Riffling through the business news, it’s all too easy to feel despondent over the economic impact of COVID-19.
There are bright spots here and there—disinfectant brands, video-conferencing apps and bakeries have enjoyed an explosion in demand—but worry is building over the long-term impact that the pandemic will have on funding for new startups.
To that end, poverty-focused financial tools platform Celo launched Celo Camp in early February. A virtual accelerator program, it is aimed at encouraging up-and-coming businesses and developers build apps on its proof-of-stake blockchain.
The Celo Foundation’s goal is to create “an open financial system where digital assets are made easily accessible.” To that end it has assembled a 50-member Alliance for Prosperity including blockchain and crypto firms like Anchorage, Bison Trails, and Ledger; venture capital firms including Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and Polychain Capital; and non-profits such as Mercy Corps and the Grameen Foundation. If you think that sounds like mobile-focused Celo is challenging Facebook’s Libra as a way to make payments accessible to everyone, including the unbanked, well, so do its members.
Rene Reinsberg is the founder of cLabs, the company building Celo. He told Modern Consensus: “As we see more and more layoffs occur and storefronts close due to COVID-19, the business world is realizing the need to adapt quickly.
“Fortunately, the crypto community already recognized the importance of the virtual space and global connectivity,” he said. “Celo Camp participants’ appetite to build an open financial system only continues to grow in light of global economic challenges.”
Celo Camp was launched in conjunction with the digital events company Upright. Organizers said they received more than 250 applications from startups who wanted to take part in the accelerator program.
Five criteria—including project idea, technical strength, and alignment with Celo’s mission—were used to whittle down the competitors to 74. A vote then took place to decide the final batch of startups that will take part in the eight-week scheme. A total of 18 ideas have made it through to this stage—several more than initially planned—from teams spread across five continents.
Each team will now receive specialized guidance to help their product fit the market, and they have been matched with mentors from industry leaders such as PayPal and Andreessen Horowitz.
The public will be able to vote for their favorite team between now and June 15. The winner is going to receive $10,000, with $5,000 to the second place team. Three $2,000 prizes were also announced.
Reinsberg said the volume of applications received for Celo Camp showed there was “unprecedented interest in blockchain development”—and described the virtual accelerator program as evidence that the crypto community is “rising to the occasion” despite the volatility and uncertainty in the economy today.
The 18 finalists are: Air Protocol, Conclave, Crosspoint, d-event, Dunia Payment, Figment Networks, Good Crypto, impactMarket, iwise, Kesholabs, Kotani Pay, Lovecrypto, MugglePay, PARSIQ, SharpShark, Tangany, TRUSTartup, and Ubricoin.
Updated at 2:01 a.m. on April 23, 2020 to expand the explanation of what Celo does and to reflect that it is not Ethereum-based (it is an Ethereum hard fork).