Startup Behind Zk-Starks Tech to Seek Cryptocurrencies as Customers

A breakthrough blockchain privacy solution forged at the Technion in Israel is taking its first steps from theory to reality.

Heralded by developers, so-called zk-starks offer a promising way to compress large amounts of information into small proofs, named starks, and can use zero-knowledge to preserve the privacy of that information. They’re also efficient, transparent and secure against quantum computation, something that in the past, has pushed excitement surrounding the tech.

But rather than launching a new cryptocurrency, founders Eli Ben-Sasson and Alessandro Chiesa are going the corporate route, offering their novel technology to actual blockchains in exchange for their native assets, or what the team calls the “tech for tokens model.”

Starkware will provide stark-powered technology to cryptocurrencies in exchange for a fee priced in the local currency, and if the market cap rises as a result, Starkware profits as well.

“Development teams are really like investors, but instead of investing money, they invest technology and skills,” Ben-Sasson told CoinDesk.

But the Israel-based startup has some notable investors of its own as well, having raised $6 million in a seed-funding round from Pantera, Floodgate, Polychain Capital, Metastable, Naval Ravikant, Vitalik Buterin, the Zcash Company and hardware supplier Bitmain.

In the first stage of the company, Ben-Sasson told CoinDesk they’ll be partnering with some major figures from the blockchain space, (“the usual suspects,” Ben-Sasson said,) to bring zcash-style private transactions to public ledgers.

While the partnerships are yet to be confirmed, Ben-Sasson said that there is “plenty of interest” from a range of different on-chain and off-chain cryptocurrency efforts.

Indeed, advocates from many communities have spoken positively about the technology in the past, including ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin, who previously hinted that such a system could be deployed on top of “ethereum 3.0.”

It’s notable considering while Ben-Sasson and Chiesa were both founding scientists at zcash, the new technology offers a wholly different outcome.

Ben-Sasson told CoinDesk:

“Our technology is unique because it is the only one out there right now that allows true exponential speedup of verification for arbitrary computations with no setup assumptions and no keys to be distributed in advance.”

Not just privacy

As detailed by CoinDesk, zk-stark proofs are notable for their ability to hide information without sacrificing computational integrity, or what Ben-Sasson calls “transparent privacy.”

If that sounds complex, it’s part of a growing interest in zero-knowledge proof systems, a form of cryptography dating from the 1980s that has been touted as a way to preserve data privacy without obscuring information to the point where it cannot be verified by the blockchain itself.

While the technology underlying privacy-centric cryptocurrency zcash also achieves this feature, zk-starks allow for zero-knowledge without the need for a trusted setup, a stage in compiling private blockchains that has been criticized for being vulnerable to attack.

Achieving this in a way that relies purely on cryptography, the transparent aspect of starks is central to its value add.

That said, Ben-Sasson said that while such qualities provided by zk-stark technology give it an advantage over other privacy solutions, the length of the proofs are still quite large, and as such, they’re up against a range of competitors…

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