NOTE: THIS IS A SELECTION BY STAFF AT COINDESK. IT IS A LIST, NOT A RANKING. NUMBERING THE ENTRIES IMPLIES NO HIERARCHY.

Eleven years ago, Bitcoin emerged in a white paper by Satoshi Nakamoto and changed the world. Bitcoin led to Ethereum, which led to ICOs, which led to stablecoins, DeFi, Libra, CBDCs, and much more. What started with one protocol has given rise to many protocols and experiments in decentralization.

Now, as another financial crisis looms, the crypto and blockchain industry is reaching a new level of maturity. Digital assets and distributed ledgers have found uses across industries and are ready to make their mark, whether it’s paying out the stimulus or defining the post-COVID world.

CoinDesk has been covering this varied space for seven intense years. The CoinDesk 50 is our selection of the most innovative, consequential and viable projects. Together, these organizations promise another internet revolution.

We will be releasing the full CoinDesk 50 leading up to, and during, Consensus: Distributed, our free virtual event that starts May 11. (See how we made the choices here.)

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Credit: Cavendish Design

1. Binance – Eyeing the whole pie

“It’s about the users.” That’s what Binance CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao said in a recent CoinDesk interview following his acquisition of well-known crypto data site CoinMarketCap for a reported $400 million. Launched in 2017, Binance has established itself as a juggernaut atop the crypto heap, becoming the dominant exchange by daily trading volume and running headlong into decentralized exchange (DEX) services, initial exchange offerings (IEOs) and over-the-counter (OTC) trading. The firm’s aggressive market moves have hardly shown signs of exhaustion either. As one CoinDesk source put it in early April, the firm is “flush with cash” even after closing nine M&A deals in 2019 alone. GET THE FULL STORY

2. Ethereum – Still leading the pack

The second-largest blockchain by market cap now boasts more developers building, reconfiguring and experimenting than any other chain. Six years in, Ethereum’s rails have enabled several big crypto trends, from the 2017 ICO boom to decentralized finance (DeFi). While copycat chains look to unseat “the world computer,” Ethereum still reigns dominant. Just recently the network has seen a surge in U.S. dollar-pegged stablecoins, including Tether and USDC, which, data suggests, are being used as a hedge against market volatility and genuine means of exchange. With the planned upgrade Ethereum 2.0, beginning this summer, Ethereum looks to improve its functionality and performance and finally deliver proof-of-stake and shard chains.

3. Fidelity – The weight of Wall Street

With more than $8.3 trillion in total client assets, Fidelity is bringing institutional weight to crypto markets. In 2015, CEO Abigail Johnson signed off on a bitcoin mining experiment. Four years later, its Fidelity Digital Assets arm, led by President Tom Jessop, added a custodial business and crypto trading service for family offices, financial advisors and hedge funds. A frequent investor in the space, Fidelity has backed data high-flyer Coin Metrics and the Hong Kong-based BC Group exchange, and pursues distributed tech R&D with its in-house Fidelity Center for Applied Technology. Fidelity CEO Johnson has predicted crypto will “fundamentally change market structures and perhaps even the architecture of the internet itself.” Fidelity’s role is to see that through.

4. Libra – Ruffling feathers, finding peace?

When Facebook announced libra last summer, it changed the game for digital currency. Suddenly, here was a 2.6 billion-user company betting on the future of money and nobody – from regulators to Silicon Valley – could ignore the subject anymore. Soon China’s central bank was rushing out its CBDC initiative, and Congress was holding hearings. Whatever else you think of Facebook, it has arguably done more to advertise crypto than any other entity. To quell an enormous international backlash to its original intentions, the Libra Association that will govern the currency now plans to issue multiple fiat-backed stablecoins rather than its own currency. Some say Facebook and the Libra Association have “scaled back” their ambitions. But it’s also possible they have found a way to be respectable while building off the post-crisis stablecoin surge. 

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Jack Dorsey
Source: Trevor Jones

5. Square Crypto – Dorsey's big bet on bitcoin

Twitter co-founder and Square CEO Jack Dorsey has long demonstrated his admiration for bitcoin, once saying it will eventually become the internet’s single currency. Dorsey says he spends $10,000 a week stacking sats, while his company Square Crypto continues to act as an accelerator for bitcoin dev projects, including BTCPay and Lightning Labs. Things could get really interesting if and when Square decides to integrate bitcoin tech closer to its stack (it’s a separate entity currently). Square’s CashApp already lets merchants accept payments in crypto and CashApp recently received the go-ahead to function essentially as a bank, raising all sorts of possibilities. Dorsey survived a coup on his Twitter position recently and looks ready to play the waiting game on bitcoin tech. 

