As we embark on a new decade(!), the Ecosystem Support Program team wanted to speak to some of the recent growth, transition and learning around the program, and share details of our 2019 financial allocations.

What is ESP?

The Ecosystem Support Program (ESP) is the arm of the Ethereum Foundation focused on providing support to teams throughout the Ethereum ecosystem. This includes financial and non-financial support. ESP is an expansion of the Grants program, which previously focused primarily on monetary support.

Improving Our Processes

The 2019 Ethereum Foundation Spring Update first previewed some of our plans for evolving from Grants to ESP. Since that transition, we’ve continued to award straightforward grants, and helped make connections to other potential sources of funding where an EF grant was not a fit. We have also facilitated advice from industry experts, community exposure, access to cloud services and other infrastructure, and more.

Over the last nine months we’ve incorporated feedback to refine our application process and made a number of changes, including:

  • A standardized process for reviewing ESP applications
  • An expanded group of domain experts available to help with peer review of applications, or to advise applicants on their projects
  • Increased focus on providing applicants with 1:1 feedback
  • Worked more closely with accepted projects to create clearer goals, roadmaps, and mutual expectations

Expanding Communications

With these stronger processes in place, we’re making an effort to increase visibility and to attract more high-quality applications. To that end, we’re making some changes to how we communicate, from improving existing channels to adding some shiny new pages to the ESP website.

Some changes are modest, but we hope that they’ll be helpful in both keeping the community informed and better preparing potential applicants. On the front page you can now follow the latest news about ESP and see which events we’ll be participating in, whether virtually or in person following the current and ongoing health crisis.

We’ve added to our FAQ, improved our inquiry forms, and most importantly debuted some new page banners that we think really tie the room together 😎. Keep an eye out for even more additions in the coming months, and regular updates to existing content!

We’ve also added a Wishlist to bring attention to specific areas like security, Eth2, and privacy, where we’d like to see more applications. This list is not a declaration of what’s important to the ecosystem, or even a statement of ESP’s priorities. However, we hope the list serves as inspiration for anyone looking to get involved! As always, we want to strike a balance between demonstrating the range of efforts that ESP supports while also embracing potential contributors working outside of the specific areas we’ve defined.

On the reporting front, we will be publishing regular blog posts to announce new grant recipients, but a grant is only the beginning. Moving forward, we’ll also be highlighting what supported teams go on to accomplish. On the new Featured Projects page, we’ll spotlight projects that are months or years into the work that was enabled by those grants. We’ll also use our blog and expand our use of social media to celebrate grant recipients as they achieve milestones and make progress toward their goals.

Financial Support in 2019

While we worked to improve the Ecosystem Support Program throughout 2019, we continued to support projects across the ecosystem. Awarding grants is only one way that we provide that support. There are many amazing teams that aren’t EF grant recipients, either because they’re already funded or because their particular focus is just not the right fit for EF funding. However, we work to support these vital contributors in whatever way we can (for example, as a bridge to new opportunities or as an amplifier of network effects for their projects).

That said, financial support continues to be a major part of how we support the broader Ethereum ecosystem. Over 70 projects received financial support in 2019. What is listed below details newly distributed grants to teams in 2019. It does not include recurring support, tranches for newly achieved milestones from prior recipients, or funding for other EF teams. For more details on all of the Foundation’s work, we’ll share a 2020 Spring Update in the coming days.

We’re including names and summaries for each funded project below. You can find a searchable spreadsheet including links to learn more about individual projects here.

Ethereum 2.0

Ethereum 2.0 development is in full swing, with many teams working together to make Ethereum more scalable, resilient, secure, and of course introduce Proof of Stake! We’ve helped to fund a diverse bunch of 2.0 clients, as well as efforts toward interoperability, improving reliability and creating developer tooling. In addition to the grants listed below, Ethereum 2.0 work has been supported through recurring funding and other channels.

Eth2 Clients: $1,695,000

Grant Description More Info
Harmony Client Support for the Harmony team to develop a beacon chain client in Java. https://github.com/harmony-dev/beacon-chain-java
Lighthouse Support for Sigma Prime’s continued development of the Lighthouse staking client, written in Rust, for the Ethereum 2.0 network. https://lighthouse.sigmaprime.io/
Nimbus Support for Status’s continued development of the Nimbus client for Ethereum 2.0, designed to perform well on embedded systems and personal mobile devices, including older smartphones with resource-restricted hardware. https://nimbus.team/
Prysm Client Support for Prysmatic Labs’s continued development of the Prysm staking client for the Ethereum 2.0 network written in Go. https://prylabs.net/

