Jatin Madhra, representing BTC Wires, recently caught up with Mr. Nick Plante, fonder and director of dLab, a new startup accelerator and venture studio by SOSV.
Find the full interview below:
A prominent investor, product developer, software architect, community organizer, Mr Plante has added several feathers to his hat. Having previously co-founded Wefunder (equity crowdfunding) and Mogoterra (software testing), he has a fair share of experience in the investment space. He also has acdemic experience, having worked on research and applications of artificial intelligence to network security, at MIT and Northeastern. Here is a transcript of the interview:
How has your journey been in this industry and how did you enter the blockchain world? Also, how did SOSV come into the picture?
Well, thanks for having me first of all but yeah, let’s dive right in. I mean I’ve been involved in bitcoin and in a blockchain tech for a while, since 2011. I was working on another startup at the time but a friend introduced me. I had forked Jeff Garza’s pool, and ran a mining pool for a little while, sort of like a side hustle or hobby. I squandered most of what I mined of course or lost the rest of it and the Mt. Gox collapse. I was busy on other projects and I kind of got turned off for a little while until a friend turned me on to Ethereum a few years later. I’d also gotten pretty involved in equity crowdfunding and was involved in the creation of the US Jobs Act title 3, which became RegCF. Through our work with Wefunder, we helped design and shape that, so you know we’ve had a pretty heavy hand in the early onset of equity crowdfunding in the United States. I was introduced to SOSV back in 2010 and I went to China to work with SOSV partner Cyril Ebersweiler, to copilot the early China accelerator and hacks programs. I loved what they were doing with deep vertical driven programs for startups. I think it was around 2015 at which point SOSV had started doing a few bitcoin and blockchain oriented investments, well most notably Bitmax. When this opportunity with Emurgo came around and the fantastic resources they bring to bear here, it made it a really obvious move for us.
I’ll move to the next one, SOSV has helped some of the leading tech startup accelerators, what will be the go to market strategy behind the partnership with the Emurgo to launch a new startup accelerator and venture studio?
We’ve been doing these accelerators for a long time and I’d like to think that we have the process for that down. I’m not sure exactly what you think of as a go to market strategy for us here but you know our job is always to find and invest in the most promising early stage startups. By working with the Emurgo, I think it’ll give us an even larger amount of resources and a larger amount of knowledge to deploy and really help these early-stage startups kind of get where they need to be in the space. We’re also doing these fellowships with a Emurgo and I am really excited about those. They’re designed specifically to explore new opportunities in the Cardinal blockchain where as the accelerator itself is not protocol specific. So we’re funding five startups starting in January and we’re also doing five of these fellowships. The startup program runs for about fourteen weeks which is pretty typical for our accelerators and we invest up to $200,000 in US. The fellowships are annual fellowships, so the problem areas that you’re interested in investigating or concepts that you’re interested in exploring specifically for Cardinal, we fund those and work with those entrepreneurs or those researchers and developers for a full year. Some of those might be proto startups, some of them might end up being ideas that get commercialized later on. That’s one of the exciting aspects of it.
Blockchain has covered most of the areas, according to you, which are the sectors that can benefit the most?
Well we’re gonna be releasing a call for startups here pretty soon. We’re gonna publish that and I think it’s gonna answer those questions in more depth. There’s obviously a lot of areas here both horizontal and vertical, that need a lot of work but we’re still at a really early stage. There’s a lot of work going into financial instruments right now and rightly so, healthcare, digital property, obviously supply chain applications etc. We’d like to see people working on applications and address these problems specifically in the developing world as well. Developer tools, core infrastructure, data oracles, those are all things that I feel like need a lot of focus right now in order to pave the way for the next round of innovations. Honestly the biggest opportunity I see is you know we need tools and services that lower the barrier to entry and make tokens and Dapps adapts more useful, and I mean that both for end users as well as for developers.
Day before yesterday we had an interview with Mr. Tim Draper and he spoke at length on how the government throughout the world runs and how it could really benefit from cryptocurrency. We also agree with your perspective that we need more user centric applications, can you elaborate on that?
Well I mean I think the big hairy areas where it could have a massive societal effect are centred around digital sovereignty. Once you’re able to hand someone a digital ID and come up with a system for verifying those IDs, you can start storing a lot of information that kind of naturally dovetails with that. We also need ways for normal people to access this information and to make it routine. My background has always been more focused on P2P applications and developer tools and it is about consumer tools, but I think here you’re gonna see that both strategies are necessary in order for this to kind of get where it needs to go. So I think that we will have to be exploring those things in tandem.
Recently a press release from Dlabs mentioned that it is expected that all startup companies, as well as the founders will be able to benefit from mentorship opportunities available at SOSV, as well as an extensive extensive network that has been established by our NGO. Can you explain that in brief?
SOSV is a mentorship driven accelerator. We have this huge network of mentors who work with our different programs and who have deep technical or business expertise in different areas. We have a huge alumni network and a bunch of program partners as well. They all support our startups in different ways. Combining that with the network that Emurgo has, particularly in this area. Their in-house resources and the partners that they have that are developing the Cardinal network are also a huge asset. I mean I think we’ve just got sort of a perfect soup of really great mentors that will help kind of push forward these startups and help them learn from their mistakes, as well as their successes.
In a recent interview you talked about how you like to invest in macro trends like disruptive food, life sciences and synthetic biology. What’s your take on that?
We target macro trends and we do programs in different spaces. We have two life sciences program- Indie Bio and Rebel Bio, which address opportunities in static synthetic alliances. We have a program called Hacks that runs in Shenzhen, that helps to unlock the potential of hardware IOT and Robotics. So we look at these ecosystems as something that we believe can dramatically alter what it means to be a human and what quality of life looks like for people in ten plus years. It’s really hard for me to look at what’s happening with distributed ledger technology and decentralization and think that it’s not one of those things right. So we created this program to address how blockchain tech and more broadly to centralization, can affect the economic incentives that underlie. In a way it’s almost sort of a macro macro trend right, it sort of underlies all of these other things and is almost deeply horizontal in its approach.
The survey and the reports about fraud rates of ICOs is a major concern of this industry. What’s your take on how to control this situation and what do you think about ICOs and VC funding running on parallel ends?
I mean certainly regulation is a big piece of this and it’s going to evolve. The absence of that self regulation, having a good ethical center and designing for proper governance are all really important. I do think that you know formal regulation will catch up. I think some of this was inevitable but I do think that in the meanwhile, we should be focused on working with other people who have strong ankle bases and who are structuring those projects for the long term. People who are building real startups here are people that are building projects that are actually going to have long-term impact. We want to work with people like them.
What advice would you like to give to those who are new to the blockchain technology and cryptocurrency all together?
Well, don’t be averse to take risks. Try things, get your hands dirty. If you’re non-technical, learn how to code. I mean even if you’re not a technical co-founder, you learn how to code. If you don’t have at least a basic understanding of how to write software you’re going to quite literally be left behind. I think the bigger picture is we’re building a programmatic economy so you want to be able to help program that economy.
Let’s say I have a startup company and an innovative idea, what are the ways and requirements to approach Dlabs and how can we get there?
You can visit the website or you can just send us an email. You can reach me at [email protected]
Thank you so much for your time.
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