10 blockchain startups to watch
While many industries have seen a decline in venture capital investment, the blockchain space has continued to enjoy funding. Blockchain startups have found strength in the rise of NFT use cases alongside the convergence of blockchain and other emerging technologies like 5G, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI).
Gartner predicts the business value generated by blockchain will increase, reaching $176 billion by 2025 and $3.1 trillion by 2030. In addition, Grand View Research estimates the global blockchain technology market will grow at a rate of 85.9% between 2022 and 2030. With the blockchain market capitalization poised to skyrocket in the next few years, investors continue to pour billions of dollars into blockchain and crypto startups.
Although the blockchain industry is currently seeing one of its harshest crypto winter seasons, its promise hasn’t stopped burgeoning. As the metaverse gains more inroads into the broader enterprise, investors continue to tap into the endless potentials of blockchain, moving its application far beyond cryptocurrencies, NFTs and any other singular unit.
A report by PwC on the outlook of the blockchain industry notes it as a technology enabler with an unrivaled capability to improve the business processes in the enterprise while simultaneously lowering the cost of trust. These advancements are touted to result in a greater return on investment (ROI) for first movers and the businesses they serve.
An industry continuously on the rise
A report by Statista quoting IPlytic’s survey revealed that the rate of proliferation of blockchain startups globally has kept an upward momentum. The survey unveiled that while only 66 blockchain startups were founded worldwide in 2012, the number grew to 777 in 2017. Another Statista report places the amount of money that blockchain startups raised in the first quarter of 2021 at $2.6 billion globally — more than the total amount the industry raised in 2020.
Amidst surplus funding, how do startups in the blockchain space stack up? Which startups are jostling to get ahead and offer more to business leaders and consumers? Below are 10 blockchain startups well-positioned in the market based on their growth trajectories, service offerings, innovation and market capabilities to make a statement in the blockchain space over the next few years. As expected, these startups span the entire spectrum of the blockchain industry, from cryptocurrencies to decentralized finance (DeFi), NFTs, metaverse and Web3.
The CEOs of the startups spoke to VentureBeat on their core business competencies, providing key metrics for evaluation. In no particular order, below are 10 blockchain startups poised to lead the pack over the next few years.
Founder(s): Brian Platz
Headquarters: North Carolina, U.S.A.
Total funding to date: $6.5 million
Bringing data into the blockchain space, Fluree is an open-source graph database that guarantees data integrity, provides traceability into data provenance, facilitates secure data collaboration and powers connected data insights. Fluree is going after the general blockchain application market, focusing on becoming the data management infrastructure for Web3. While public blockchains like Ethereum provide application logic and decentralized file systems such as IPFS handle distributed storage, Fluree’s CEO, Brain Platz, said the company exists to fill the need for operational data management for Web3 applications.
Fluree brings a practical and familiar platform to enterprises looking to build blockchain applications. Enterprise applications require intensive data storage and retrieval — functionalities that traditional L1 or L2 blockchains are not optimized for. This includes for storing metadata around supply chain updates or user information for a customer web application. However, sticking the entire database functionality on Ethereum or Polkadot for blockchain applications is cost-prohibitive or downright impossible. So, according to Platz, most organizations just stick their data and metadata in a regular old database and use blockchain as yet another data silo. The lack of holistic data management defeats the original purpose by adding cost and complexity to the systems that this blockchain was meant to simplify.
There’s a need for a more evolved solution, said Platz and this is the solution Fluree brings to the enterprise. He said some benefits the Fluree brings to the blockchain industry include:
Data Integrity: Every piece of data, including its provenance and originator, is entirely verifiable and tamper-proof via cryptography. Optional decentralization enables increased integrity and visibility in networks.
Data Security: By encoding custom read and write permission logic as co-resident data, Fluree allows a singular security model that travels with your data beyond borders and scales with your dataset forever.
Data Traceability: Fluree’s timestamped ledger allows applications to access and understand every moment in time — empowering apps to comprehensively follow the path of assets as they move through time or ownership.
Fluree says it’s differentiated from others because it can be centralized, federated or decentralized to meet data governance requirements. Its ledgers can also be split, combined with other ledgers and scaled up or down as needed by the application or user. As such, Fluree exposes the ledger data in an industry-standard resource description framework as a blockchain-backed semantic graph database. With a product that can run on any machine and versatile “edge” query servers that can be scaled linearly to meet any level of enterprise demand, Fluree promises to give enterprise players more bang for their buck.
