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Nillion raises over $20 million to build new web3 infrastructure

Nillion, a web3 startup aiming to build a non-blockchain decentralized network, closed an oversubscribed round of more than $20 million, the company exclusively told TechCrunch.

“Nillion is a deep technology infrastructure project,” Andrew Yeoh, the company’s founding chief marketing officer, told TechCrunch. “While blockchains decentralize finance, Nillion aims to decentralize everything else and the rest of data.”

The startup aims to provide a new internet infrastructure for securing storage and data computation. “Companies and competitors can collaborate without passing on key information,” Yeoh said.

Its decentralized network utilizes Nil Message Compute (NMC), a mathematical development that was created by the team’s chief scientist, Miguel de Vega. (In its white paper, the company calls NMC a "new cryptographic primitive," which translates loosely to "new way of storing and securing stuff.")

While Nillion’s model is not blockchain-based, it does have a decentralized component to it, meaning that it falls under the larger web3 banner by TechCrunch’s reckoning. It can be thought of as a way to provide decentralized computing power, more generally; the group’s early writings indicate that it will have a token in the future.

“Nillion allows for very fast computations of secured data and storage of that data that you can’t do with the blockchain,” Yeoh said. “We look at it as opening up an entirely new universe of web3 use cases that expands the ecosystem significantly.”

The startup was founded in November 2021 and has bootstrapped operations up until this point, with more than 40 employees and no prior funding. The founders include ex-Uber, Indiegogo and Hedera Hashgraph employees, as well as executives from Coinbase and Nike.

The round was led by Distributed Global. Other investors include AU21, Big Brain Holdings, Chapter One, GSR, HashKey, OP Crypto and SALT Fund. There were more than 150 investors who participated in the raise, in a “conscious decision” to prevent concentrated ownership, Nillion CEO Alex Page said in a statement.

“We were at a position where we could have internally funded this for decades, but we wanted to bring in strong strategic investors and a pool of people that could help this thing grow a lot,” Yeoh said. “We were able to raise a fairly significant amount of money in the middle of a bear market. Most of our checks and commitment came in after FTX, which is interesting, and we did it without a deck, which is also interesting.”

In the wake of the crypto bear market and the FTX collapse, Yeoh believes this capital raise points to the industry’s interest in web3 infrastructure and real use cases. “We’re building infrastructure that is inevitable. There’s no way web3 or anything hits the mainstream if they can’t handle private data.”

The capital will be put toward building technology on the network and hiring engineering talent, Yeoh said. To date, Nillion has signed over 30 letters of intent, he added.

“We’ve spoken to decentralized exchanges and applications as well as a couple layer 1 [blockchains] that are interested in handling private data on the blockchains,” Yeoh said. “On the Web2 side, we’ve spoken to AI machine learning companies, invited to speak at Amazon and interestingly enough, we’ve gotten a number of outreach from legal and healthcare companies because they deal with a lot of sensitive data.”

In the short term, Nillion plans to focus on building out and supporting real use cases while launching its network alongside its initial suite of products.

“It’s like having an iPhone in 2007, which was amazing but only really had the camera app, mail app and messaging app,” at the time, Yeoh said.

In two weeks, the startup will have an end-to-end prototype. In 2023, it will turn into a public network and be launched by the end of next year, Yeoh shared. The long-term plan is to “not lose sight” of its mission to solve societal problems and build use cases.