These are interesting times for blockchain entrepreneurs. Viewed from one perspective the associated technologies are rarely out of the news. We hear a lot about cryptocurrencies, mostly about their investment prospects and the dangers of hype or fraud. Meanwhile, the eye-watering prices paid for a select group of digital artworks have ensured the term “non-fungible token” has also become increasingly familiar. Those of a more technical disposition may also be talking knowledgeably about the transformative role distributed ledgers will play in transforming processes across a range of industries.
But despite all this, it’s probably true to say that most of us would struggle to describe how all these variations on the blockchain theme are affecting our lives. NFTs – from high-priced works of art to more utilitarian marketing tools – tend to be the playthings of relatively few early adopting enthusiasts or collectors. Crypto investment and usage are certainly widespread but not yet mainstream. And if blockchain is being adopted by industries such as banking and insurance to introduce new processes, then it’s a revolution that’s not particularly visible.
That may change. According to some analysts, the next big stage in the evolution of the Internet will be the arrival of Web3. Put simply – and to be honest, it isn’t really that simple – the third-generation internet will move away from a centralized model that is said to favor “big tech” towards a much more decentralized model powered in large part by blockchain technologies.
If that vision of the internet proves to be correct, then there will be opportunities for blockchain entrepreneurs. What will those opportunities actually look like? Well, the London division of global investor and accelerator operator Techstars might be able to provide a partial answer.
Techstars London has partnered with blockchain development platform operator, Polygon to offer a 13-week accelerator program, with a specific focus on Web3 and its enabling technologies. Following similar programs in Seattle and Dublin, the London accelerator will be open for applications from August 29.
So why is now a good time to focus on Web3? When I spoke to Techstars London Managing Director, Saalim Chowdhury, I was keen to find out.
In Chowdhury’s view, London has an opportunity to become a global hub for Web3 development. But that begs a question. How big a thing will Web3 actually be? With the likes of Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey expressing their skepticism in recent tweets, there is a feeling in some quarters that the brave new internet is more hype than reality. Others disagree strongly
And as Chowdhury sees it, the arrival of Web3 will pave the way for new business models. “Web3 is not a product. It is about architecture. It’s a way to deliver services,” he says.
And in that regard, blockchain and its associated innovations around crypto-currencies and tokens represent the foundational technologies for the new internet. “At the moment, they are not hitting 1% of what they will do.” In the future, he says, Web3 will be embedded in just about everything we do.
A Product And Customers
What is Techstars looking for from applicants to the program?
The general rule of thumb is that members of Techstars’ London cohorts come to the party with a product and hopefully a customer or two. In that respect, the ideal is that there has already been some degree of validation. Techstars London also wants to see a team – and preferably a diverse one.
Beyond that, there’s quite a high degree of flexibility. As Chowdhury explains, candidates might be currently working in the Web2 arena but seeking ways of moving into Web3. Equally, though, they could already be working on next-generation products or technologies.
A Willingness to Pivot
But the startup that goes in may not look the same as the business that emerges at the end of the program. “In the last cohort, 3 companies pivoted and 7 emerged with different revenue models,” says Chowdhury.
To that end, the accelerator is also looking for founders who are willing to adapt. “We are looking for people who are open-minded, with a willingness to learn and an openness to quizzing. Intellectual elasticity is a phrase I use a lot,” says Chowdhury.
Techstars London specializes in one-to-one mentoring within its accelerators but the program is carefully structured with the first month focused on building a product that customers want and the second providing help with identifying markets and developing growth strategies. Month three homes in on revenues and fundraising.
So what comes out at the end? Well from the Techstars point of view it provides an opportunity to explore the potential of Web3. “Our founders will help us identify the use cases,” says Chowdhury.
But what about the outcome for the founders and their teams? “A good outcome is that companies have a product that customers want and a well-balanced business.
Will game changing business models emerge? We’ll have to wait and see.