This past Friday, August 17, the Ethereum Foundation revealed the recipients of its third wave of grants. Although funded projects range in topic from security to education, most of the program's grants have been allocated for scalability improvements. Since the first wave was announced in early 2018, nearly $7 million has gone to scalability endeavors, equal to 61.3 percent of the Ethereum Foundation's funding pool.
StarkWare Industries received the largest grant by far – $4 million with 6,000 Ether to fund performance-based bounties. The company will use these funds to develop "production-quality software for optimized STARK-friendly hash functions and tooling." StarkWare informally announced it had received the grant last month via Twitter.
STARK technology, which refers to zk-STARKs, could theoretically scale Ethereum in a transparent way. A zk-STARK is a succinct, zero-knowledge proof to verify transactions on the Ethereum blockchain. This verification method contrasts the zk-SNARK, another privacy-based mathematical process popularized by Zcash that relies upon a third party to operate. STARK technology would apparently circumvent this "trusted setup" model of zk-SNARKs.
Two other scalability projects were awarded smaller grants. Research team Magmo won $300,000 to develop its force-move games framework, which is "a small state channel framework capable of running 3rd-party 'applications' that conform to a simple state-machine interface." The team behind Ethereum Harmony (based on EthereumJ implementation) received $90,000 to further build the beacon chain and pursue minimal sharding.
The foundation noted that though scalability remains the focus of its grant program, it also looks to fund projects in other key areas. The third wave, for example, included grants for security, usability, and education. A few notable awardees:
1. Regarding security, the Kestrel Institute, a nonprofit computer science research center in the Stanford Research Park, was awarded $400,000 to pursue the "formal verification of cryptographic primitives," which are like the atoms of cryptographic operations.
2. Considering usability, the DAppNode crew received $250,000 to pursue "mass full node adoption" through the development of "a simple, easy, self-empowering system made specifically for hosting P2P [peer-to-peer] clients." The project aims to move away from centralized systems and encourage users to control their own nodes.
3. As for education, Cryptoeconomics.study – a free, community-driven cryptoeconomics course spearheaded by Karl Floersch – was granted $35,000 to build its textbook and coursework. The foundation also awarded a couple of $10,000 hackternships, 10-week externships for students and working professionals to contribute to Ethereum side projects in their spare time.
Respectively, security and usability comprise 16.8 percent (almost $2 million) and 21.2 percent (over $2.3 million) of the foundation's funding allocation. Education is the smallest slice of the pie at 0.7 percent.
In addition to award recipients, the announcement features the organization's wish list for its next wave of grants. Some hot items include further research and development into STARK technology, implementations of "shasper" (a sharding and Casper combo), a Solidity interpreter, and an integrated development environment with a visual debugger.
Originally started in April 2015 as DEVgrants, the grant program was established to help Ethereum developers work on their projects, extend the codebase, and increase outreach to other development communities and the public. DEVgrants initially targeted projects needing $1,000 to $10,000 in funding. Though, as seen with the third wave, grant amounts have increased significantly as the program has evolved.
Moving forward, the Ethereum Foundation plans to create an official website for the grant program. The crew will crowdsource ideas from the community and run a contest. Further, although grants have historically been awarded in waves, the foundation aims to distribute them on a rolling basis so that it can offer more immediate financial support to projects advancing Ethereum development.
For at least the near future, the Ethereum team and others in the space will be focused on developing and promoting scalability solutions. Between Plasma implementation efforts and the development of various sharding clients, scaling the network is top of mind for Ethereum enthusiasts. As the network's founder, Vitalik Buterin, tweeted at the end of April, "Sharding is coming."