Eth2 Tooling & Other: $1,459,000

Grant Description More Info
Academic research on CBC Casper Research by Ryuya Nakamura of University of Tokyo and Dominik Harz of Imperial College London to establish the theoretical foundation of CBC Casper including the analysis of security, performance, and incentives. https://ethresear.ch/u/nrryuya/activity/topics https://eprint.iacr.org/2019/415.pdf https://github.com/LayerXcom/cbc-casper-proof
Beacon Fuzz Differential fuzzer for Phase 0 of Eth2. https://github.com/sigp/beacon-fuzz/
Cryptonext Survey and report on possible approaches to aggregatable post-quantum signatures in Eth2. https://cryptonext-security.com/
Dmitry Khovratovich Cryptoanalysis of the Lengendre PRF and Proof of Custody construction. https://eprint.iacr.org/2019/862.pdf
Herumi Bring the Herumi BLS library in line with the IEFT spec. https://github.com/herumi/mcl
Lodestar Work by Chainsafe on Eth2 light-client R&D within their Lodestar javascript client; as well as continuing to provide support to the Eth2 JS/web-browser ecosystem by developing libraries, tooling, and educational resources. http://github.com/ChainSafe/Lodestar
Nimbus Grant to Status, co-funded with Protocol Labs, to build nim-libp2p, a networking stack in Nim. https://github.com/status-im/nim-libp2p
Runtime Verification Formal verification of the Eth2 Deposit Contract; building the Phase 0 Beacon Chain spec in K Framework for the purposes of formal verification; and formally verifying Accountable Safety and Plausible Liveness against the K Beacon Chain.  
VDF research—hybrid prover Research on the soundness and performance of a hybrid Wesolowski-Pietrzak VDF prover.  
VDF: Number Theory Statement Prove a number theoretic statement which implies an information theoretic lower bound for modular squaring.  
Whiteblock Ethereum 2.0 network testing and testnet/interoperability support: analysis of the libp2p gossipsub implementation, working with implementors to help refine the networking stack and specification, and advancing interoperability efforts. https://whiteblock.io/

Eth 1.x: $487,000

Vital work continues on improving Ethereum as it exists today, with upgrades being worked on by 1.x contributors to help improve Ethereum in the immediate term. Focused upon areas include Stateless Ethereum, improving developer experience, increasing node client diversity, ensuring that running a full node remains sustainable, and preparing a path to the 2.0 rollout. As with Eth2, these are just the allocations that took the form of grants. We’ll share more about other supported efforts - including Geth, additional 1.x and Stateless research, and more in later organizational updates.

Grant Description More Info
Fee Market Working Group Formation of a working group to assess a proposed mechanism to adjust a base network fee based on network demand, in order to improve UX around gas (EIP-1559). https://github.com/vulcanize/EIPs/blob/eip1559/EIPS/eip-1559.md, https://github.com/vulcanize/go-ethereum-EIP1559/commits/master
Generalized EC Precompiles Exploration of generalized elliptic curve precompiles to bring cryptographic functionality desired for privacy and scaling solutions (EIP-1962). https://eips.ethereum.org/EIPS/eip-1962
Görli Supporting work on public Infrastructure and Clique engines for Görli cross-client proof-of-authority Ethereum testnet. https://goerli.net/
Raven Sensors Network monitoring system to help detect attacks and anomalies on Ethereum.  
Turbo-Geth & Stateless Research Ethereum 1.x research and development including Stateless Ethereum, state rent, snapshot sync and Turbo-Geth.  

Layer 2: $1,211,000

Layer 2 solutions enable a wide variety of applications that might otherwise be too expensive, slow, complicated, or just not possible to implement directly on the Ethereum base layer. 2019 was an exciting year during which teams and individuals across the community came together to make huge strides toward making Ethereum more useful and scalable. This work is crucial in the near term, but just as valuable for the future. Eth 2.0 will still benefit from the enhanced privacy, scalability, and flexibility offered by Layer 2.

Grant Description More Info
Connext Aligning Connext payment hubs with generalized State Channel unification project. https://github.com/ConnextProject/indra, https://connext.network
Cryptoeconomics Labs Plasma Chamber, an OVM-inspired, general purpose layer 2 application framework https://www.cryptoeconomicslab.com/
LeapDAO Plasma Leap: a More Viable Plasma design which enables execution of smart contract functionality on plasma using EVM enforcer, a computation verification engine that allows for enforcement of off-chain execution. https://leapdao.org/
Matter Labs Productionizing Plasma Ignis, a SNARK-driven zk-rollup implementation. https://matter-labs.io/
PISA Research General accountable watchtower system for state channels and decentralized finance protocols, which enables parties to hire an accountable service to watch the off-chain protocols and on-chain contracts on their behalf. https://www.pisa.watch/
Plasma Group Research into generalized plasma, Optimistic Rollup, and OVM (Optimistic Virtual Machine). https://plasma.group/
Twitch Plays Pokemon on Plasma Test suite for academic institutions and researchers to test economic and coordination theories of decentralized governance models. flexdapps.com
Unified State Channels A joint grant to Prototypal, Magmo and L4 research aimed at the unification of State Channels efforts. In addition to merging efforts already in progress, contributors worked together to rewrite, optimize and do formal modeling of the underlying protocol; design a demo app; and design a resilient client that provides fund recovery guarantees to users. statechannels.org