This article is part of Consensus Magazine. See also:

Generation Crypto, by Jessica Klein
Crypto Under Corona: From Switzerland to Liberland, by Jeff Wilser
The Men Who Stare at Charts, by Ben Munster
Michelle Phan: The Beauty of Bitcoin, by Leigh Cuen
The Changemaker: Glen Weyl Puts His Radical Ideas Into Action, by Jeff Wilser
The Man Who Saw a Currency Cold War, by Jeff Wilser

6. Cosmos – The dream of anti-maximalism

Cosmos is building the tools to connect a multiverse of blockchain projects together. Launched in April 2019, the $590 million network places interoperability at the core of its project, a blockchain that will be able to translate data from one chain to another, in any programming language and across all consensus algorithms. “The premise for Cosmos is that we are the least-maximalist-possible project,” All in Bits, Inc. core developer Sunny Aggarwal said. “We just want to connect everything together.” While concord is Cosmos’ aim, the project has been rife with internal fragmentation. All in Bits director Zaki Manian left the project and criticized its CEO Jae Kwon for focusing on a side project, while the company itself has split in two. Despite this, Cosmos has attracted the participation of about 100 validators on its proof-of-stake network, and is used by more than 80 companies and projects including Binance and the Thailand government’s National ID program. GET THE FULL STORY

7. Coinbase – Crypto’s friendly custodian

Crypto’s first unicorn, Coinbase still leads among U.S.-based exchanges. A common on-ramp for crypto newbies seeking ease-of-use, eight-year-old Coinbase has opened 35 million accounts and manages approximately $21 billion in assets, making it one of the largest custodians in the space. Coinbase’s success in attempting to make crypto safe for all is a double-edged sword, however, with many in the industry placing it center in the “not your keys” controversy. The firm’s merchant services wing Coinbase Commerce also provides training wheels for retailers, and has processed $200 million in transactions in two years. Co-founder and Chief Executive Brian Armstrong has said within a decade nearly 1 billion people will participate in the crypto economy, a system that is “more global, more fair, more free and more efficient,” and Coinbase will likely take them there.  

Joe Lubin, ConsenSys
Joe Lubin founded ConsenSys, a Brooklyn-based software-production studio, which has invested over $100 million developing Ethereum-related projects.
Source: ConsenSys

8. ConsenSys – Spinning its wheels and driving innovation

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Ethereum powerhouse ConsenSys has sometimes been criticized for a scattergun approach to business development. In the heady days of 2017, its mesh of spokes ranged far-and-wide to energy, media, music, personal identity and dozens of other imaginative bets founder and Ethereum OG Joe Lubin seemed to make more out of hope than expectation. In reality, ConsenSys, which burned through $100 million since 2016, has needed to cut back more than once to keep itself coherent. But now, following a partnership with Hyperledger and the launch of Codefi, it looks well placed to ride favorable trends in enterprise blockchain, DeFi and trade finance. 

9. IBM - Big Blue writes blockchain history

Among the old-line giants of American computing, they don’t come any bigger than IBM. Big Blue has a central place in the history of moving information around, and recently it’s been betting its future on distributed ledgers and related ingenuity. “Blockchain is a new class of enterprise application,” Jerry Cuomo, IBM’s vice president of blockchain technologies, said previously. The New York powerhouse has applied for over 100 blockchain-related patents. Through its enterprise blockchain Hyperledger Fabric, IBM is testing DLT across healthcare, shipping and agriculture. Its Health Utility Network, which creates a manipulation-proof ledger for patient medical histories, includes insurance lines like Cigna and Anthem. The IBM Food Trust tracks thousands of food supply chains and counts retailers like Walmart and Carrefour. And in TradeLens, a global shipping industry blockchain used by more than 100 organizations, IBM has the likes of Maersk under its advisement.

10. Chainalysis – Chainalysis grabs headlines and criminals

When a big federal investigation broke up a massive child porn ring earlier this year, data sleuthing outfit Chainanalysis tracked pedos directly back to the wallets. It was not the only headline-grabbing intervention by the NYC firm, led by Michael Gronager, has been involved with. Over the last five years, Chainalysis has taken in more than $10 million in contracted work for various U.S. government departments, dwarfing its competitors in the blockchain surveillance industry, while helping to track countless unscrupulous individuals. The company, which sells anti-money laundering software to bitcoin businesses, also reportedly helped suss out the Hermit Kingdom’s vast crypto trove. “What we found is that the different types of crime and illicit activity that these agencies need to be able to prevent means that our appeal has become much broader, and our role expanded,” Jonathan Levin, co-founder of Chainalysis, has said.

