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Arry Yu, now chair of the Washington Technology Industry Association’s Cascadia Blockchain Council, speaks at the 2018 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

A new business accelerator focusing on blockchain startups has kicked off in Seattle with support from the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) and the Canadian government, signaling that interest isn’t fading in a technology most closely associated with unregulated financial speculation on cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

The five startups participating in the Canadian Blockchain Market Accelerator all hail from the U.S.’s northern neighbor and are working on enterprise applications of blockchain, a database technology that has been in use for over a decade.

The WTIA’s Cascadia Blockchain Council and Global Affairs Canada, a department of the Canadian government that promotes international trade, partnered to organize the program, which began in mid-January and will finish in the second half of March.

“The more we can have these conversations across borders, sectors, the better it is for all of us,” said Arry Yu, the Chair of the Cascadia Blockchain Council. “Reaching across the border into Canada is the way of the future and we need more folks working together.”

The characteristics of blockchain that make it useful for creating decentralized digital money can also be applied to enterprise applications, such as digital identity and supply chain management. Software giants such as Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM already offer their customers blockchain-based products integrated into their cloud services.

Here are the five companies taking part in the accelerator:

  • Virgil Systems, Toronto, specializes in reliable data transmission in challenging situations.
  • TerraHub, Calgary, makes technology that verifies commercial, safety and environmental information in real time.
  • Mavennet Systems, Inc., Toronto, offers enterprise blockchain solutions.
  • MetaDigital, Inc., Toronto, healthcare claims fraud solutions.
  • BlokSec Technologies, Oshwa, Ontario, digital identity and authentication services.

All five of the companies already have customers. They were jointly selected by Global Affairs Canada and the WTIA. The accelerator is designed to connect the Canadian startups with Seattle-area firms, in or out of the tech industry, who could become their customers and business partners, said Nick Ellingson, director of products and startup ambassador at WTIA.

“The goal of the program is that upon completion, the participants should know whether they want to start focusing on Washington state as a place to grow. We’re hopeful that things like pilot projects could come out of it,” Ellingson said.

During the program, they will receive legal advice from the law firm Perkins Coie, as well as mentoring and coaching from members of the Seattle tech community. The accelerator will largely operate remotely, with the startups set to visit Seattle twice during its run, including a demo day on March 19, where they will pitch themselves to the public and investors

The five companies are either bootstrapped or in the seed stage of funding. The companies aren’t funding themselves using cryptocurrency-based online crowdsourcing, though that has been a popular method in the past for blockchain startups.

The Cascadia Blockchain Council was started at the initiative of Yu, who is also an investor in cryptocurrency and blockchain companies through her company Yellow Umbrella Ventures.

In mid-January, she and other members of the Cascadia Blockchain Council made a trip to Olympia at the invitation of Republic State Sen. Sharon Brown, who is sponsoring legislation that would establish a governmental blockchain working group. If it’s passed into law, state lawmakers, officials, and industry representatives would examine potential applications for blockchain technology and make public policy recommendations about the technology.

Sen. Brown, who is a member of the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee, told radio station 610 KONA in January that she saw opportunities for the state government to use blockchain for use cases such as storing educational credentials for job seekers or tracking the food supply and preventing outbreaks of contamination.

Yu, who is planning to return to Olympia again this week, is hopeful that the accelerator will help to establish Washington state as a leader in blockchain.

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