Realtor-Backed Incubator Invests in Ethereum Identity Startup

An Ethereum startup has been accepted into an incubator backed by the investment arm of the National Association of Realtors.

AccessTimeIconJun 8, 2016 at 5:20 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 12:19 p.m. UTC

A startup seeking to use the Ethereum blockchain and artificial intelligence to create an identity authentication system has been accepted into REach, an incubator backed by the investment arm of the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Founded in 2015, Trust Stamp is now emerging from stealth mode, revealing $400,000 in funding for what it calls its FICO-like trust scoring system, with part of its funding coming from the REach incubator. The incubator is operated by Second Century Ventures, which is 100% owned by the NAR and conducts investments on behalf of the not-for-profit trade association.

Trust Stamp is one of seven companies that entered the REach incubator in April, alongside others that seek to serve different stakeholders in the real estate industry.

In interview, Trust Stamp founders Gareth Genner and Andrew Gowasack framed their product as one that could have a wide variety of applications in everything from real estate to online dating websites by allowing individuals to easily share aspects of their identity.

Genner told CoinDesk:

"This is the basic concept of the Trust Stamp engine. We create an Ethereum contract which is unique to you, which becomes your identity. We hash the data to your private key, which unlocks the information of your data. Users can provide the legal verification of their identity, their photo, name and any other verified data."

Mark Birschbach, managing director of REach, said that the incubator sees potential for blockchain technologies to ease frictions in the real estate industry. Still, Birschbach said that REach perhaps maintains a more conservative investment philosophy in line with its membership and industry interests.

"We're looking at technologies that can aid our members rather than replace them," Birschbach said in an interview. "We saw right away that this is a tool that could do well in the industry, but obviously there’s underlying tech that is interesting and far reaching."

As evidence of this reach, Trust Stamp joins a number of other projects in the wider blockchain ecosystem seeking to provide trusted data verification. These include digital identity startups such as ShoCard and OneName, which have together raised nearly $3m in venture capital to date.

Further, the unveiling comes at a time when many technologists are beginning to examine the ability for blockchain tech to solve problems related to identity. For example, the ID2020 summit, held in May at the UN headquarters in New York, featured discussion about how blockchain solutions could come to serve as the digital foundations for providing such services.

Safety first

As for the need for the product, Birschbach further spoke to the impetus for REach’s investment in Trust Stamp.

As evidence of the gravity of the use case, he noted that one of the NAR’s realtor members was last year kidnapped and murdered, an event that has led REach to consider how technology could play a role in helping improve the safety of its members.

"Last year, we had a technology in our program that was a safety device, a faster and easier way to indicate to 911 that the realtor might be in trouble. Trust Stump is an extension of that, where safety is still on everyone’s mind," Birschbach said.

As for his personal views on the technology, Birschbach said he sees the database management and digital transaction capabilities that blockchains enable as interesting, though he noted the real estate industry is not normally a first adopter.

"I think it will take a while for this type of technology to penetrate the real estate industry," he said.

Framing the solution

As for how the product will work in practice, Trust Stamp’s founders said that sensitive consumer information will be stored off-blockchain, but that it would be accessible by its Ethereum smart contracts.

Today, this means users create an account, provide basic information (including a photo) connect social media applications (the information of which is then verified via other public databases) and share their trust scores with others.

Genner envisions an interface that will enable users to share different aspects of their identity as needed.

"The contract says what you chose to share. At a minimum you have to share your legal personality, we have to know who you are. The contract then gives you the option to share other things," Genner said.

As an example for a potential use case, Genner said that real estate agents could use the tech to verify that someone seeking to view a million-dollar listing could actually purchase the home by requesting such information from other users.

Overall, Genner believes that Trust Stamp could deliver a better product that provides safety benefits in any situation where any professional or consumer is seeking to meet someone new.

"At the moment, realtors are tying to handle it send your photo and drivers licenses, but what does that prove?" he continued, concluding:

"Even criminals have driver’s licenses."

Real estate image via Shutterstock


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