11. Walmart – Bentonville sells blockchain to the world

The world’s largest retailer by sales is turning to blockchain to monitor its fresh food and medicinal supply chains. And if its litany of 50 blockchain patents mean anything, Walmart has big aspirations for distributed technologies. It’s a signal to other corporations that blockchain can be used to cut costs and turn a profit. Since teaming up with IBM in 2016, Walmart’s Food Traceability Initiative has signed on more than 120 retail pilots to track hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of strawberries, chicken and other fresh foods as they move through the global supply chain. The Beast of Bentonville, Ark., has even applied for a patent for its own libra-like stablecoin. When the world’s biggest retailer adopts a digital currency for its own operations, you know something is afoot.

12. Gemini – The Winklevii’s road to regulatory clarity

Having missed the full riches of Web 2.0, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are leading the charge towards the future of finance. After an early investment in bitcoin, the twin Olympians have set out to create an onramp so all the world can access crypto. The fruit of their labor – after a few sour partnerships – is the Gemini exchange. Founded in 2014, Gemini is paving the way towards fully regulatory compliant crypto trading. One of the first crypto firms to receive a coveted Trust License from the New York State’s financial regulator (frequently misreported as a “BitLicense”), Gemini is now heading up the effort to build a self-regulatory organization to oversee the crypto industry, similar to how FINRA is the first pass watchdog for broker-dealers. This year, the New York-based exchange expanded into Europe, set up its own insurance for cold storage assets and has grown its custody business.

Brenden Eich, CEO of Brave (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Brenden Eich, CEO of Brave
Source: Wikipedia

13. BraveBrave browser delivered and BAT’s a DeFi darling

Crypto loves a troublemaker. When the Brave browser debuted in 2016, the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) sent it a cease and desist letter: “You are hereby notified that Brave’s plan to replace our clients’ paid advertising content with its own advertising violates the law, and the undersigned publishers intend to fully enforce their rights.”Four years later, Brave is still going strong (while the NAA changed its name). At the end of 2019, the browser had more than 10 million monthly active users. FULL STORY

14. Lightning Labs – Building the ‘VISA’ of Bitcoin

Backed by Silicon Valley and crypto heavy-weights including Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, Square executive Jacqueline Reses, and Litecoin creator Charlie Lee, Lightning Labs is developing Bitcoin’s much anticipated scaling solution, Lightning. This programmable financial layer for the internet is like the Visa network for bitcoin, enabling instant, high volume transactions with fees far lower than credit cards. Launched in 2016, and helmed by Elizabeth Stark, Lightning Labs follows an unrelenting release schedule to develop the technologies that other lightening startups rely on, like Lightning Loop, which will make it easier to transact over Lightning. In February, the company announced its $10M Series A financing round led by Craft Ventures.

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Elizabeth Stark, of Lightning Labs
Source: Joi Ito via Flickr, General Use Creative Commons

15. Uniswap – Making market-making universal

Uniswap is one of the core building blocks of the DeFi ecosystem, with more active wallet addresses than any other application. Essentially, it’s an automated market maker that turns this critical financial role from an active, capital-intensive process into a passive one, open to all. Traditional market makers are individuals that buy and sell assets to provide liquidity. On Uniswap, thousands of these liquidity providers have trustlessly pooled millions of dollars worth of digital assets to enable trading within the DeFi ecosystem. This includes leviathans like Coinbase, which placed $1 million into the USDC/ETH liquidity pool. While the COVID-19 has shaken funds loose from the application, trading volumes have never been higher, with $386 million traded between March and April.

16. JPMorgan – Banking on blockchain

After JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon walked back his denouncement of cryptocurrencies, the U.S.’ largest bank entered the blockchain space with a bang. Part of Dimon’s reasoning: Crypto firms could “eat [his] lunch.” “I tell our people, don’t guess, you know they’re there, you know they’re coming,” he said this summer. In the span of a year, JPMorgan had unveiled a private Ethereum clone called Quorum, and its JPM Coin stablecoin, intended for interbank transfers. While both projects are largely outside of the media’s gaze, the bank’s blockchain-based Interbank Information Network is now providing real utility for more than 200 institutions.

17. R3 – Revolutionizing trade finance

Blockchain consortium R3 is working with the major NASDAQ exchange to build a digital asset marketplace, a strong signal of a growing appetite for crypto among Wall Street wheeler-dealers. R3 is among the most trusted names in enterprise-grade blockchain development. Its Corda blockchain has been used to execute the first legally enforceable euro securities swap between ING and Credit Suisse, while its Marco Polo platform closed a complicated trade finance trial involving more than 70 organizations from more than 25 countries. In just over a year of active use, Marco Polo has run trials and transactions for some of the biggest retail and central banks and multinational firms looking to bring speed and transparency to global trade. The company looks set to outpace rival network We.Trade.

