Harry Alford is a Business Development Manager for Bison Trails, a blockchain infrastructure platform‐as‐a‐service (PaaS) provider and standalone product line at Coinbase. He’s spent the bulk of his career funding and advising startups and innovators, and has particular familiarity with the accelerator model as a mentor for Techstars.
My colleague, Elias Simos, likes to say we're living through a digital asset renaissance, including the digitization of non‐digital asset value. Decentralized solutions to a myriad of financial and peer‐to‐peer obstacles are flourishing, but many innovators and entrepreneurs are still tied to old models of building the projects.
Some platforms, such as Polkadot and Cosmos, are establishing new startup models suited for Web 3.0. They make it easier to create and connect decentralized applications and to empower innovators to build better solutions. Acting like a startup accelerator, these multichain protocols present a mechanism to launch and naturally scale hundreds of new blockchains. It breaks down silos and opens up opportunities for new entrants to participate in and support emerging projects.
The most exciting projects of the next decade will use blockchain‐enabled support systems. These alternative accelerator mechanisms will empower the next generation of entrepreneurs and their blockchain projects.
Let’s take Polkadot as an example. Typically, accelerators support early‐stage, growth‐driven startups through education, mentorship, and financing. They supply these resources in exchange for equity in the nascent company. While most ventures fail to take off, a small handful grow into substantial companies. Polkadot’s scaling mechanism bears many of these hallmarks of Silicon Valley accelerators, such as Y Combinator or Techstars, by providing resources for small but promising companies. But in this Web 3.0 version, instead of only a select group of people offering resources, the whole community can get involved with the projects.
Bootstrapping a proof of stake network is complex. Founding teams benefit greatly from access to the networks, talent, governance, and operational excellence possessed by the blockchain ecosystem—much like what an accelerator offers a startup. The Polkadot network and community provides all of these elements to an application or network developer, meeting them at the most challenging place in the value chain. Entrepreneurs can find their problem/solution fit and connect with the necessary resources before they satisfy strong market demand.
Polkadot, the flagship project by the Web3 Foundation, and Kusama, an experimental network on Polkadot, operate two types of blockchains: relay chains and parachains. The relay chain is the hub responsible for achieving consensus and finalizing transactions. Parachains are independent and interoperable layer‐1 blockchains with shared security via the relay chain, and they encompass a variety of decentralized projects such as identity, DeFi, bridges, and smart contracts. Polkadot and Kusama will each have up to 100 parachain slots available and they must be earned. The process to earn a slot aims to ensure parachains are funded in a fair and equitable way, and has two stages—crowdloans and auctions.
In the first stage, the decentralized crowdloan, "Polkadot allows parachains to source tokens for their parachain [auction] bids" from supporters who lock DOT, the Polkadot protocol’s native token, for up to two years to a project they support. Supporters never relinquish custody of the tokens but the tokens are locked up and are illiquid until the crowdloan expires; this lock‐up demonstrates supporters’ conviction that the parachain will be successful. Each potential parachain project will need to compete for the support of DOT and KSM token holders, much like a startup would do at an accelerator pitch day.
The second stage requires that all the tokens locked in the crowdloans be used in a parachain slot auction. Teams use the locked tokens to bid for a slot, raising the bid as necessary, until an unknown amount of time expies. This style of auction harkens back to candle auctions popular in the 16th century when the expiration of a candle flame signaled the end of the auction to avoid competitors coming in at the last minute with a high bid. Supporters of winning projects will receive native tokens for the parachain in exchange for locking up their tokens.
This decentralized parachain process may offer more promise than a conventional accelerator for Web 3.0, for both developers and supporters. The resources available are crucial to success.
Key differentiators of Polkadot’s Web 3.0 accelerator model include:
Developers are currently building parachains, such as Acala, Moonbeam, ChainX, and Chainlink, for Polkadot. The first Kusama parachain slot auctions have commenced and "minimize the chances of there being any nasty surprises waiting for Polkadot’s deployment," according to Gavin Wood. As of June 27, Polkadot’s parachain slot auctions have raised over $200 million dollars via crowdloans.
Other platforms, such as Cosmos, also provide a peek at the multichain future. The Cosmos Hub is the main chain and economic center, connecting the blockchains, called Zones, together through inter-blockchain communication (IBC). In exchange for securing services on the Cosmos Hub, transaction fees and staking rewards are distributed to stakers of the native token, ATOM. Polygon and SKALE are examples of Ethereum‐compatible networks that provide developers the opportunity to build sidechains to support the growth of decentralized applications for the ecosystem. As of December 2020, Ethereum, Polkadot, and Cosmos, all platforms geared towards enabling developers to build applications, are the fastest‐growing layer‐1 ecosystems. It’s possible we’re seeing the rise of Web 3.0’s YC and Techstars.
Accelerators of the multichain future are adaptive spaces that allow for information to flow freely between applications and institutions through network interactions. By cultivating community and facilitating partnerships with key supporters, teams can test solutions, develop winning strategies, and demonstrate considerable traction before a true launch.
A multichain future, underscored by alternative support mechanisms, will empower the next cohort of entrepreneurs and their blockchain projects. Interoperable ecosystems like Polkadot will play a critical role.
Thank you to all of those who read earlier drafts and to Elias Simos for inspiring this article.
Harry is a Business Development Manager at Bison Trails, a leading blockchain infrastructure PaaS company and standalone product line at Coinbase. In his role, leading sales and business development efforts for key protocols and engagements with major financial institutions, funds, exchanges, and custodians.
Bison Trails is a blockchain infrastructure platform-as-a-service (PaaS) company based in New York City. We built a platform for anyone who wants to participate in 25 new chains effortlessly.
We also make it easy for anyone building Web 3.0 applications to connect to blockchain data from 33 protocols with Query & Transact (QT). Our goal is for the entire blockchain ecosystem to flourish by providing robust infrastructure for the pioneers of tomorrow.
In January, 2021, we announced Bison Trails joined Coinbase to accelerate our mission to provide easy-to-use blockchain infrastructure, now as a standalone product line. The Bison Trails platform will continue to support our customers. With Coinbase’s backing, we will enhance our infrastructure platform and make it even easier to participate in decentralized networks and build applications that connect to blockchain data.
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