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Introducing Catalyst Natives - How any business can leverage the Cardano innovation engine

As part of the broader Catalyst project, the Catalyst Natives program opens up the potential of blockchain technology to new use cases for everyday businesses of all sizes

10 November 2021 Fernando Sanchez 5 mins read

Introducing Catalyst Natives - How any business can leverage the Cardano innovation engine

We are excited to announce the first Catalyst Natives pilot, as part of Project Catalyst, Cardano’s community-driven innovation engine. Catalyst Natives enables any organization to leverage the crowd’s power to solve business problems and outsource the implementation of solutions. This project opens up the potential of blockchain technology to new use cases for everyday businesses, both large and small.

We’re launching a series of pilots, firstly in conjunction with COTI, an enterprise-grade fintech company that empowers organizations to build their payment solutions. COTI has developed, in partnership with Cardano, a very user-friendly and scalable ada payment solution for the community. As a result, online merchants, from a small hotel in Europe to a big e-commerce website in Asia, can easily accept hundreds or thousands of ada transactions by integrating adaPay into their site.

When asked about the partnership Shahaf Bar-Geffen the CEO of COTI, he said:

We are very excited to be the first company to launch a Catalyst Native fund. As close partners, it is only natural for COTI, IOHK, and Cardano Foundation to collaborate once again to allow teams from all over the world to take part in the adaPay development and participate in our challenge. Finding new innovative ways to enrich adaPay will value not only the Cardano and COTI communities but the entire world by allowing a very wide variety of merchants to accept ada as a payment method.

Project Catalyst

In less than a year, Project Catalyst has grown to become the world’s largest decentralized innovation fund. It is a center for future development and sustainable innovation, driven by the Cardano community, for the Cardano community. In this initial pilot of Catalyst Natives, we are opening the gateway to organizations outside of the Cardano ecosystem to harness the transformative power of the Project Catalyst innovation engine.

At each funding round, Project Catalyst has presented several challenges for the community to collaborate on and deliver solutions. Now, with the launch of Fund 7, there is $8m worth of ada available, 80% of which is set aside for project funding and 20% is available for rewards incentives for voters and community advisors. Fund 7 consists of 24 challenges, 21 of those challenges were proposed by and voted for by the community, two challenges were proposed by IOG, and the Catalyst natives pilot in collaboration with COTI. The Catalyst community votes on the presented solutions and the winners of that vote receive funding to complete their projects.

Catalyst Natives

Catalyst Natives extends access to Project Catalyst functionality like the Cardano native tokens feature extends the range of tokens on the Cardano blockchain.

With the introduction of Catalyst Natives, organizations outside of the Cardano/Catalyst ecosystem can also present challenges and offer incentives and rewards to those who successfully meet the challenge with their proposed innovations.

In this pilot, COTI offers an innovative technical challenge to our communities. All small and medium enterprises currently using platforms such as Shopify and WooCommerce will be able to benefit from new and creative ways to accept ada payments with seamless integration by adding a plug-in to their site.

Following the pilot, we will be opening Catalyst Natives to receive further challenges from other external organizations, these challenges in the initial phase will be curated by IOG to ensure they add value to the wider Cardano ecosystem. Organizations submitting challenges through Natives will provide the funding for those proposals, meaning that Catalyst Natives do not use the Cardano Treasury funding to pay for the successfully voted-for projects. In Fund 7, COTI provides $100k worth of COTI tokens plus costs, which is over and above the existing $8 million ada fund.

Catalyst Natives is a fantastic proposition for organizations of all shapes and sizes to gain access to a veritable trove of ideas and to those with the skills to realize them. Catalyst Natives is currently looking to help partners and native asset token projects in the Cardano ecosystem address specific pain points that they either do not have the resources to resolve or simply do not have a solution for, and outsource them as Catalyst challenges for proposers to address.

As the future rolls toward us at an ever-increasing pace, organizations must adapt to constantly changing market conditions and systems like Catalyst may pave the way for disruption in how people collaborate and make decisions beyond the Cardano community. Emerging markets make planning exceptionally challenging. This uncertainty is why the ability to tap into a think tank as and when needed and outsource implementation is highly valuable and may be the differentiating factor in competitive market spaces.

How to apply to Catalyst Natives

Do you have a specific business problem and would like to take part in the next Catalyst Natives pilot? Please apply here and take the next steps towards accessing untapped potential.

Where to find out more about Project Catalyst?

