Sharon Goldberg and Ethan Heilman highlighted in Boston Globe article

The Boston Globe recently published an article on Professor Sharon Goldberg’s new start-up company, Arwen, co-founded with her PhD student Ethan Heilman. Included is some of the article below:

DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF
Photo credit: DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF

“We’re in the early days,” says Arwen CEO Sharon Goldberg. “But let’s go back to 1999 and using credit cards on the Internet. Nobody wanted to put their credit card number into a website. But you do today, because you trust the encryption. You see that little lock in your browser.”

Goldberg is taking a sabbatical from teaching to build the company, which has eight employees and earlier this month moved out of Underscore’s space into its own office.

She points out that cryptocurrency is designed to be a “decentralized” system — there’s no central bank regulating how much of it there is, just software code running on computers. Yet if you want to exchange one kind of cryptocurrency for another, or turn cryptocurrency into dollars or yen, you need to entrust that transaction to a centralized exchange. “Centralized exchanges are the way to trade this decentralized currency,” Goldberg says. “It’s strange.”

So Arwen is creating a layer of technology that would enable you to convert one currency into another securely, even if the exchange gets hacked or goes offline in the middle of a trade. Arwen’s technology is based on something called an “atomic swap,” which Goldberg explains using the metaphor of a briefcase full of cash. If two people intend to swap briefcases filled with two different kinds of currency, the risk is that you hand your briefcase to the other person and they run off. An atomic swap ensures that each person get the other person’s briefcase, even if the other person tries to split.

Late last month, Arwen launched a “sandbox” environment for demonstrating the technology, and Goldberg says the company is talking with prospective customers. “The majority of our customer calls are outside of the US,” Goldberg says. “In Japan, for instance, there are just a massive number of companies creating ways to buy cryptocurrencies.”

Why is the United States behind? “Regulation is stronger here, and other institutions are more trustworthy,” she says.

Arwen is working on “an important problem” and it could prove “a key missing piece needed to get wider adoption of crypto assets as a real investment asset class,” says Drew Volpe of Boston-based First Star Ventures.

From “Their goal: make cryptocurrency less scary” by Scott Kirsner of the Boston Globe, published Feb. 10, 2019. Link to original article here.

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