Cryptography and Zero Knowledge Proofs: $426,000

There’s more work than ever going into research and development on cryptography and zero knowledge proofs. These efforts strengthen the fundamental building blocks of the protocol, opening up new possibilities for scaling, privacy, and security. 2019 was all about practical steps forward, with tools being built that make advancements more accessible to developers without requiring an advanced understanding cryptography.

Grant Description More Info
AirAssembly Language for encoding Algebraic Intermediate Representation (AIR), making STARK programming more accessible by enabling succinct proofs of computational integrity in zk-STARKS. https://ethresear.ch/t/airassembly-a-low-level-language-for-zk-starks/6419/4
Aztec Cryptographic construction which allows nested composition of a batch of Aztec range proofs inside a zk-SNARK circuit, to enable future development of privacy preserving rollups. https://www.aztecprotocol.com/
Circom A robust and scalable language for complex arithmetic circuit design. https://github.com/iden3/circom
FPGA Snark Prover Improving efficiency of zk-SNARK proof creation by offloading operations to an FPGA (field programmable data array).  
Kestrel Institute ACL2 Ethereum client and AXE equivalence checker to formally verify cryptographic primitives (including MiMC, PiMC, Edison hash, BLAKE2) applicable to various uses of zk-SNARKS. https://www.kestrel.edu/home/projects/fv-of-r1cs/index.html
Legendre PRF Bounty The Legendre PRF (pseudo-random function) is required to enable secret-shared validators using multi-party computations. These bounties encourage more research on key recovery attacks, to increase confidence in using this cryptographic primitive. https://eprint.iacr.org/2019/862.pdf, https://legendreprf.org/bounties
MACI Minimal Anti-Collusion Infrastructure: a collusion resistance scheme that drastically increases the risk involved in buying or selling votes. https://github.com/barryWhiteHat/maci
Platon Validation and implementation of the “Proof of Custody” scheme, which allows secret shared validators via multi-party computation, enabling trustless staking pools as well as redundancy to decrease the risk of getting slashed due to compromised hardware or software. https://github.com/PlatONnetwork/proof_of_custody
Statebox Research into using category theory to turn diagrams, securely and compositionally, into zk-SNARK circuits. www.statebox.org

Developer Experience: $1,322,000

Ethereum opened up a whole new design space for applications. As developers have explored this space, inevitably they’ve discovered new pain points and required new tools. We’re making significant investments in enhancing developer experience on Ethereum, from improving the range of programming languages, software libraries, dev tooling, node infrastructure, decentralized storage, messaging, and more. These advancements enable developers to do more, more easily, so they can focus on their products rather than on building their own custom tooling. Ultimately we want it to be easy - and fun - to build on Ethereum.

Grant Description More Info
Buidler Extending capabilities for Buidler, a task runner for Ethereum smart contract developers. https://buidler.dev/
DeepSEA Research at Yale and Columbia on DeepSEA, a language generating coq proofs to compile formally verified code to the EVM ensuring no bugs are introduced. https://certik.org/deepsea_blockchain.html
Ethereum on ARM Custom Linux images to automatically turn resource constrained devices into full Ethereum nodes. https://github.com/diglos/pi-gen (for ARM32 repository, Raspberry Pi 4 image), https://github.com/diglos/userpatches (for ARM64 repository, NanoPC-T4 and RockPro64 image)
Moon EVM and WASM runtimes for formality language as well as related libraries, documentation and tutorials. https://github.com/moonadhttps://sunshinecybernetics.com/, https://github.com/moonad/Formality/blob/master/DOCUMENTATION.md
NomicLabs Developer experience research, prioritization, and roadmapping. https://nomiclabs.io/
Play Decentralized database for verified Solidity code. https://playproject.io/play-ed/
py-libp2p Capstone project by four University of Pennsylvania seniors to develop a python implementation of libp2p, used by IPFS and Eth2, and accompanying easy-to-use toolsets https://github.com/libp2p/py-libp2p
Shadowlands Framework for building terminal-based Ethereum apps with a text UI, as an alternative to apps with web-based UI. https://github.com/kayagoban/shadowlands
Solhint Continued development and added plugins for Solhint, a tool for linting solidity code to identify bad coding practices. github: https://github.com/protofire/solhint/, Company profile: https://protofire.io
Solidity Coverage Improvements to the solidity-coverage tool, which provides a way for Solidity developers to measure the accuracy of their javascript test suites, receive coverage reporting and more. https://github.com/sc-forks/solidity-coverage
SOLL Second State’s LLVM based compiler, a yul alternative to help transition Solidity to eWASM. https://github.com/second-state/SOLL, https://www.secondstate.io/
Swarm Research and development on Swarm, a decentralized storage solution. https://swarm.ethereum.org/
Tenderly Improvements to Buidler’s console.log functionality. https://tenderly.dev/
Web3J Development and maintenance of the Web3j library in order to provide an improved experience for Java, Android and Kotlin developers. https://blog.web3labs.com/web3j-ethereum-foundation-grant-update, https://www.web3labs.com/web3j, https://github.com/web3j/web3j