According to Platz, as more organizations interact with third-parties to conduct businesses, blockchain is an essential next step for the enterprise technology stack. He added that blockchain would become as ubiquitous as cloud technology in the next five years, spurring more digital innovation for enterprises looking to stay competitive.
Counting the Department of Defense (DoD) and the U.S. Department of Education among its client base, Fluree is curating an interesting client list as more agencies and enterprise players seek out how to ensure secure data sharing over the blockchain. Having garnered more than 100,000 downloads, the startup will be launching a cloud version soon, bringing it into a market worth about $500 billion, according to Gartner.
While Fluree didn’t disclose its valuation, the company raised a seed round of $4.7million in 2019.
Founder(s): Kirill Suslov
Headquarters: The Netherlands
Total funding to date: $7 million
Cryptocurrency trading platform TabTrader is largely invested in decentralized finance (DeFi). Focused on connecting end-users to multiple exchanges and to enable them to execute trades in real-time with its app, TabTrader allows trading on about 40 exchanges and supports more than 12,000 digital instruments, giving users access to a variety of instruments to trade.
In an interview with VentureBeat, TabTrader’s CEO, Kirill Suslov, said the most compelling trend in the blockchain industry is DeFi, which represents all of the ways to invest your money without trusting a counterparty. The zero-trust approach is what blockchain stands for, not just in finance, but across the board.
Suslov noted that “blockchain technology has found its use only in a limited number of use cases, where it’s important not to trust the counterparty. In contrast, enterprise ecosystems usually comprise agents that typically trust each other. That’s why there’s only a limited number of such use cases.”
TabTrader says it has a DeFi aggregation system that allows anyone to manage their finances and investments from a single mobile interface. With the belief that DeFi should be mobile and fluid, TabTrader wants to move DeFi access beyond browser extensions on a personal computer.
Suslov explained that TabTrader has mainly relied on having a great product, the element of vitality and app store optimization to redefine investment even on a personal level. In tandem with its organizational culture, TabTrader believes every human has a chance to become financially independent.
“One of our users quit his job in 2017 and has since continued to support his family via returns on trading with TabTrader. This is one of the numerous examples that keep our team on its feet. We get up every morning to enable investing for everyone in the world,” he claimed.
Having grown to over 300,000 active users, with a five-star rating from about 15% of its total users, TabTrader is a blockchain startup to contninue to watch.
Founder(s): Weili Dai and James Kaplan
Headquarters: Los Angeles, California, USA
Total funding to date: Undisclosed
MeetKai believes the metaverse depends on maximized accessibility and the integration of artificial intelligence (AI). The startup is about extending physical reality into the metaverse and has started mapping the entire world inside its virtual realm. MeetKai says it has the best AI on the market, with the capability to understand and remember natural speech and negation queries — a feature that powers its open and inclusive metaverse. MeetKai‘s cofounder and CEO, James Kaplan, envisages a metaverse that will be accessible by all and launched the first browser-based metaverse in July. Kaplan also told VentureBeat that the metaverse is not about creating a new world, but enhancing the virtual with real utility.
Undoubtedly, the metaverse is poised to be the next big thing, with Bloomberg Intelligence reporting the metaverse market will reach over $800 billion by 2024 and McKinsey estimating that number could go up to $5 trillion by 2030. Unfortunately, many real-life experiences that people would like to have now include cost-prohibitive or simply impractical due to a variety of reasons, including physical inaccessibility, but MeetKai says it’s building its metaverse to bridge that gap.
“Apps are limited by their form factor. Their deployment targets invariably cause silos with limited interoperability. By building in the browser and leveraging AI, we can provide experiences that not only eclipse what is possible with an app, but even provide advantages over equivalent real-world experiences too, Kaplan said. “By targeting any form factor, we can make this technology available globally at substantially reduced costs.”
MeetKai’s AI currently supports 16 languages and is ready for use in the expansive MeetKai metaverse which is equally intuitive. While there are several other companies — like Roblox, Decentraland and Sandbox — building metaverses, Kaplan believes the AI expertise that MeetKai brings to the space is a game changer that sets it apart from others.