18. BitGo – Crypto’s first full stack

Mike Belshe, CEO of BitGo
BitGo CEO Mike Belshe
Source: CoinDesk archives

“BitGo’s vision is a world where digital assets drive the global economy,” CEO Mike Belshe told CoinDesk. The firm provides custody and liquidity solutions for a number of institutional companies. This past year the firm has expanded both globally as well as in mission through its acquisitions of Lumina, Hedge and Harbor, through which the firm has earned the title of crypto’s first “full stack” service provider, enabling it to recreate all parts of the traditional financial system.

19. Bitmain – Behemoth of Bitcoin mining

Bitmain’s co-founder Wu Jihan translated the Bitcoin white paper into Chinese in 2011, beginning a long odyssey that is now central to crypto’s development. The firm he founded with Zhan Ketuan in 2013 at one point controlled 80% of the network hardware production. In fact, its flagship AntMiner bitcoin mining equipment still dominates the hardware market, while Bitmain’s mining pools capture about a quarter of the bitcoin network’s computing power. After the 2016 halving, the firm exploded in growth, netting more than $2 billion dollars in the immediately following years. However, as the next halving approaches, the firm is on less solid ground. An internal power struggle between Wu and Zhan has let rival hardware firm MicroBT gain market share, while a series of bad bets on Bitcoin cash and the viability of a public listing have shaken investor confidence. Still, the story isn’t over for this titan of business. FULL STORY

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Chainlink CEO Sergey Nazarov
Source: Trevor Jones

20. Chainlink – Linking crypto and traditional finance

Chainlink, a cryptocurrency born during the heady days of the ICO boom, has crossed all odds and steadily grown into the 14th largest coin (by market cap). A kind of “middleware” meant to bridge the worlds of decentralized finance and real-world assets, Chainlink is a system of oracles (a data-provider for blockchains) built on top of Ethereum. Or, in founder Sergey Nazarov’s words, “we’re a security company.” Functionally, it’s not meant to be seen, yet, if you’re anywhere on Crypto Twitter, it might be hard to escape. While the crypto has been tapped by legitimate crypto-native protocols as well as enterprise efforts – including Microsoft, EY and ConsenSys’s business-friendly Baseline Protocol – much of its success (in price) could be attributed to the valiant efforts of the “Link Marines,” who shill the product relentlessly.

21. Protocol Labs – Fighting for a Better Internet

Protocol Labs is an R&D lab focused on building novel forms of computing infrastructure to make the internet more efficient, reliable, and private. Founded in 2014, the firm has launched more than a dozen projects and has invested in more than 130 individuals and companies through grants and research development. It’s most notable project, Filecoin, is looking to disrupt the centralized cloud computing industry by providing a way for anyone to host data. Its testnet now stores more than 5 petabytes (the internet itself is estimated to contain 1,200PB of data) of information. Likewise IPFS, another Protocol Lab project, has 100,000s of nodes supporting the decentralized network, more than 4,000 open-source software contributors, and project integrations on Microsoft, Opera and Netflix.

22. Zcash Startup – The Cryptographer’s Crypto

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Zooko Wilcox, CEO of the Electric Coin Company (Credit: CoinDesk archives)

Zcash is the cryptographer’s crypto. In three years, the Electric Coin Company and the Zcash Foundation have developed or found a number of use cases for the most cutting edge technologies, like zk-SNARKS and the coming protocol’s “Halo” update, a solution to zero-knowledge proofs’s scaling issue. Following an arduous governance refresh in 2019, the Zcash community is finding new ways to democratize the building and expansion of a decentralized network. Recently partnering with TCN Coalition, Zcash is looking to put its privacy cryptographic knowledge to use in building a privacy-protecting contact tracing protocol.

23. Microsoft – Taking the Lead in Enterprise Blockchains

Among the world’s top-10 enterprise software companies, Microsoft has dug into blockchain in a big way. It’s cloud computing arm hosts the Azure Blockchain Service, a system which enables companies to spin out their own chains. This private blockchain-as-a-service has been embraced by the aviation industry and tapped by Starbucks to track its coffee beans. Further, Microsoft Azure has been a long-time backer of Ethereum and is in tight business with the main enterprise Ethereum client Quorum, originally built by JP Morgan. The firm has also recently signed on as a member of the open-source Hyperledger network, and is spinning out another business-friendly, but still public, version of the Ethereum mainnet with EY and ConsenSys.

24. Kraken – M&A and the Coming Consolidation

Last year, Kraken brushed past a $4 billion valuation on its way to becoming one of the dominant global exchanges. With its warchest and army of lawyers, including SAFT co-author Marco Santori, the firm is now looking to expand through acquisitions. Emblematic of the coming wave of M&A and consolidation in crypto, Kraken has struck an early lead by striking deals and roping in high-profile talent including Dan Held’s Interchange and David Ripley’s Glidera. “Kraken has been remarkably efficient in acquisitions in the past,” Santori has said, and now sits poised to open a crypto bank in Wyoming and an office in Dubai.

