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Focus on l'X start-ups dedicated to cryptoassets and blockchain in the wake of the Bitcoin-mania

Bitcoin is once again in the news, illustrating the prospects of the blockchain technology which is also at the heart of several start-ups nurtured by the École Polytechnique incubator, the Drahi-X Novation Center and/or launched by X alumni.

illustration cryptoactif - cryptoasset

Is the American entrepreneur Elon Musk, who has shaken up the automotive and space sectors, ready to take on the highly regulated world of finance and money? In a document registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the regulatory authority of the financial markets in the United States, Tesla, Elon’s Musk automotive company, has revealed that it had invested 1.5 billion dollars in Bitcoins, a little more than 7% of its cash, propelling the price of this cryptocurrency, cryptoasset in the terminology of central banks which consider that the issuance of money and its management is a prerogative of the State, to new peaks.

It has since pared its gains after statements by Janet Yellen, former President of the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States, and currently Secretary of the Treasury in the new U.S. President Joe Biden’s Administration. In an interview with the New York Times, Janet Yellen declared,  “I don’t think that Bitcoin, I’ve said this before, is widely used as a transaction mechanism. To the extent it’s used, I fear it’s often for illicit finance.” Janet Yellen added, “It’s an extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions. And the amount of energy that’s consumed in processing those transactions is staggering. It is a highly speculative asset, and I think people should beware. It can be extremely volatile and I do worry about potential losses that investors in it could suffer”.

In the document submitted to the SEC, Tesla said it would like to accept payment for its cars in Bitcoin "in the near future, subject to applicable law and initially on a limited basis," which would allow it to experiment with the use of this cryptoasset as a means of payment, one of the main functions of currency.

These announcements come against a backdrop of increasing number of monetary innovations such as means of payment with Internet and mobile applications, the appearance of digital currencies such as the libra or cryptoassets such as bitcoin, the trivialization of local currencies, the generalization of central bank digital currency (CBDC) money experiments, where China is at the forefront with several regional tests already carried out and the prospect of a nationwide launch before the Beijing Winter Olympic Games in February 2022.

A recent report by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) shows that a growing proportion of central banks are considering experimenting CBDCs. What is the difference between digital and electronic currencies? What about the central bank currencies? Beyond the technological aspects, what is the fundamental role of money? Is this role threatened when private actors seek to develop their own currency?

All these questions are at the heart of a book, Le Futur de la monnaie (The Future of Money), written by Michel Aglietta, X59 and ENSAE, economist, scientific advisor at CEPII and professor emeritus at the University of Paris Ouest, and Natacha Valla, Dean of the School of Management and Innovation at Sciences Po Paris, with a foreword by Benoît Coeuré, Director of the BIS Innovation Pole. In this book, the authors recall that money is a public good and that access to money is a fundamental dimension of human dignity, even if public goods are far from being free of power battles that do not always take human dignity into account.

L’X start-ups dedicated to blockchain or cryptoassets:

Tezos, co-founded by X graduate Arthur Breitman, is a blockchain platform for the development of smart contracts and an associated cryptoasset tez (XTZ). The algorithm of the protocol is based on a proof-of-stake consensus. Unlike early generation blockchains, such as Bitcoin, where the principle of block registration is based on proof of work (mining), Tezos adopts a proof-of-stake consensus policy, based on delegation. Every XTZ owner has a probability of being randomly selected to validate a block(baking). This probability is weighted by the number of XTZ tokens held. However, the expensive entry ticket for baking does not allow anyone to be chosen and selected. Thus, everyone can delegate his or her right to a proxy who will operate his or her rights on his or her behalf.

Uniris. Launched in 2017 after two years of fundamental research, the Uniris project was born out of the work of researchers from École Polytechnique and CNRS, who have developed an ultra-secure technology to replace any password or identification keys. This open source, blockchain-based technology, which provides a decentralized digital identity to any user on the network, has a wide range of potential applications in sectors such as healthcare, insurance, loans, e-commerce and even electronic voting. The first use of the Uniris infrastructure takes the form of a biometric device that scans the user's intravenous network. It then generates cryptographic keys to enable the user to access his decentralized identity. Generated at the time of identification, these cryptographic keys are immediately destroyed. This is the first crypto-biometric solution that complies with the provisions of the General Regulation on Data Protection (RGPD). The Uniris blockchain is accompanied by its native cryptocurrency, the UCO. The role of the UCO is to pay network transaction fees for all Uniris-based applications. The maximum number of UCOs has been set at 10 billion units.

Napoleon Group. Cryptoassets will emerge as a new asset class of its own requiring dedicated asset managers. Based on this vision, Arnaud Dartois (X98, PhD) and Stéphane Ifrah (X92), together with Jean-Charles Dudek, decided, at the end of 2016, to create the Napoleon group, which brings together 3 specialized companies. Napoleon Asset Management, an AMF-accredited management company (AIFM approval GP-19000015), which offers professional investors regulated investment solutions giving exposure to cryptoassets, Napoleon Crypto, which offers portfolio management mandates for cryptoassets, and Napoleon Software, which manages the crypto trading bots platform www.napbots.com accessible to the public wishing to copy algorithmic investment strategies in cryptoassets.

Paymium is a marketplace dedicated to cryptomoney. Founded in 2011 by Pierre Noizat (X80), it allows exchange between Euros and Bitcoins, the purchase of Bitcoins by credit card, a secure storage of Bitcoins, the sending and receiving of Euros or Bitcoins funds by email, as well as a service for businesses and companies to accept payments in Bitcoin payments.

LGO. A platform for trading digital assets without counterparty risk was co-founded in 2017 by Hugo Renaudin (X 2013) alongside Frédéric Montagnon, former president of the blog hosting platform, Overblog. In December 2020, LGO finalized merger with Voyager, a cryptoassets broker offering retail and institutional investors a turnkey exchange solution.