User Experience: $213,000

We’re always on the lookout for universal tools and upgrades that reduce friction for the end user without compromising decentralization or any of the other things that make Ethereum special. Addressing common pain points like gas costs, identity management, address readability, and interoperability makes it easier for dapp developers everywhere to onboard users.

Grant Description More Info
Eauth Oauth2 compatible authentication service framework based on Ethereum. https://github.com/pelith/node-eauth-server
ENS Foundation Continuation funding for Ethereum Name Service, decentralized Internet naming infrastructure on Ethereum. https://ens.domains/
Ethereum Wallet SDK Abstraction layer which allows dapp developers to easily integrate with multiple wallets. https://dappsdk.io/
Everest Identity and credential system which allows identity claims such as KYC status to be securely published, shared, and verified on Ethereum Mainnet. https://everest.org
Gas Station Network Meta transactions standard and decentralized network of relay nodes to handle gas fees on behalf of users. https://gasstation.network/
POAP Subsidization of Proof of Attendance Protocol gas costs at Devcon. http://www.poap.xyz

Community and Education: $422,000

Simply put, Ethereum wouldn’t exist without its community and the people that work to grow and enrich our ecosystem. These teams bring people together both in person and online, increase the diversity of our global community, and help to build a universal knowledge base by making educational materials free and available to all.

Grant Description More Info
Chicago Ethereum meetup Local meetup piloting dapps, quadratic voting and other new concepts to expand attendees’ awareness of what Ethereum can do. https://www.meetup.com/chicago-ethereum-meetup/
ETHGlobal Supporting the continued expansion of ETHGlobal hackathons across the world. http://ethglobal.co/
ETHPlanet Supporting the launch of ETHPlanet, a non-profit dedicated to cultivating and growing the worldwide Ethereum community, with an emphasis on Asia. https://www.ethplanet.org/
Haechi Labs “VVISP”, an open-source CLI smart contract development tool that supports convenient development, deployment and testing to shorten the learning curve for new blockchain developers. https://haechi.io/#main
Ironman-Blockchain Tutorials in Mandarin for learning web3.js and Solidity in 30 days. https://blog.ethereum.org/2019/11/14/Announcing-a-Taiwan-specific-Wave/
Kickback Gitcoin grant for bounties to improve Kickback, an Ethereum-first event platform. https://kickback.events/
Onther Inc Development of Tokamak Network, a protocol that supports EVM on plasma. https://github.com/Onther-Tech
Open Teaching Materials Open source materials from an Ethereum DApp Development course at Taipei’s National Chengchi University (NCCU). https://docs.google.com/document/d/16V3HBwE78-vOex58P8s59TMxifhQi85_-whUd1ACd40/edit

Indirect Funding $484,000

A new kind of ecosystem needs new ways of thinking about funding! The Ethereum ecosystem relies on open source developers and independent thinkers to thrive. To this end, we look to support novel ways of funding talented contributors outside the traditional structures of companies and organizations; grants and VCs; contracts and salaries. This category is all about entrusting resources to the community.

Grant Description More Info
Gitcoin Funding for operations, bounties and CLR matching. https://gitcoin.co/
MolochDAO Funding for the launch of MolochDAO in an effort to diversify development funding. https://molochdao.com/
UNICEF ETH and BTC donations to UNICEF’s Crypto-denomintated Fund to support blockchain innovations in the developing world and encourage the use of cryptocurrencies (without converting them into fiat). https://www.unicef.org/

We’re proud of everything our 2019 cohort accomplished, and we’re forging ahead in 2020 with renewed energy and purpose. As always, big thanks to the community for your passion and support, and we look forward to keeping you up to date with the latest from the ESP team! 🦄