Oregon Business – A blockchain venture study opened in Portland


Venture capitalists say that blockchain, a distributed register technology, will transform the business as we know it. Portland seeks a leading role in this revolution.

A partnership supported by RGA Ventures, Nike, OHSU, Intel, the business development agency of the State Business Oregon and Smith & Crown, a blockchain research firm, is taking shape this month. The venture study, based in the Pearl district of Portland, aims to attract blockchain leaders out of the state to apply emerging technology to corporate and political puzzles.

Investors will pump $ 3 million each year into the project, dubbed Oregon Blockchain Venture Studio. The effort seeks to feed 20 to 30 companies within the next three years. It will publish a public announcement, along with a website, in the next two weeks.

"We have the opportunity to be a leader and a dominant actor in this space," says Jeff Gaus of Oregon Blockchain Venture Partners, one of the founders of the study. "I want us to be known as the blockchain state."

A wave of local investments in blockchain became evident in an event hosted by the intellectual property law firm Schwabe, Williamson & Watt last night at the all-new Central Eastside headquarters of Autodesk.

Robin Jones, chief operating officer of the Public Market e-commerce platform, outlined the blockchain-based alternative for third-party sellers disadvantaged by Amazon. Digital tokens will boost consumer behavior, like paying with a debit card and providing personal information. Sellers will no longer have to take into account the margin from 15% to 40% that Amazon derives from their profits. He said that a private beta version will be launched in a few days.

Justin Mart, director of corporate development at Coinbase, an online platform for currency trading in blockchain, outlined his global strategy for creating open financial markets. Much of the activity will take place in Portland. In June, the company announced a seven-year lease for a Portland office and provides 100 local jobs.

A speaker, technology CEO Richie Etwaru, said the blockchain will reduce the traditional notions of business confidence. Current business transactions are based on personal connections, meeting each other face-to-face until the other party becomes close enough to trust. In a blockchain-protected world, Etwaru says, the need for those interactions will go out of the window, as the algorithms will easily control data sets without human intervention.

"The new economic era will be based on trust and transparency", preached on the blockchain, Etwaru said.

The application of the blockchain for multinationals, health service providers, law firms and city administrations appears without end. For example, technology can verify at an instant whether the information contained in a quarterly report is credible. It can incentivize energy users to reintegrate energy in the network through symbolic prizes. It can track a product as it crosses the global supply chain.

Simply put, blockchain works by duplicating a publicly available spreadsheet or another set of data thousands of times across a computer network. This makes it almost unassailable. To compromise the blockchain, an attacker should modify each of the thousands of copies of their destination data.

The technology could overcome the need for third-party intermediaries. A driving record, for example, would no longer require verification by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Instead, an algorithm could immediately reveal if someone tampered with the data. Blockchain enthusiasts say the process will eliminate or remodel entire sectors of the economy.

The venture study will focus on five key applications for blockchain technology. These include identity and security, production logistics and supply chains, transportation and smart cities, the Internet of Things and the energy grid and uses for local governments.

Before companies can realize the potential for blockchain, however, they must hire and educate a workforce that has mastered the technology. The Portland State University, says Gaus, intends to develop a "world-wide" blockchain curriculum. Business Oregon sees the development of the workforce as a key objective of the venture study project.

"This is more than Blue Star and bicycles," says Gaus. "We must have the legal and investment community, real estate and an educated workforce all lined up".

The audience of venture capitalists, programmers and lawyers, however, has raised a number of red flags. They noted that complex data sets, such as health records, have to face numerous obstacles to be coded in the blockchain. They also questioned the effect that the blockchain, which is based on widely distributed public data sets, will have on consumer privacy.

"Privacy is dead now," answered Etwaru in reply. "If you understand computer science, you know that."

As other speakers advanced with bullish proclamations, Ned Smith, an Intel security expert, issued warnings. He went through several technical scenarios that could jeopardize the blockchain. As blockchain innovations proliferate, he warned, so will the hacks.

"If anyone can do it," he said. "The more value we put on blockchain, the greater the threat, you must be humble."

If they succeed Gaus and his blockchain supporters, Portland will leverage his considerable technological talent to become an epicenter of innovation and probably controversy, focused on emerging technology.

"This is more of a journey than this is a destination," says Gaus. "We are at the edge of the next wave of technology based on trust and transparency."

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