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IBM And Columbia University To Accelerate Blockchain Ventures

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On Monday, IBM and Columbia University announced the launch of two accelerator programs for blockchain startups. Each accelerator will seek 10 companies at different stages of maturity, helping them build scalable blockchain solutions for the market.

People confuse the relative value of cryptocurrency (we all agreed to close our eyes to recent BTC freefalling whatever is going on, right) with the underlying distributed ledger technology that anchors blockchain applications. The fact is that blockchain is for real, and it is a big deal. The applications are numerous and important to explore in a world where defensible, reliable sources of truth are few and far between. Accelerators are exactly what’s needed at this moment in blockchain.

“The possibilities presented by blockchain technology are seemingly endless, and we are seeing strong dedication by technical talent to build game-changing applications,” said David Post, Managing Director, IBM Blockchain Accelerator.

I caught up with Jules Miller, Partner, IBM Blockchain Accelerator, to get her thoughts on these exciting developments.

ES: What has been going on with the IBM Blockchain Accelerator to this point?  What is your role in the program?

JM: Though IBM and Columbia have both led accelerators in the past, this is a brand new set of programs. We’re running the inaugural IBM Blockchain Accelerator program starting in January and the inaugural Columbia Blockchain Launch Accelerator program starting in March, each with a cohort of 10 companies.

My role is to lead the accelerator programs, along with with the fantastic David Post at IBM and Satish Rao at Columbia University. I mainly focus on the IBM Blockchain Accelerator program for IBM and have developed our strategy, created the curriculum, and am now working to recruit and select the companies to participate in the program.  Most importantly, I will help each company work with IBM and customize corporate collaborations, mentors and investors for each company when they are going through the program to help them come out of it with more money, customers and connections then when they started.

ES: What is ahead and exciting for the Accelerator?

JM: We’re excited for the first cohort of companies to come through and see them succeed.  The programs are only successful if they are successful, so we’re going to work hard to make sure each company is matched with the right technical, business, investor and customer resources to set them up to scale successfully.

Blockchain is still in its early days, and enterprise networks are still getting up to speed to achieve scale. Our goal is to change that by throwing the brands, resources and investments of IBM and Columbia University behind a carefully selected group of blockchain startups to help them scale blockchain for the enterprise.

What is also special about the IBM Blockchain Accelerator program in particular is that we’re running a dual track for corporate partners that will tap into the same incredible resources and curriculum to level set and prepare them to partner with our startups and launch or grow their own blockchain initiatives.  This includes the module on legal, compliance and governance, which is a critical part of the blockchain world.  Corporate partners who are interested in participating in this can sign up here: https://www.f6s.com/ibmblockchain-getinvolved/apply

ES: What’s the nature of the collaboration?  It seems that IBM’s focused more on later stage while Columbia focused on pre-seed; is there any other difference?  How will these programs leverage resources across IBM and Columbia?

JM: Columbia and IBM have partnered recently for the Columbia-IBM Center for Blockchain and Data Transparency, and the Accelerators are a pillar of that partnership.  We’ll tap into the resources of each organization to support growth of successful enterprise blockchain startups.  For example, each startup will each be assigned a team of at least five mentors to use throughout their program.  This includes IBM technical and business experts, as well as Columbia computer science and MBA students.  We’ll also share some of the research coming out of Columbia and the IBM Labs, as well as the real-world case studies and best practices for market leading blockchain networks like IBM Food Trust.

There are also few differences in the two programs:

IBM’s IBM Blockchain Accelerator program is focused on growth stage companies (post Series A/B, post ICO, with a working product and paying customers) and is built to be additive, not distracting, for companies at that stage.

  1. It is open to companies from around the world.
  2. There are three in-person modules with only three days required per module (nine total), with virtual support in between.  One module on investment/tokeneconomics will be in San Francisco aligned with IBM’s annual THINK conference where the companies will have a speaking slot, and two modules will take place in New York, one on product and one on legal/governance.
  3. The focus of the IBM Blockchain Accelerator is networks.  A unique and challenging thing about blockchain companies is that they often create external business networks (e.g., consortia, councils, non-profit governing entities) to govern the operations and economics.  Building and managing these networks, including onboarding the right corporate business network participants, is the main focus of the IBM Blockchain Accelerator program.

Columbia’s LAUNCH program is focused on pre-seed or even idea stage companies that have an NYC university affiliation (e.g., Columbia, NYU) and will help founders get their blockchain business and product off the ground.  This will take place for eight weeks in person in NYC.

ES: Is there a specific type of startup that you’re hoping will apply?  Anything you are keeping an eye on specifically?

JM: For the IBM Blockchain Accelerator program we’re looking for the best growth stage enterprise blockchain companies in the world across all industries.  Our goal is to have a geographically and industry diverse group that can all learn from each other and collaborate with IBM, Columbia, and our partners to build out a winner-take-all blockchain applications and business networks in each of their use cases.

For the legal community, we’re particularly interested in digital rights / IP management, security tokens, and the related enabling technologies including compliance, and legal process-aligned smart contracts.


Ed Sohn is VP, Product Management and Partnerships, for Thomson Reuters Legal Managed Services. After more than five years as a Biglaw litigation associate, Ed spent two years in New Delhi, India, overseeing and innovating legal process outsourcing services in litigation. Ed now focuses on delivering new e-discovery solutions with technology managed services. You can contact Ed about ediscovery, legal managed services, expat living in India, theology, chess, ST:TNG, or the Chicago Bulls at [email protected] or via Twitter (@edsohn80). (The views expressed in his columns are his own and do not reflect those of his employer, Thomson Reuters.)

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