An Australian startup looking to put democratised voting on the blockchain has landed an elusive partnership with the United Nations, one month after raising $1.4 million via an initial coin offering (ICO).
Melbourne-based Horizon State was founded by entrepreneur and tech-nut Jamie Skella “informally” two years ago while he was working with Australian political information and polling app MiVotes. At the same time, Skella was dabbling in cryptocurrency investing and doing “a ton” of blockchain related research.
“That’s when the light bulb moment came. All the properties related to Bitcoin transactions such as the immutability, the fact they’re unable to be reversed — they all make really good properties for a digital ballot box,” he told StartupSmart.
Working still with the MiVotes team, Skella developed an MVP of a tamper-proof result-recording digital ballot box on the blockchain, which began to pick up steam and gain interest from organisations. It was at this point that Skella realised he was onto something good and made the decision to spin Horizon State off from the non-profit MiVote.
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This was followed by a successful $1.4 million ICO on the Ethereum network in October, and just recently, a partnership with United Nations’ Be Earth Foundation to help the intergovernmental organisation (IGO) achieve one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) using Horizon State’s technology.
Horizon State helping the UN achieve its goals
While Skella can’t reveal the exact nature of the partnership yet, he says the partnership will be focused on helping the UN achieve its 16th SDG, which focuses on strong institutions and stamping out corruption and bribery, through Horizon State.
“We’ve had numerous ongoing conversations with the UN, and this one probably won’t be the last,” he says.
“This gives our tech the opportunity to help tackle these ambitious sustainable development goals with the UN. It’s incredibly important to us from a social impact perspective, and it lets us pursue an opportunity to quite literally change the world through our tech.”
“I’m not sure if this is the first UN partnership with a blockchain company, but it’s definitely one of the first.”
Skella has worked in tech and user interface design for large Australian organisations such as Tatts Group and the AFL, and says his love for technology and its potential for enabling justice and democracy started when he received his first computer at age 13.
“Though I probably wasn’t thinking about it like that then,” he laughs.
“I’ve always been about emerging tech, and how to make sure we’re using it to design a strong future for ourselves.”
Horizon State now has nine staff members and the company’s token is also trading significantly above its ICO price, currently sitting at around 50c. The past few months have been a whirlwind, says Skella, who has been globetrotting on a “world tour” with co-founder Nimo Naamani to seek opportunities and partnerships.
More partnerships in the pipeline
And they’re coming thick and fast, with Skella saying the company is gearing up to announce a number of other deals throughout early 2018, which will be “as important if not more important” as the UN partnership.
“One quick example is we’re in conversation with a global non-governmental organisation, which we’re looking to kick off a partnership early next year. They’ve got a global membership in the vicinity of 5-10 million,” he says.
“If we were using Horizon State to run an election in Australia, that’s around 15 million every few years. This NGO would be around 10 million every year if not more frequently, so it’s a great example of what the tech can be capable of.”
“Usually when we talk about a voting system, people think it mostly relates to electoral voting, but it comes in many forms like membership engagements, annual general meetings, polling. There’s lots of things our tech is appropriately suited to.”
Looking generally at the blockchain scene in Australia, Skella believes the country is currently punching above its weight; he draws on examples such as Power Ledger as being in the “upper echelon” globally of strong blockchain companies.
“I think we’re one of the hottest places for blockchain companies in terms of calibre per capita. The sorts of problems we’re trying to solve are quite profound in nature,” he says.
Skella believes 2018 will be a bumper year for Horizon State, saying the startup currently faces the problem of having more customer opportunities than they do product features.
“Usually it’s the other way around for startups,” he says.