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The scientist-turned-entrepreneur is making blockchain technology accessible to both developers and users

With decades of academic research under his belt, Prof. Eli Ben Sasson made the bold leap into the entrepreneurial world by founding Starkware. He envisioned a future where economic interactions occur directly, without intermediaries. Starkware, the company he established, now provides a platform that reduces transaction costs and enhances blockchain bandwidth, aiming to broaden its impact into additional areas

Yoel Tzafrir, in collaboration with ICBW3. 03 September 2023

Uri Kolodny and Eli Ben Sasson
From the right: Uri Kolodny and Eli Ben Sasson | Photo: PR

One common question from the public and novices in discussions about blockchain and cryptocurrency is, 'Can I buy a cup of coffee with it?' Prof. Eli Ben Sasson, the president of Starkware, believes this question is not just valid; it strikes at the heart of what drives scientists like him to make blockchain technology user-friendly—to enable anyone to purchase everyday items like newspapers or coffee through blockchain.

But for Prof. Ben Sasson, simplifying blockchain for daily transactions is part of a larger goal: transitioning to an economy free of centralized intermediaries who hoard and monetize our data. He refers to these intermediaries as 'the club of fat cats guarding the cream.'

He passionately points out that the current economic landscape, shaped over the last 20-30 years, is an abnormal deviation from history. In the recent past, peer-to-peer transactions were commonplace, without the need for a middleman. 'With cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, we have the opportunity to revert to this natural and proper way of conducting transactions between individuals and businesses. It's not only the most efficient method for transferring money but also the best way to manage our economy,' he asserts.

A Tale of Israeli Pride

Captivated by the potential of blockchain in 2013, after two decades of pioneering computer science research, Prof. Ben Sasson's work on the synergy between cryptographic proofs and computing began to take a new direction. His exploration into efficient and 'transparent' cryptographic proofs soon intersected with the burgeoning field of cryptocurrency, marking him as a pioneer in identifying the crucial link between cryptographic proofs and blockchain technology. His innovations led to the development of Zcash, a privacy-focused cryptocurrency.

The pivotal moment in Prof. Ben Sasson's career came in 2018 when he co-founded StarkWare Industries alongside partners, including Uri Kolodny, the company's current CEO. StarkWare introduced STARK technology, propelling blockchain efficiency forward. This venture was grounded in Prof. Ben Sasson's 'zero-knowledge proof' research at the Technion, extending the legacy of eminent mathematicians and computer scientists like Prof. Avi Wigderzon, Shafi Goldwasser, and Noam Nissan, who now serve as the company's scientific advisors.

The founding vision for StarkWare was clear: to reduce blockchain usage costs and empower users to build diverse services atop its technology. Since its inception, StarkWare has surged in momentum, captivating customers and earning investor trust. The technology developed under Prof. Ben Sasson's guidance has securely processed nearly a trillion dollars and minted over a hundred million NFTs.

What makes a scientist leave his comfort zone and move into the dangerous arena of technological entrepreneurship?

"Facing a blank page, I felt a sense of unease, driven by a desire to further embody the ethos of blockchain—a concept to which I deeply connect and in which I strongly believe. I must say, entrepreneurship has turned out to be both fun and fulfilling for me. With all due humility, I believe the technological advancements developed by our company stand shoulder to shoulder in depth and impact with those from other academically born companies, such as Prof. Adi Shamir’s RSA or Prof. Amnon Shashua's Mobileye. To me, this represents a narrative of Israeli pride."


Let's explain to the readers in simple language what you actually do

"Blockchain technology, while secure and innovative, can be costly and slow, somewhat like a high-security, heavily-guarded road that only allows a few cars to pass at a time. Our mission is to make this road cheaper to use and able to handle more traffic at once. We've already made significant progress, reducing the cost of a transaction from $50 to less than a penny. This breakthrough didn't happen overnight—it's the result of years of dedicated work, and we're committed to pushing these improvements even further. Making blockchain more affordable and efficient is crucial for it to live up to its full potential."

Make the technology accessible to the developer community

Since its establishment, Starkware has successfully completed four rounds of fundraising, drawing in investors who align with its mission to democratize blockchain technology. The most recent funding round in May 2022 was particularly noteworthy. Despite challenging market conditions, Starkware raised $100 million, reaching an impressive valuation of eight billion dollars, with contributions from leading funds like Sequoia and Paradigm. This followed a November 2021 round where the company secured $50 million, achieving a two billion dollar valuation and entering the prestigious 'unicorn' status. Starkware has grown to employ over 120 people, boasting significant revenues that underline its robust position in the tech landscape.

Starkware operates two main platforms, with StarkEx being the first. For over three years, StarkEx has been actively facilitating daily transactions for end users. Designed as a B2B (business-to-business) solution, it serves a wide range of clients, including notable names like Sorare—a video game company that secured exclusive rights to the NBA league, Australian firms collaborating with the country's central bank, and Visa, which is experimenting with enabling crypto transactions for its customers.

Starknet, Starkware's newer platform, is tailored for developers. It functions as an additional layer on top of Ethereum, leveraging the company's proprietary technology to ensure the integrity and speed of transactions. Prof. Ben Sasson likens it to 'a powerful auxiliary engine for Ethereum,' enabling developers to deploy their code and develop systems efficiently. Starknet stands out as a distributed, open platform with a programming language similar to Rust, earning high praise from the developer community. Among its early adopters are several Israeli firms, including BRAAVOS, which is preparing to introduce a digital wallet for its users. Starknet is poised to broaden access to Starkware's technology for an increasing number of developers.


Prof. Ben Sasson envisions Starknet as a foundational infrastructure that benefits the public and fosters a vibrant ecosystem for Starkware to thrive within. He anticipates that thousands of companies will utilize and contribute to Starknet, similar to how each blockchain has spurred a service economy atop it, offering APIs, storage solutions, and more. Starknet aims to provide services like network operation and pave the way for new business models. 'We are committed to its growth and will continue to innovate on this platform,' Prof. Ben Sasson adds."

A broad human revolution

Prof. Ben Sasson's establishment of public infrastructure underscores his commitment to integrating blockchain technology across all facets of economic and business operations. 'Blockchain technology possesses profound depth and extends far beyond mere payment or business transactions,' he stresses. According to him, its potential is essential for a wide array of applications, including security, organizational oversight, governance, and local government functions.

Aren't you afraid that the regulation will try to narrow your steps?

"Any political efforts to curb blockchain technology and the world of cryptocurrency are destined to fail. Ultimately, technology prevails. History shows us that authorities have always been wary of technological innovations that shift the status quo. Take, for instance, the invention of the printing press—a groundbreaking development that faced severe opposition, with some innovators even facing persecution for printing materials like the Bible. Just as the internet sparked a widespread revolution, blockchain is set to revolutionize numerous aspects of human life. Its economic and social impact is profound and will continue to grow."

In collaboration with ICBW3.


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