After sending out a "blockchain call" in January 2018 looking to invest in early-stage technology startups that had the potential to benefit humanity, UNICEF's Innovation Fund announced on December 10 that it will invest up to $100,000 in six different companies who are developing open-source blockchain applications.
ETHNews spoke with Chris Fabian, the principal advisor for UNICEF Innovation, about the decision process around each of the six startups chosen as the Fund's initial investments. The companies include Atix Labs and Onesmart, which are working to develop finance tracking and misappropriation management platforms; Prescrypto and Statwig, which are working on distributed ledger patient history solutions and supply chain vaccination deliveries; and Utopixar and W3 Engineers, which are working on communicative and connectivity aspects of information distribution. Each company will develop prototypes of their blockchain application over 12 months. Fabian explained:
"We really looked for what companies had the ability to work in the blockchain and distributed ledger infrastructure without having an ego, like it was their idea and their idea alone, and who could reach some kind of growth velocity at the end of our 12-month process. Eventually, we found three different areas we wanted to cover. Atix Labs and Onesmart cover transparency and accountability, which we think shows off some features of what public blockchains can achieve and how they work. Prescrypto and Statwig cover supply chain usage that we think will become very relevant as we look at linking across different supply chains and creating better transparency there. Then Utopixar and W3 Engineers cover communication, and they both sort of mesh together content distribution, which we think will show us a lot of interesting results for how blockchain technology and information provision connects."
The six companies will meet in New York on January 21 to go through a "one-week bootcamp," where they will be introduced to the Innovation Fund's tech and legal teams, make financial submissions, and begin the development process.
"If we look at the other cohorts we've been investing in, like data science and drones, the 12 months of development will follow a similar rollercoaster ride," Fabian said. "By the middle of the year, these projects will be 30 degrees off from where they started; it will all look fundamentally different. When it hits March, we'll start to see them become a bit more cohesive and their code will be documented well, and we'll start to introduce them to second-round investments."
Along with getting the initial six companies to a point where they can begin to pitch their blockchain platforms to government and equity investors, Fabian hopes that by mid-2019, the Innovation Fund will be able to invest in its second round of companies. They will also be reaching out to bring on one or two major entities in the blockchain space who can help with technical support and potential co-funding.
Overall, Fabian believes that UNICEF connecting itself with the development of blockchain technologies will have a threefold effect on the tech's burgeoning ecosystem: "de-hyping" the platform, bringing the technology to the 135 countries the United Nations (UN) works in, and then bringing the technology to the UN from the inside. Fabian says:
"First off, people might say something like 'we could tokenize the education system' and that sounds good, but it's not actually linking anything to an actual place or usage or user. We want to look at what actual distributed cryptographically signed databases are being developed by people looking at specific solutions for specific needs. Second, we're working on a series of hackathons. Our most recent was in Mexico City, and we want to help develop an infrastructure for a new generation of developers and what we think will be the next really exciting phase of Dapps and blockchain architecture. Lastly, the UN is a pretty old bureaucracy, and it's heavy and slow in a lot of ways, and the ability to be more transparent and distributed and accountable would be pretty great. Because UNICEF is a part of the UN, we're able to promote change from within this international structure, which is change that is much needed."