25. MakerDAO – Still the Godzilla of DeFi

With more than $350 million in crypto locked into MakerDAO’s smart contracts, the self-executing protocol dominates the world of DeFi. Built on Ethereum, this DAO (or decentralized autonomous organization) allows anyone to get loans made in a DAI stablecoin by collatorizing their ethereum, USDC or BAT holdings. While the utility of exchanging one crypto for another may not seem profound, Maker’s protocol is revolutionizing how banking, finance and trading can be performed in the future. Chris Burniske of venture firm Placeholder has said Maker is “already the most transparent and inclusive credit facility the world has.” Though there’s a long way to go. The protocol’s creator Rune Christensen is in the process of handing control over the protocol’s governance to MKR token holders. But anything from human nature to the Federal Reserve could cripple this novel financial experiment. FULL STORY

26. People's Bank of China – Leading the CBDCs Race

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Illustration by Sonny Ross

China leads in the world in the development of national digital currencies. While other central banks are talking about CBDCs, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) is already trialling its toolkit. Just recently, screenshots emerged of a “digital yuan” interface being piloted at the Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), one of four state-owned banking giants. That PBoC is first to the CBDC starting line is not surprising. It has been working on the project for six years. Meanwhile, China’s government has made blockchain a national priority in several directions, including the recently launched Blockchain Services Network (BSN), which is now being piloted in Chinese cities and along its “Digital Silk Road” trade routes. FULL STORY

27. Prime Trust – Undercutting Its Competitors

The Nevada trust company undercut its competitors late last year by offering fee-less custodial services, a move that mirrors the free storage of stocks, bonds and ETFs by traditional custodians. Prime Trust has built a clientele of crowdfunding portals, exchanges and broker-dealers, and earned a reputation for its behind-the-scenes role in backing several dollar-pegged stablecoins, including TUSD and USDK. Acting as a trustee, and sometimes token miner, the firm handles dollar, yen, and euro-backed stablecoins and will soon incorporate coins backed by U.S. Treasuries and other collateral. Earlier, Prime Trust innovated a solution to custodying ERC20 tokens, which CEO Scott Purcell said was “no small feat,” due to the nuances between the thousands of potential iterations on the ERC20 standard.

28. Huobi – Helping Build Blockchain’s Belt and Road

When China banned crypto trading and ICOs, Huobi joined the exodus of crypto firms looking for any port in the storm. Settling in Singapore, the firm has grown into one of the largest exchanges by trading volume and global footprint. Internal figures estimate Huobi’s 2019 revenue was approximately $680 million. Operating in at least 130 countries through its local affiliate program as well as direct expansion, Huobi provides access to hundreds of digital assets through its customized local currency onramps. It’s now rekindling its relationship with the Chinese government, becoming one of the consortium members of China’s Blockchain-based Service Network (BSN), a project with massive geopolitical and macroeconomic implications. 

29. Casa – Big Pivot Away From Hardware

“The majority of people don’t trust themselves to manage their own private keys, but without doing that, what is the point of bitcoin?” Nick Neuman, CEO of Casa, said. The Bitcoin startup changed course in 2020, winding down its hardware product in favor of a subscription service. One of the top providers of physical bitcoin node infrastructure, Casa had shipped 2,000 of its purple-and-white lightning nodes before discontinuing the line. Now, it offers open-source software that can run on anyone’s personal computer, and a $10 monthly subscription to its Keymaster service. Using multisig technology, Casa enables its users to maintain custody of their own bitcoin without the anxiety that losing a key means losing their funds. “If we don’t hold our own keys, we’re simply recreating the existing financial system with a new face,” Neuman said.

30. Securitize – Tokenizing Everything

The idea that anything from real estate to executive salaries can be tokenized will open up the future of investing and crowd-ownership. While there’s a lot of hype around security tokens, with still a lot to show, Securitize is paving the way for this industry to get off the ground. Leveraging a network of partners and providers, including Coinbase Custody, BitGo and OpenFinance, among others, Securitize has found a compliant way to create these novel digital assets and trade them on the secondary market. To date, the firm has issued 13 security tokens worth approximately $300 million for clients including SPiCE VC, Blockchain Capital, 22x, and Lottery.com.

