We recently had the privilege to talk to Han Wen Chua, Vice President of Ecosystem Growth at Zilliqa. This is the interview in its entirety.
Firstly, thank you for taking the time to talk to Asia Blockchain Review. We greatly appreciate your time and consideration in this matter. First and foremost, how are things with you and the company as we navigate this new normal?
Thanks for the opportunity. Things have been going well for us at Zilliqa. We are fortunate to have a team that is built to be remote by nature, and therefore resilient to abrupt changes – such as the one brought upon by the pandemic.
Platforms like Zoom and Slack have been our bread and butter since before the crisis. Therefore, we have adapted well and are grateful for the projects we have underway – thanks to our partners and our community – even at such a time.
Additionally, this industry is very decentralized in nature and online-based. Talent is scattered across the globe, with very little concentration in any certain regions, countries or offices.
Therefore, work and deal flows are not disrupted as they might be in the more traditional industries. I believe that the future of this industry shines bright, and that blockchain will play an integral role in the economic recovery from this recession.
To start things off, Zilliqa announced its inaugural blockchain accelerator, ZILHive recently. Perhaps you could give us an overview of the accelerator.
ZILHive is essentially a building and up-skilling platform, powered by Zilliqa. It is an ecosystem where people from all walks of life can come together to learn more about the industry, while also kick-starting their own projects by leveraging blockchain and smart contract platforms such as ours.
The Accelerator is the latest addition to the ZILHive programme, with other pillars being Education and Grants. Zilliqa created this new Accelerator pillar because we saw the need to provide a platform for promising teams coming from within the Education and Grants pillars to bring their products to maturity.
The Accelerator’s structured masterclasses, professional mentorship, and productive ecosystem will better serve and guide these promising teams into actualizing their visions and turning them into a reality on our blockchain.
Could you tell us how the experiences of startups using the accelerator helped refine and relaunch the product? Perhaps some experiential learning could help our readers imagine all of this?
In the past edition of the accelerator, our participants were primarily pre-seed stage companies. Therefore, it functioned more like an incubator. These startups were given masterclasses on legal/UX/smart contracts in order to refine their early-stage products.
They were also assigned dedicated mentors who helped them hone their pitches in preparation for the ‘Demo Day’ – an ideal place for the project teams to scout for additional project backers and VCs. These startups managed to secure close to USD $1.5 million from investors across China, Korea, Russia and Singapore. Today, they are successfully building up their products and businesses.
Our latest edition focuses on “Accelerating Blockchain Use Cases”. We are prioritising innovations and use-cases in the FinTech industry such as Security Token Offerings. We are looking to bring together various stakeholders in the space as part of a larger scale collaboration to create and issue ASEAN-based stablecoins.
Stakeholders will include not only startups, but traditional businesses and corporations who are looking to leverage our highly scalable blockchain to power their businesses or streamline its efficiency. Innovations in this space will be a driving force for economic recovery in this current climate.
The new ZILHive will consist of three pillars, education, the accelerator program and grants. Could you give us a broad overview of these elements?
ZILHive Education was created to house all the educational initiatives Zilliqa has with institutions globally. We started out with creating the Blockchain Developer Course in April this year, and we have now moved beyond that to create more diverse courses catering to various people with different skill-sets. Currently, we are in the midst of planning two courses:
(a) a PMET course called Blockchain for Business, which explores the latest use-cases of blockchain technology.
(b) Blockchain Fundamentals – an online course targeting newcomers in the crypto space.
We have recently signed an MoU with Republic Polytechnic to design the new curriculum for Financial Technology – Diploma course, including part-time modules for people who wish to transition to this industry mid-career.
The ultimate goal of ZILHive Education is to upskill a generation of working adults & students and equip them with the necessary skills to perform well in this industry.
ZILHive Grants (earlier known as the Zilliqa Ecosystem Grants Programme) has been one of Zilliqa’s key offerings since 2017. We realized early on that creating a vibrant community is a difficult task if there is no monetary support for people to take the leap of faith.
Therefore, in order to drive growth for the nascent blockchain network, we decided to allocate a total of USD $5 million as part of a grants pool, and disburse them every quarter to select promising projects which could drive innovative use cases to our platform.
