Funding Wrap: Zero-knowledge is back in the spotlight

Much has been made of growing investor interest in integrations between AI and crypto, but it was the less-novel narrative of zero-knowledge (zk) proofs that drew significant VC funding this week. Zk proofs allow statements to be proven true without revealing their contents and are popular in layer-2 rollups that scale blockchains. 

Blockworks first reported on Tuesday that the zk startup Ingonyama raised a $21 million seed round led by Geometry, Walen Catalyst Ventures and IOSG Ventures.

Ingonyama offers open-source libraries for zk acceleration. Interestingly, it views itself becoming a chip company down the line and has plans to release intellectual property on zk-optimized hardware in the coming months.

Read more: ZK tech startup Ingonyama secures $21M in seed funding

“It starts with building the [software stack] and then once there is some level of maturity…[and] there is a product that has more demand for compute, then obviously we’ll need to shift into ASICs,” Ingonyama founder Omer Shlomovits told Blockworks.

Standard Crypto and Paradigm led a $20 million Series A round in on-chain infrastructure startup Axiom. Axiom uses zk to help Ethereum smart contracts parse data at a lower cost. It’s a new application to a popular concept of using zk to scale Ethereum. 

Read more: What are the differences between parallel EVMs and Arbitrum Stylus?

Axiom said it would use the funding partly to make new hires.

“We are at an inflection point in taking zk from research to production, and with this funding we are growing our team to make it a reality,” Axiom wrote on X.

Delphi Ventures led a $5 million seed round in Zorp, which is building a “personal sovereignty”-focused blockchain using zk proofs. 

“We’re building the rails for a parallel world economy,” Zorp CEO Logan Allen wrote in a blog post announcing the raise. 

Venture DAO Octu Ventures participated in the round.

“Zorp is answering the question of “How do you verify anything a computer does without simply deferring to a ‘trust us’ authority” and making doing so cheap and reliable enough to replace those authorities as they lose signal and get pwned,” Octu wrote on X. 

An inside look at the Beacon Web3 accelerator demo day

Web3 startup accelerator Beacon held a demo day for its fall 2023 cohort this week. The founder support group provides mentorship to Web3 startups, culminating in a demo day attended by investors and members of the press.

The accelerator just graduated its third batch of startups, and some of its alumni have gone on to draw investor attention, like social platform Phaver and Telegram-enabled business card provider Sleek.

This most recent cohort was heavy on infrastructural apps. Zero Gravity is trying to improve data availability on blockchains, and Inco Network is an EVM using fully homomorphic encryption. 

Read more: Fully homomorphic encryption rollups are one step closer to reality 

There were also, of course, startups integrating AI with crypto. Fraction AI pitched a decentralized platform for data labeling used in training AI models. 

“Our model allows us to go planet scale because we open it up for everyone. We get a lot of diverse data because a lot of people participate throughout the globe. And the best of them, our users, are always assured of payments because everything is managed by smart contracts,” founder Shashank Yadav said.

Other notable fundraises

  • A subsidiary of the spot bitcoin ETF provider VanEck led a strategic investment in data firm CCData. 
  • Paper Ventures announced a $25 million blockchain fund.
  • Pantera and Sequoia Capital headlined an undisclosed amount of Series B funding for EDX Markets, Bloomberg reported. The firm said it is building a crypto exchange in Singapore.
  • A16z-backed crypto payments firm Eco acquired stablecoin shopping app Join. The terms of the deal were undisclosed. 
  • Cash handling company Brink’s, known for its armored trucks, made an undisclosed strategic investment in institutional custody and trading firm BitGo.
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