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BlockFi co-founders Flori Marquez and Zac Prince (Credit: BlockFi)

31. BlockFi – Building, Lending, Building

Crypto lending platform BlockFi is staying nimble through the coronavirus-led market turmoil, adding new lines of business and raising interest rates for bitcoin and ether deposits. Even as other firms buckle at the prospect, BlockFi has begun extending credit to miners, and expanding its loan book. From the end of 2019, BlockFi has increased its number of lenders from 60 to about 90, serving primarily market makers and proprietary trading firms. Earlier this year, the Jersey City, N.J.-based firm began supporting a fiat-on ramp option through wire transfers powered by Silvergate – allowing clients to buy cryptocurrencies on BlockFi’s platform with cash. The firm also offers interest rates that are four times what traditional fintech platforms offer on savings accounts. The firm is now looking to offer a consumer credit card that pays rewards in bitcoin. In February, BlockFi closed a $30 million funding round led by Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures.

32. Besu – the Enterprise Marriage of Ethereum and Hyperledger

The official marriage of Ethereum and Hyperledger matters. There have been dalliances between Hyperledger and Ethereum going back over the years. The latest lovechild, Besu, was designed from the ground up to let large enterprises connect to the public Ethereum blockchain. There are benefits on both sides. On the public, or permissionless, side of things, Ethereum has the largest developer community in crypto, building tools corporations may not even know they need yet. On the other, Hyperledger’s permissioned blockchain is where many of the corporations looking at this tech feel most comfortable. FULL STORY

33. Avanti – Building a Bank Like No Other

The Avanti Financial Group is the only bank of its kind in the United States, for now. Overseen by the Wyoming Division of Banking, Avanti is a special purpose depository institution capable of offering a litany of banking services for digital assets, without having to kowtow to the risk adverse U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corps. This breakthrough is only possible due to the legal groundwork the Wyoming Blockchain Taskforce has laid. “Through thousands of hours of meetings, research, education and drafting,” Co-Chairman of the Blockchain Task Force Tyler Lindholm said, Wyoming has navigated the maze of federal and state banking, money transmission, securities and commodities laws and passed the nation’s most supportive cryptocurrency framework.

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Avanti's Caitlin Long (Credit: Ali Powell)

34. Lolli – Getting Its Reward

Lolli launched in 2018 as one of the first bitcoin rewards companies. It’s grown to become the foremost, with more than 750 merchant partners and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoin paid out to users to date. A lean company of 11 employees, based in New York, NY and Durham, North Carolina, Lolli plans to launch a mobile app, expand internationally and add even more partner firms this year. The firm has previously raised $2.25 million in seed funding from investors including Bain Capital Ventures and Digital Currency Group, with investors citing its competitive advantage of partnering directly with major retailers including Hotels.com, Postmates and Walmart. Just this week, it napped more funding, with YouTube beauty queen Michelle Phan and Ashton Kutcher’s VC firm, Sound Ventures, joining the action.

35. Skew – Data Darling

Skew is a pioneer in the field of crypto derivatives data, a market that will only grow as more investors and institutional players look to gain exposure to digital assets without taking on the risk of ownership. It’s these same investors (like Renaissance Technologies) that Skew is targeting with its new trade execution platform, skewTrading. The London-based firm, a clear leader in crypto data, recently closed a $5 million funding round, adding to a $2 million seed round raised last year. “We aim to position skew as the gateway to the cryptocurrency markets for professional market participants where they can access real-time analytics and liquidity networks using the same account,” CEO Emmanuel Goh told us.

36. Metamask – The Gateway to Web 3.0

MetaMask, a browser extension, has become a Web 3.0 gateway for over 1.5 million people worldwide. A ConsenSys product, MetaMask is an ethereum wallet that also serves as a bridge between web browsers and the Ethereum blockchain. From the world of NFTs to DeFi apps, MetaMask is one of the most frequent onramps to the variegated decentralized world. MetaMask sees approximately 1.5 million monthly transactions, with about three quarters initiated by decentralized applications and the remainder sent as payments by users. It’s browser plugin has been downloaded four million times, while MetaMask’s new mobile app has attracted more than 130,000 users in beta. “The last year has been an insane time for new programmable money apps built on Ethereum. But, you can’t go on a road trip without a car and for me, MetaMask has been the most reliable vehicle on my DeFi journey,” one satisfied user, DeFi Dad, said.

37. Grayscale Investments – Heavyweight of Crypto Investing

With more than $3.7 billion assets under management, Grayscale Investments is the leading digital asset manager. Nearly half of these assets came onto its books in the last 12 months, its first billion dollar year. The firm, a unit of New York-based Digital Currency Group, CoinDesk’s parent company, offers 10 investment products, four of which are publicly quoted including its most popular Bitcoin Trust and the Digital Large Cap Fund, which is the first publicly traded digital currency index fund. These securities offer exposure to digital assets, without forcing Grayscale’s institutional client base to hold them. Recently, ahead of Ethereum’s planned upgrade, Grayscale has been purchasing nearly half of all mined ether, to support its Ethereum Trust.