Virtually Human Studios
Headquarters: Victoria, Australia
Founder(s): Chris Ebeling, Chris Laurent, Geoffrey Wellman, Rob Salha
Total funding to date: $20 million
As the metaverse continues to grow in importance and popularity, Virtually Human Studio (VHS) says it’s “pioneering the space, developing immersive entertainment experiences that leverage blockchain technology.” The company utilizes emerging technology to deliver cutting-edge, next-generation Web3 experiences that empower individuals and communities to interpret the metaverse in their own way.
Their flagship game, ZED RUN, was the first of its kind to be built on blockchain, representing a tangible use case for this technology in a product enjoyed by users around the world. Taking inspiration from the real world of horse racing and fusing it with Web3 technologies, ZED RUN has brought the “sport of kings” into the metaverse, allowing owners of digital racehorse NFTs to engage in skill-based gameplay. Notable for selling $20 million worth of racehorses in four hours, with over $250 million spent on the platform and secondary markets, ZED RUN offers a fundamentally new approach to value creation through ownership and entertainment.
By democratizing racehorse ownership, ZED RUN and its community has attracted horse racing fans, sports fans, gamers and Web3 adopters. ZED RUN stable owners have competed in over two million races and earned over $40 million in prizes. The game is a leader in the play-and-earn space and has shown the potential of Web3 to create unique, immersive digital experiences.
“We are developing groundbreaking technology that is powering the Web3 revolution across a wide network of assets, games and entertainment experiences within VHS’s portfolio. The rise of NFTs is enabling and empowering individuals to create their own identities in an unrestricted space. People can determine their own experiences and create interesting things across new worlds,” saidChris Laurent, VHS’ CEO and cofounder.
He further noted that some of the company’s APIs have also been made public to enable the wider blockchain community to build on top of the VHS framework.
Using on-chain blockchain to facilitate the distribution of authentic digital collectibles, the studio has racked up collaborations with notable brands including Budweiser, NASCAR, The Victoria Racing Club / Melbourne Cup and Netflix. Backed by some of Silicon Valley’s elite venture capitalists, looks poised to continue its upward trajectory in the NFT entertainment world over the next few years.
Founder(s): Eric Jackson, Christopher Grey
Headquarters: California, USA
Total funding to date: $2.5 million
TransitNet claims to be the world’s first title registry for crypto, allowing investors to turn crypto from a bearer asset to a registered asset. In addition, it enables users to create a trusted, third-party verified record of title for crypto wallets. Core functionality includes, verification of crypto ownership, wallet ownership confirmation and the ability to securely share that claim of title with a third party.
TransitNet does not take possession of the crypto asset or act as a wallet service, but as a security-enhancing service. By not having to facilitate the flow of payments, TransitNet concentrates solely on the flow of information to enable safe transactions and unlock new use cases for crypto.
“Blockchain is going to continue to change traditional financial services. DeFi won’t obliterate traditional financial services, but it will force them to evolve to coexist. We’re already seeing that happen. Banks are getting involved in blockchain and crypto. We see an opportunity for TransitNet to be a critical player in this space. For example, TransitNet enables home mortgages by allowing people to demonstrate their creditworthiness based on their crypto assets and to pay with crypto, which they can prove ownership of,” said Eric Jackson, the company’s CEO.
Financial infrastructure for crypto is already a $45 billion industry — a massive part of the global $325 billion fintech market — and TransitNet will be looking at taking its chunk of it.
Founder(s): Ben Jorgensen, Wyatt Meldman-Floch, Benjamin Diggles, Mathias Goldmann and Altif Brown.
Headquarters: California, U.S.A.
Total funding to date: Undisclosed
Constellation Network is a decentralized development framework that aims to improve existing digital infrastructure in the blockchain space. The startup does so through the “Hypergraph Network,” its proprietary infrastructure that enables secure processing and data transfer to build interoperability for blockchain nodes and connected sensors and devices. The startup says it provides the only scalable, secure solution for a world with more connectivity, centralization and concentrated risk.
Ben Jorgensen, CEO at Constellation Network, told VentureBeat one of the emerging trends in the industry is that Web2 (social media, websites, ecommerce) and Web3 (blockchain, virtual reality, cryptocurrency) are both currently fragmented. He noted that while Web2 is fragmented by the difficult but necessary journey from the attention economy to the stakeholder economy, Web3’s fragmentation is due to the time and effort it takes to create a new space for innovation.
