(Photo by Tyler Woods)
As it happens, one building plastered in bumper stickers in East Williamsburg might be the most exciting hub of activity in the blockchain space in the world.
That’s because 49 Bogart St. is the home of ConsenSys, a company founded by one of the creators of the Ethereum blockchain, Joseph Lubin. ConsenSys is an amorphous business, but basically it helps Ethereum-based startups get up and running.
Blockchain is much more than cryptocurrencies, there are real businesses being built using blockchain technology, and Brooklyn being such a center of activity, we thought we’d take a look at some of the most interesting projects and companies based here.
With a $50 million fund with which to fund blockchain startups, ConsenSys Ventures is the largest venture capital firm in Brooklyn. ConsenSys announced the creation of the fund in September, naming Kavita Gupta, previously of Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s family foundation, to run it.
According to Gupta, the fund will be making seed-stage investments, which means there will be a lot of funded blockchain startups on the horizon in Brooklyn and elsewhere. The company has declined to comment on how the fund is funded, but we will note that the price of the Ether token has risen more than 12,000 percent this year and the whole ConsenSys operation seems flush with cash.
Grid+ is a ConsenSys-affiliated startup that wants to use the blockchain to reengineer the energy market for consumers by making peer-to-peer energy transactions possible. The company, founded by Alex Miller, thinks it can eventually provide consumers electricity at half the price they pay now, through changes in billing over the blockchain and by reducing the distances electricity needs to travel through wires.
The journalism industry has been in a state of flux for a bit now and Civil thinks it’s got a solution. Founded by Matthew Iles, the ConsenSys-aligned startup wants to bring journalism onto the blockchain.
On Civil, those who pay to read would act as publishers, those who write would get paid per article and those who edit would get paid per fact-check. Everything stripped down, everything decentralized. The company raised $2.5 million in October and has teamed up with some veteran journalists, granting money to the likes of Maria Bustillos, Nicole Bode, Dan Sieberg and Sasha Frere-Jones. As cofounder Matt Coolidge explains, these journalists technically aren’t Civil employees. “They’re running their own independent newsroom on Civil’s platform and retain full editorial and business independence from The Civil Media Company,” he says. That goes for all Civil newsrooms and is a key part of the model, Coolidge adds.
One of the absolutely necessary ingredients for the success of blockchain ecosystem is for people to be able to access it easily, and one of the ways they’ll be able to do that is if they can use dollars in it, rather than volatile cryptocurrencies.
That’s the idea behind StabL, a crypto token with a value pegged to the U.S. dollar. The project is the work of a 26-year-old Frenchman named Hadrien Charlanes, who discovered the world of blockchain and moved to the States to work with ConsenSys. StabL went through a test trial this year.
One of the most ambitious projects conceivable in the blockchain ecosystem is what uPort is working on: decentralizing one’s identity.
Cofounder Rouven Heck wants uPort to be a sort of virtual passport on the blockchain. Personal information and data could be stored there and accessed and released only by the user, rather than by third parties like Facebook, healthcare providers and even the government.
SingularDTV is looking to erase the middlemen between content creators and consumers. Its founders, Zach LeBeau and Kim Jackson were also the first couple to ever be married on the blockchain. According to the company, its goal is to build “the future of rights management, project funding, and peer-to-peer distribution.” SingularDTV recently hired Archna Desai as its COO.
Everyone seems to be making money off cryptocurrency these days but very few have the crypto-pedigree of the folks at CoinFund, a sort of hedge fund and research shop for cryptocurrency that was founded in 2015. It’s led by Jake Brukhman, who has previously worked for both a hedge fund and at Amazon in technical roles. Brukhman appears frequently as an advisor for young decentralized startups in the blockchain world.
One thing that separates Ujo Music from nearly every other blockchain application thus far is that it has a working product people have used, no small feat.
By executing contracts over the blockchain, Ujo Music pairs music creators with listeners who buy directly from the artist, rather than from a studio that owns the rights to the artist’s music. In 2015, the company partnered with the artist Imogen Heap who released a single, “Tiny Human,” with Ujo Music. Last year, artist RAC released his album via Ujo as well.
Coindexter is a sort of library for research papers about the blockchain. As the price of cryptocurrencies has taken off in recent months, a ton of new people have entered the ecosystem, and they would do well to have a repository of good information to learn from. Coindexter was built by Jonathan Libov, formerly of Union Square Ventures, with help from two prominent Brooklyn blockchain experts, Nick Chirls, of Notation Capital, and the above mentioned Jake Brukhman, of CoinFund.
LO3 is making moves. The company is building a mesh electric grid in Brooklyn with a new approach to metering, and with transactions based on an open ledger on the blockchain.
The young company has also been raising money prodigiously, with $955,000 in the spring of last year and then a healthy $5.8 million this winter. According to LO3, the company is “augmenting the traditional energy grid, letting participants tap into community resources to generate, store, buy, and sell energy at the local level. This model makes clean, renewable energy more accessible, and keeps the community resilient to outages in emergencies, among many other economic and environmental benefits.”
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