  • Catalyst Newsletter
  • Catalyst Announcements Channel
  • Catalyst Community Chat
  • Catalyst Fund 7 Launch Guide
  • Browse Projects
Tim Richmond, communications manager at IOG, also contributed to this article.

Empowering a new generation of innovators in Ghana

Our education mission continues with a new Haskell course for an initial cohort of 80 student developers in Ghana to create blockchain solutions

5 November 2021 Fernando Sanchez 4 mins read

Empowering a new generation of innovators in Ghana

As part of our commitment to global outreach, and to foster the adoption of blockchain technology worldwide, we are announcing the launch of a Haskell programming course in Ghana.

Eighty students will benefit from this educational program, which will teach them the necessary skills to create projects and build applications to transform local industries using blockchain.

Blockchain as a driving force for technological advancement

Haskell, named after American mathematician Haskell Curry, is a functional programming language that emphasizes the use of “pure” functions where possible. That is, functions that always give the same result for the same input. This is particularly relevant for systems that require high-assurance code (such as blockchain) and programs that require a high degree of formal verification. This is specifically why Cardano was built with Haskell.

The upcoming course will offer students the opportunity to learn functional programming techniques, and how to build smart contract applications. This course aims to support the development of a new generation of Ghanaian innovators, empowered to create blockchain solutions to address some of the challenges faced by their country. This cohort of blockchain-skilled individuals will have the necessary technical knowledge to create applications for industries as diverse as finance, the arts, and the music world.

This course couldn't come at a more timely moment for the country. Ghana is currently driving the digitization of some of its key economic areas. Bank of Ghana, for example, is working towards the development of a blockchain-based digital currency. The skills taught in this course will become a key asset for the next generation of technological leaders, who will be able to make a significant contribution to Ghana's digital innovation.

Lars Brünjes, IOG's Director of Education, will teach the course, as he did before in other locations. “The previous Haskell courses in Athens, Barbados, Ethiopia, and (virtually) in Mongolia have all been very successful and great experiences for me,” said Lars. “Teaching is never a one-way street: While sharing my knowledge with the students, I enjoy listening to their stories and discovering their own, unique perspectives.”

Where is this course imparted?

The course will be held in Accra, Ghana's capital city and economic and administrative hub, and delivered in collaboration with the Pan-African Tech Foundation (PATF), a non-profit foundation that promotes technological development in Africa. The PATF and IOG will liaise with technology-focused universities and hubs to select the best candidates. As before, students who excel at the course will also have employment opportunities at IOG.

Lars added “I love the concept of these courses: The students are passionate about solving the unique problems of their countries, and we give them the necessary tools to achieve this. We gain bright young people with invaluable local knowledge, and they get the opportunity to work at the forefront of technology while never having to leave their own countries.”

“Many of my students from previous courses have told me how it was the toughest course they ever did, “ he added. “But also how it changed their lives and gave them all they needed to hit the ground running.”

The bottom line

Charles Hoskinson said: “At IO we are committed to empowering citizens to autonomously develop solutions to day-to-day challenges in their own nations, which is why the Haskell training courses are such a fundamental part of our work. “

“We have always taken an academic, research-first approach to blockchain development, so Haskell was our choice of programming language for our industry-leading green blockchain platform, Cardano. With a generation of innovative tech leaders in Ghana capable of using such a secure and robust programming language, we could see transformative applications built which shape the tech landscape in Ghana for decades to come.

This course perfectly aligns with that vision, with IOG’s endeavor to make education more accessible, affordable, and equitable across Africa, and with Cardano's overall mission to become the world's financial system. Cardano is about promoting inclusion and fairness through sustainable technological advancement.

Lars perfectly illustrates this concept, and shows how these courses align with Cardano's vision:

“We all want to make the world a better place, and these courses allow me to do this in my own little way. Education and knowledge open so many doors, and I feel grateful and blessed for the opportunity to make a difference by sharing my knowledge.”

Plutus Application Backend (PAB): supporting DApp development on Cardano

The PAB provides the components and an environment to help developers create and test DApps, before deploying them to a live production environment

28 October 2021 Fernando Sanchez 6 mins read

Plutus Application Backend (PAB): supporting DApp development on Cardano

The Alonzo protocol upgrade introduced Plutus – a platform that provides a native smart contract language along with the necessary infrastructure and tools to support smart contracts on Cardano. The Plutus platform enables developers to write decentralized applications (DApps) with scripting capabilities that interact with distributed ledgers.