The result is a trend toward convergence — Web2, through the metaverse, meeting Web3 and blockchain-enabled governance and tokenized bounties and rewards. While Jorgensen doesn’t believe the metaverse will happen overnight, he said it’s the only path forward for Web2 to migrate users to immersive, more social connectivity than our current reality. He further noted that Web3 and cryptocurrency-based applications are both cumbersome and difficult to discover and access, with these paradigm shifts requiring organizations to rethink how they do things and attract new customers.
The good news, according to Jorgensen, is there’s great potential in the metaverse, as it will provide a more interactive retail experience and shift how we experience consumerism and social connectivity. He added that enterprise decision-makers could lean into the governance of various ecosystems to learn about the benefits and some of the socio-economic dynamics that exist within the industry.
“For our technology and our ecosystem, this means designing standards that can improve workflows, data assurance and exploring possibilities to integrate a cryptocurrency as an incentive to activate a community,” he said.
Unlike many layer one solutions — where there are network downtimes and pre-released developer tools — Jorgensen said Constellation Network spent four years building a decentralized network (120+ nodes globally distributed) that could scale infinitely and was secure with consistent uptime. The company claims it’s now focusing on quality and industry-disruptive use cases that could change the course of the entire blockchain industry (not just within the ecosystem).
“Now we are opening up our developer ecosystem with tools, products and solutions that invite blockchain developers and the crypto-curious,” said Jorgensen.
The company will release its Mainnet 2.0 later this summer. Constellation Network claims it will expand the developer and application ecosystem with state channel functionality and documentation for projects to create their state channels, standards and mint L0 tokens. Jorgensen also said shipping for its mining hardware, Dor Traffic Miner, will begin in Q4 of 2022.
“We are at a point where we are inviting enterprise partners to build alongside early-stage entrepreneurs to invent the future of business and design solutions that fit their needs,” he said.
Founder(s): Sergej Kotliar
Headquarters: Stockholm, Sweden
Total funding to date: $10 million
In an ecosystem often limited to tech professionals and enthusiasts, Bitrefill created a platform that allows people to use cryptocurrency on a larger scale. Bitrefill is a “crypto-only company” that will enable users to convert cryptocurrency into merchant balance directly, with no account and sign-up required.
Bitrefill began in 2014 when founder Sergej Kotliar had the idea of creating a platform that would allow people worldwide to buy services using cryptocurrency. At the time, he found an opportunity to put his idea into practice with refills for prepaid phone plans. The company began growing as a service for phone plan refills, but in 2017 saw another opportunity when Steam stopped accepting Bitcoin payments. In response, Bitrefill decided to try offering Steam gift cards as part of their service.
The offering took off, with gift card services soon growing to surpass their revenue from phone refills. While the company still does phone refills today, 90% of its sales volume lately has been from gift cards. Bitrefill also recently started to offer bill-paying services in the United States and El Salvador, allowing its users to “pay credit card, healthcare, utilities, mortgage and 20,000 other bills with Bitcoin,” according to a press release.
Chief product officer Marco Pesani told VentureBeat that the service already represents somewhere between 15% to 20% of the company’s total sales volume and expects it to become the major sales channel soon.
Pesani sees a growing adoption of cryptocurrency as a payment method in the future as privacy becomes a greater concern for the average person. With over 4000 gift cards and mobile refills in 170 countries, Bitrefill is playing a critical role in the mass adoption of blockchain technology.
“Many people don’t think about this, but when you make an average transaction, this sends your personal information to five or six entities, whether it’s the credit card company, the bank, settlement companies and others in the banking stack,” Pesani said. “More people have started using us because, with our system, your identity isn’t linked to the purchase, thus securing your data,” he added.
Founder(s): Jonathan Leong, Joshua Soh
Headquarters: Road Town, British Virgin Islands
Total funding to date: Undisclosed
BTSE is a global digital assets exchange that aims to bridge traditional finance with innovative financial solutions while enhancing convenience and accessibility. Serving top crypto institutions, legacy companies, neobanks and retail traders, BTSE says it empowers users to trade confidently by delivering a solution that encompasses digital assets and fiat currencies.
