According to Forbes.com, blockchain technology entails the following core components:
- A data structure that promotes the identification and sharing of transactions between entities (unknown and/or untrusted in the Bitcoin context) on a network of distributed computers.
- Cryptography that provides security and immutability of the transactions.
- Independent entities, known as “miners,” who verify the history of each transaction when it is traded and record the new transaction.
- Transactions that are grouped into blocks and recorded on the distributed ledger — with each block being chained to the prior blocks.
- No central authority (such as a bank) validates the transaction or the counterparties to the transaction. The crowd, using consensus mechanisms, verifies the authenticity of a transaction and its exchange between two parties.
- The miners require significant computational power to compute each block of new transactions, and are compensated for their work with bitcoins for each added block.
Our latest State of Blockchain report, released this week, reveals that VC funding for blockchain startups rose sharply in Q4 year-over-year, even while the annual total was virtually unchanged.
What the slides don’t show is a shift in the nature of the investments that becomes even more apparent if we zoom out and include other recent financing rounds.
Over the past six months, there have been over 25 investments in blockchain startups. Five have been for amounts greater than $10m.
Here’s the interesting part: all but one of the recent large investments have been in startups with a multi-blockchain business model, whereas a year ago, none of them were.
The latest investment, announced this week, is a $24m funding round for payments platform Align Commerce. The company has indicated that the funds will be used for a rebranding (it will now be called Veem) and an expansion of operations.
While the three-year-old startup has so far focused on the bitcoin blockchain, in conversation with CoinDesk, the CEO confirmed that not only can it also use Swift messaging rails, but that the firm is actively exploring additional blockchains.
If the plan goes ahead, Veem will pass from a ‘pure play’ to a ‘multichain’ service.
Before that came Bitfury, which raised $30m in January. The firm started out five years ago as a bitcoin mining hardware manufacturer, moved into blockchain services, and most recently announced a land-titling joint project for which it is using both a private blockchain and bitcoin.
You can’t get much more multichain than Polychain, which raised $10m late last year. The hedge fund plans to invest in blockchain tokens, with no prejudice as to the protocol.
And, in October, a 10-year-old payments startup called PayCommerce raised $22m specifically to explore blockchain, meaning its business model is now a mix of centralized and decentralized systems.
The only exception to the list is Axoni, a pure private blockchain service for capital markets which raised $18m in December.
Looking at the comparable data, the same period a year ago (October 2015–March 2016) saw a similar number of VC investments, four of which were greater than $10m.
All of them were ‘pure plays’: Bitt (a bitcoin exchange in Barbados), Blockstream (a development firm focusing on the bitcoin blockchain), Digital Asset Holdings (pure private blockchain) and Align Commerce again (back when it was pure bitcoin).
While not conclusive, this trend does point to a blurring of the boundaries between the different technologies. More businesses and investors seem to realize that, in such a young field, it pays to have options.
For bitcoin companies, this could mean accepting that the structural problems may end up being unsurmountable, and that the technological leaps in the blockchain space offer intriguing alternatives. For fintech companies like PayCommerce, it could mean understanding that the potential is real.
Business models aside, there’s another interesting trend going on, which shows what could be the beginning of a significant geographical shift.
Take a look at the investors in the rounds greater than $10m over the past six months.
One of the investors in Veem was SBI Holdings, a Japanese investment arm. The sole investor in the BitFury round was Credit China Fintech Holdings. Asian investors were present in only one (Blockstream) of the large rounds in the same period a year ago.
While the sample size is admittedly not large, the funding rounds over the coming months are likely to confirm this trend: an emphasis on business models that blend blockchains, and greater geographical diversification – all signs of a growing and maturing sector.