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Bitcoin is King, Shirt

38. Bitcoin – Still King

Bitcoin is the reason why we’re writing these words and you’re reading them now. Its implementation 11 years ago kicked off a whole industry composed of competing forms of currencies and novel financial instruments. It got people thinking about what money is, could be and whether they should have direct control over their economic lives. But Bitcoin itself is building: A decentralized group of core developers is keeping its core spinning, while hundreds of other technologists are finding ways to improve its usability, privacy and scaling. The world’s first cryptocurrency, theorized and encoded by the long-silent Satoshi Nakamoto, still dominates this industry, in both market capitalization and brand recognition. Bitcoin is king because no one person controls it. Bitcoin is king because it grants sovereignty. Bitcoin is king because it knows it’s not wearing clothes. FULL STORY

39. Tether – Better or Worse, Crypto Is Tethered

Tether is the issuer of a blockchain compatible stablecoin, pegged to fiat currencies. The firm has been surrounded by controversy (and lawsuits), but has managed to survive and services a variety of companies. The idea is to make digital tokens easier and faster to send, while in large part avoiding fees associated with the traditional means of doing so. It also allows the use of fiat currencies on blockchains, and the associated services that come with that, such as ATMs and others. Despite having never completed an audit and been the subject of regulator investigations Tether minted nearly a billing USDT in April of 2020 alone and could eventually become the third largest cryptocurrency. It’s the largest stablecoin in value and is active on seven blockchains.

40. Cardano – Slow and Steady

“Proof-of-stake is solved,” Charles Hoskinson, CEO of blockchain firm Input Output Hong Kong (IOHK), said way back in 2018 when discussing Cardano’s novel consensus algorithm. Hoskinson is known throughout the crypto-verse for ruffling feathers and making grand claims. A one-time “CEO of Ethereum,” Hoskinson left the project to pursue a more efficient and sustainable blockchain using an experimental Proof-of-Stake protocol. The result, Cardano, proved a prescient move, as now, more than ever, blockchains are launching with or converting to – as in Ethereum’s case – PoS. Targeting corporate and government clients, Cardano can only update its chain if developed, reviewed and agreed upon by academic institutions. This slow pace of development means that Cardano hasn’t officially shipped its mainnet. Yet, its technical specs, and high-profile deals, have some believing the thirteenth largest blockchain is the tortoise to Ethereum’s hare.

41. PoolTogether – Gamifying Money

PoolTogether, an application that turns saving money into a game, demonstrates the creativity in and low entry barriers to the burgeoning DeFi ecosystem. While the game is low-stakes, PoolTogether combines code and economic theory to create a novel “lossless lottery.” Users pool deposits of DAI or USDC on Compound to earn interest. After a set period of time, one lucky staker will win all of the accrued interest, while no one ever loses their principle. The decentralized application germinated from the Ethereum Denver hackathon, and is now backed by IDEO CoLab Ventures and ConsenSys. To date, the highest weekly jackpot topped over $2,133, though payouts have diminished since DeFi interest rates have lowered. As of this writing, there are 6,317 unique wallets holding tickets and a total of  $21,630 awarded in prizes.

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SpankChain image via Twitter @allieeveknox

42. SpankChain – Becoming an Adult Performer

In the 1990s, porn was one of the first businesses on the internet to prove itself. And many have wondered if it might play a similar first-mover role in the blockchain era. In truth, that hasn’t quite been the case yet, as porn’s channels for distribution and payment are well established and not subject to legal problems that might be the reason for wholesale crypto adoption. Still, projects like SpankChain, the Ethereum-based adult webcam platform, show what’s possible. It lets performers monetize themselves and get a higher percentage than on fiat-based sites. And its Spank Pay function works as a crypto payment processor for adult performers, offering a useful workaround to new laws limiting the ways adult performers and sex workers can be paid.

43. Tencent – Five Hundred Pound Gorilla

Tencent, the massive Chinese conglomerate with subsidiaries involved in everything from social media to banking, has entered the blockchain arena, bringing its $500 billion-plus market cap with it. From its close involvement in China’s national Blockchain-based Service Network to the launch of it’s blockchain accelerator to coach startups focused on everything from education to energy, and it’s critical role in making the digital yuan viable through digital payment systems, Tencent is crypto’s 500 pound gorilla that could go toe to toe with players like Facebook. Its adoption and acceleration of blockchain tech in China has helped show the world it’s not just a nascent industry but one that will have staying power in the largest country on earth.