In an interview with VentureBeat, BTSE’s CEO, Henry Liu, said the platform fundamentally reflects new ways of thinking about the future of finance and building personal wealth. He said BTSE currently facilitates more than $1.5 billion in daily volume for BTC and ETH futures, adding that BTSE is the first centralized exchange to offer Web3 wallet support for both MetaMask and Phantom wallet extensions — enabling users to deposit and withdraw Ethereum and Solana assets without hassle. Liu also mentioned that despite the crypto winter leading to layoffs, BTSE has continued to hire, demonstrating its leadership position within the industry.
To ensure a smooth trading experience, BTSE offers competitive pricing and deep liquidity to all customers. Additionally, the exchange creates value for users by removing crypto’s abstract complexities and providing the simplest and most valuable products. This includes the accessibility to all major fiat currencies in addition to cryptocurrencies in a secure and efficient trading environment. BTSE stays ahead of the competition by investing in the user experience, according to Liu.
“We are enhancing how people interact with our financial services, making them more accessible and easier to use. In particular, we are rethinking the product experience by removing complex terminology on other platforms,” he said. “Our heavy investment to make using BTSE a pleasant experience will be matched by our investment to get the product into end users’ hands. We believe that they’ll like BTSE enough to spread the word and convince even more people to join our platform.”
Founder(s): David Johansson and Nicky Li
Headquarters: Fully remote
Total funding to date: $15 million
MetaKing Studios is the creator of Blocklords, an AAA grand strategy multiplayer game powered by Web3 technology. The brand has shown strong momentum in the industry, especially with support from game industry giants like GameStop, Bitkraft and Makers Fund.
MetaKing Studios claims it’s serving gamers with fun first, filling the gap left in the space as they aim to redefine the conventional idea of gaming. As gaming continues to instill itself as a cornerstone of Web3 adoption, Blocklords seeks to solve the biggest problem and create a real use case for player-owned digital assets in games.
“As digital ownership, asset utility and DeFi gets integrated more into daily life, gamers will start seeing endless ways that Web3 can help us create rich, enjoyable gaming experiences,” said David Johansson, CEO of MetaKing Studios.
Working closely with carbon-neutral chains such as Immutable X, MetaKing Studios can also mint thousands upon thousands of heroes without deferring the gas costs to users.
With competition from games like Illuvium, Star Atlas and Axie Infinity, Johansson said Blocklords sets itself apart through its unique game economy, which allows players to define the worth of their heroes through their creative skill and deeds. Asymmetric incentives promote a sustainable digital ecosystem, allowing players to directly benefit from the gaming economy and keep them safe from bad actors. Johansson also noted that players can now pre-register to gain early access and claim their free heroes.
Founder(s): Ronghui Gu, Zhong Shao
Headquarters: New York, U.S.A.
Total funding to date: $300.2 million
While others are creating tools for mass adoption of blockchain, CertiK says it’s taking care of an increasingly important concern in the Web3 space: Security. As Web3 continues to gain momentum, hacking and other digital threats are becoming more prevalent. A recent report by CertiK revealed that Web3 companies have lost over $2 billion to hacks and exploits in 2022 alone. To combat this, the blockchain industry must develop better security protocols and systems to deal with these threats to gain the trust of the larger public. Founded in collaboration with Columbia University and Yale, CertiK is combining the power of research and technological innovation to solve this problem.
CertiK evaluates blockchain protocols and smart contracts to ensure the security of individual blockchains and the entire industry. This includes conducting comprehensive security audits of smart contracts and blockchain code and safe and in-depth attack simulations to expose vulnerabilities in crypto exchanges, wallets and decentralized applications (dApps).
In addition to audits, CertiK provides various ongoing services, including on-chain analytics and monitoring, wallet and suspicious activity tracing and KYC services designed to de-anonymize blockchain and create greater accountability in the industry. These services are made possible by formal verification, scalable auto-scan technology and AI data-driven decision-making.
As blockchains attract more users and implement more functionality, technologies like CertiK’s monitoring technology allow them to scale safely. This is essential for developing the blockchain industry, allowing individual users and companies to build a greater trust in the reliability of blockchain.
To date, the company has worked with over 3,200 enterprise clients, including industry leaders like Polygon, Binance Smart Chain and Terra.