So far, we have rewarded up to $2.2 million in grants over the past 2 years. There are a total of 70 awarded projects, with teams spanning across 20+ countries. These projects focussed mainly on building the infrastructure for Zilliqa, laying the foundation for an Open Finance or OpFi ecosystem. Prominent awardees include Unstoppable Domains, ZenGo and Transak.
ZILHive Accelerator is a new pillar that we are building. The aim of ZILHive Accelerator is to build a collaborative Open Finance consortium which in turn, can drive growth for startups enrolled in the programme. We are in the midst of identifying promising startups and building the network for the consortium.
The Blockchain For Business Course is also another interesting facet in this journey. Please give us an overview of this.
The Blockchain for Business course is designed for PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) who are interested in blockchain technology but do not have the avenue to learn about how it works.
This course aims to debunk popular misconceptions around blockchain, and help PMETs gain a better understanding of the technology through real and practical blockchain applications.
This course will dive into the inner workings of a particular use-case, Security Token Offering (STO), and will welcome holistic discussion about the pros and cons of tokenizing assets like private equities, real estate and debts on the blockchain.
The outcome we expect is a bunch of PMETs that are imaginative of the future use-cases of this new technology, but also critical and grounded in reality. The graduates can then use their knowledge to create new products, or bring their wealth of newfound expertise to their companies and facilitate upgrades within.
Moving on, there is also a concern that Covid-19 related pressures may be making Digital Transformation (DX) a tad bit rushed these days. A recent report suggested that these hasty measures being implemented may not be future proofed. What’s your take on this issue?
Although some short-term fixes might be a temporary solution to the current issues that many companies are facing, the rapid explosion of ideation and execution of digital transformation to firefight these Covid-19 related pressures have the potential to train companies to be more agile and competitive in the future.
If employers and employees manage to stick together in this pressure-cooker environment and survive this crisis, they will emerge much stronger and be equipped with new skills that will help to propel their company and innovate to become competitive in new ways.
The question of measurement is always mentioned when it comes to decentralized systems, how do you see this in the big picture of the decentralized economy?
Blockchain systems are set to revolutionize supply chain finance systems for corporate networks and fintech systems are also going to reimagine consumer interactions in the B2B and B2C environments. How does this all play out in your opinion?
My personal view is that decentralization is a means to an end. The goal of decentralization of a blockchain network should be to improve the security and reliability of its public ledger.
Only when the network is decentralized to a certain degree, companies will be confident to put their business logic on the network. But, fundamentally there also needs to be significant benefits for companies to utilize blockchains, else decentralization would be a moot point.
Amongst the most cited reasons are cost-savings, more efficient regulatory compliance, composability of the ecosystem, and transparency for consumers. These will definitely play out well for consumers if they can enjoy the aforementioned benefits and observe measurable impact.
Finally, the Covid19 crisis has made the need for a decentralized economy even more pertinent. A widespread adoption of decentralized, peer to peer lending could definitely re-imagine the overwhelming need for capital. Crowdfunding capital could also be on the cards.
It is said that during trying times such as this, blockchain systems can provide efficiency, trust and transparency through decentralization and disintermediation to build more robust economies. What’s your opinion on all this?
Peer-to-peer lending using blockchain as the trust network is interesting, but not yet as functional as it could be. Thus far, lending on-chain is over-collateralized and you are lending to yourself in order to build a leveraged position in your margin trading profile. Therefore, I feel the current lending facilities are not useful to the wider economy.
However, there are new emerging ideas which might change the game. One example would be that depositors can now “delegate” their credit lines after putting up the over-collaterals in the Aave protocol, and enter into a real legal agreement via OpenLaw protocol before lending someone else money.
This creates a useful loan where the borrower can use the sum for purposes other than leverage. Another new idea is the advent of on-chain identity systems, which could allow for on-chain credit ratings and therefore under-collateralized loans. These new ideas will profoundly change the nature of loans towards more useful outputs that can eventually generate growth in the economy.
We are still in the early stages of innovation within this Open Finance world, and there is a need for concrete custom infrastructure, so that we can realize ways to strengthen accessibility of global financial services, and level the playing field within traditional financing and banking.
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Anil started his career in journalism all the way back in 2003. After traversing the sphere of editorial, corporate communications and advertising, he has now come full circle and is back in the world of journalism. He believes in the power of the written word, and its ability to enthrall, delight and inform the reader.
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