44. Silvergate - The Bank That Wasn't Scared

Crypto’s first IPO was a 30-year-old bank. Southern California’s Silvergate Bank, which went public in November 2019, is one of just a handful in the U.S. willing to bank cryptocurrency firms. It was also one of the first, entering the space in 2013, a period when the bank was loaning more than it had on hand. Capital-rich crypto firms needing a place to deposit their fiat in some sense, saved the bank. Silvergate aims to stay ahead of its competition, which now includes JPMorgan, by creating new products and services that clients request. Its Silvergate Exchange Network allows customers to instantly move dollars between different crypto exchanges, and the bank is also piloting new features like bitcoin margin lending. FULL STORY

45. Stellar – Twinkling in the Firmament

The Stellar Development Foundation burned 55 billion XLM tokens, over half the cryptocurrency’s supply, days after the lumens community voted to discontinue inflation. Proving the strong governance framework of this interoperable blockchain, the nominal leaders of the community have also shown their commitment to sensible building and making Stellar a usable product. Founded in 2014 by Jed McCaleb, the original operator of Mt. Gox and co-founder of Ripple, and former lawyer Joyce Kim, Stellar is building a system to enable cross-border transactions between any currency. It’s already used by small and large businesses alike, including IBM, to facilitate remittances and global payments. This year one of the oldest banks in Europe has tapped Stellar to host its stablecoin.

46. Layer1 – Challenging China in West Texas

With a $2.1 million seed round led by Peter Thiel, Layer1 started out as an energy-minded investment firm. That was in 2018. Less than a year later, the firm was valued at $200 million, when Thiel and other crypto industry blue-chips pumped in an additional $50 million. Pivoting from its original focus on Grin development, Layer1 is now placing its bets on energy-efficient Bitcoin mining, paradoxically under the hot West Texas sun. Looking to tap a supply of low-cost, sustainable local energy, the firm runs mining factories equipped with proprietary ASICs chips and patent-pending liquid cooling technology to mitigate the extreme heat. Ambitious to a fault, the firm says it expects to capture 30% of the Bitcoin network’s hash rate by 2021 – it is currently on pace to have 2-3% of the global hashrate by September – stealing market share from Chinese mining pools that currently control between 60-70% of the network. Though with Bitmain and Northern Data AG moving in, Layer1 isn’t exactly alone in the Lone Star State.

47. Open Sea – Marketplace For Scarcity

Founded by former Pinterest engineer Devin Finzer, OpenSea has developed into the Etsy of crypto. The idea of scarcity of digital items was once unthought of, but now the largest general marketplace for crypto collectibles features more than 300 categories and over 10 million such items. Anything from CryptoKitties to artworks and game pieces can be trustlessly bought and sold by users from around the world. Having dominated the non-fungible token market, OpenSea is seeing traction outside of the crypto ecosystem by expanding into asset classes like domain names, software licenses and even physical assets.

48. Coin Metrics – Atop An Expanding Field

Venture capital is flooding into crypto data providers, as investors look to fund infrastructure-level companies. While many of Coin Metrics’ services are public, the firm is positioned to become a vital resource to the growing number of institutional (*paying*) players entering the industry. That goes far in explaining the firm’s recent $6 million Series A led by Highland Capital Partners with backing from Coinbase, Fidelity and Castle Island Ventures, among others, to build out its team and improve its data sets. Author of the weekly “State of the Network” reports, the Coin Metrics team has become synonymous with greater industry transparency.

49. Decentraland – VR Meets Blockchain

https://www.coindesk.com/video/decentralands-sights-and-sounds-with-barry-silbert
An image from Decentraland, 5/11/20

Decentraland is what happens when a virtual world meets the blockchain. Launched in February after years of development, Decentraland opened the gates to thousands of visitors and content creators, currently filling the world with art galleries, immersive games, social features and, under the Great Lockdown, conference venues. The project has long had the backing of CoinDesk’s parent company Digital Currency Group, with DCG CEO Barry Silbert even taking users on a tour of the virtual space, pictured above, during Consensus: Distributed. Members of the community experience the world through their Avatar and truly own their assets – including LAND, NFTs and more – which they can trade in a free marketplace. The Decentraland DAO, which governs the rules of the software, curates content on plots of land, executes smart contracts and essentially makes fundamental decisions about the evolution of the world.

50. Bakkt – Financializing Bitcoin

Atlanta-based Bakkt ramrodded the crypto derivatives industry when going live with its Bitcoin options and futures contracts. The first firm to offer bitcoin-settled futures contracts last year, opening the door for major institutional clients of New York Stock Exchange’s parent company Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) to begin speculating on the cryptocurrency. While trading volumes now lag behind its competitors, Bakkt is planning a push into the retail market. With a rewards app on the horizon, this crypto-first ICE subsidiary will let consumers transact in bitcoin at major retailers including Starbucks. Jeffrey Sprecher, CEO of Intercontinental Exchange, said Bakkt could one day become a marketplace for tokenized rewards points. “We will be looking at consumer adoption more than revenue or expense,” he said. FULL STORY

Consensus:Distributed is CoinDesk’s free, virtual convention featuring 150 leading personalities from the crypto and blockchain. Register here.

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