markets on the leading crypto exchanges and trading platforms.

The company is hot right now. Wintermute secured $20 million (£14.7m) in a series B funding round last month led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, and claimed to have grown almost 25 times its previous size in six months, since its series A round.

“We find ourselves in a very privileged position being in the centre of everything important going on with crypto,” Marina Gurevich, COO of Wintermute, tells The Block. “We are key partners for the exchanges providing a significant part of liquidity there; we work closely with blockchain projects helping them grow both before and after exchange listings; and we are part of the DeFi ecosystem helping define the decentralised financial primitives.”

Analysis from Binance, as this publication noted in November, found that what must go up, must go down. Binance’s DeFi index saw what the company called a ‘phenomenal run’ for most of 2020, but the beginning of September saw the vast majority of top DeFi tokens lose more than 50% of their value. Yet pundits argue that the imminent benefits expected on the horizon with Ethereum 2.0 could lead to greater DeFi innovation.

DeFi remains an area of major interest for Gurevich, who notes the work with protocols as the most interesting case study for Wintermute right now. “For example, [we are] working with DeFi exchanges and protocols to make it possible for people to trade with each other securely without the involvement of centralised exchanges, or lend money to each other and gain interest without the involvement of centralised lenders,” she says.

The rest of 2021 will involve greater collaboration and expansion. “Wintermute will be working more closely with financial institutions in traditional finance – asset managers and funds – to help them get access to crypto,” says Gurevich. “Wintermute will expand its operation in Asia, one of the largest markets in crypto, and will continue supporting liquidity for the most innovative and impactful projects.”

With additional reporting by Fin Strathern.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Interested in hearing more in person? Find out more at the Blockchain Expo World Series, Global, Europe and North America.   

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