To understand Plutus, one has to recognize three concepts:

  • The Extended Unspent Transaction Output (EUTXO) model
  • Plutus Core ‒ the ‘on-chain’ part of Plutus
  • The Plutus Application Framework (PAF) ‒ Plutus contracts consist of parts that run on the blockchain (on-chain code) and parts that run on a user’s machine (off-chain or client code)

Both the on-chain and off-chain code are written in Haskell, and Plutus smart contracts are effectively Haskell programs.

What is the Plutus Application Backend?

In a previous blog post, we discussed the on- and off-chain functionality of core components of Plutus in greater detail. Here, let’s dive deeper into Plutus off-chain capabilities and take a look at the Plutus Application Backend (PAB).

In the UTXO model, we have off-chain infrastructure that builds the transactions that move the apps along. This off-chain infrastructure is quite complicated because it needs to look at the ledger state, pick some information from the ledger, and put it all together to build a transaction with the right pieces of data in the right place. The PAB is a single Haskell library that makes it easier to write this off-chain infrastructure and the on-chain scripts.

The PAB helps with building the UTXO transactions in two ways:

  • The read path - That is, getting information from the chain, and reacting to events that happen on the blockchain. The read path is currently working on the testnet
  • The write path - This is where we actually construct the transactions that run the Plutus scripts

The role of the PAB

The PAB is a key component of the Plutus Application Framework (PAF) that enables developers to create and test DApps locally, before deploying them to a live production environment. A little like the Marlowe Playground provides a sandbox for devs to create and test financial smart contracts, the PAB offers a similar environment for devs to create and test full DApps.

The PAB is an off-chain, backend service for managing and handling the requirements of the application instance throughout its lifecycle. This includes interaction with external clients (such as wallet frontends) and acts as an intermediary between Plutus Applications, the node, the wallet backend, and end-users. Such interaction is made possible by PAB commands and mock components that enable convenient simulations and integration of DApps.

While not a prerequisite for DApp creation or implementation – some developers are creating their own tools and indeed API-based alternatives are being worked on by the community – the PAB removes the need for developers to create their own infrastructure from scratch (including chain index, etc.) reducing development time and resources needed. It allows developers to simulate how an application would behave on-chain for prior testing and error elimination, to ensure a flawless transition for launch.

The purpose of the PAB is to:

  • provide a standardized environment for Plutus applications to run in
  • present discoverable interfaces to the external clients
  • track on-chain information for smart contract uses
  • allow the developer to work in an emulated or non-emulated environment

The PAB can switch between emulated and non-emulated (real network) environments seamlessly. This makes it easier to write all kinds of different tests – unit tests, integration tests, property based tests, etc. The PAB allows DApps to easily communicate with it as the backend can receive and deliver messages. Thus, the DApp can send usual requests to endpoints that the PAB has exposed, and which correspond to actions and operations that any particular smart contract is capable of handling.

Applications deployed using the framework’s libraries can run on the PAB, which provides runtime support for access to the blockchain to further perform smart contract operations triggering transactions based on the EUTXO model. Additionally, PAB features functionality for persistence, logging, and monitoring.

Where are we right now?

Earlier this summer, we deployed the first in a series of color-coded testnets to bring core Plutus smart contract capability to Cardano. This was deployed on mainnet via the ‘Alonzo’ hard fork. Smart contract capability is currently accessible using a Command Line Interface (CLI). While the first simple smart contracts were enabled on mainnet in early September, this was always the first stage in the road to DApp deployment on mainnet.

Developers have meanwhile been working on their DApps (many via the PAB) locally while testing any core smart contract functionality on the testnet. These elements need to come together before an DApp hits mainnet and this takes time. Once the PAB is integrated with the node and other core components such as the wallet back end (WBE) connector, developers will be able to move their DApps into a state of readiness and bring them to the Cardano testnet prior to mainnet launch.

These early applications built locally will then be able to interact with the mainnet as intended. The ‘mockchain’ approach to development to date means that for DApp creators, it will be a smooth transition from testnet to mainnet. All it takes is a change in the configuration files to start the PAB, it requires no changes to the actual code or to the Haskell code. This integration work is complex and a critical part of Cardano infrastructure so we need to ensure it is done correctly. We’re continuing to work on the final integrations and based on the current trajectory, we plan to deliver the integration in November, assuming we don’t encounter any critical issues.

Looking ahead

This is just the start. As always, this will be an iterative process. With the evolution of the Plutus platform, we will be inviting the developer community to deploy their own tooling and create off-chain code for their DApps running on Cardano. We have already seen a hive of activity in this area, through both the Alonzo testnet program and Project Catalyst. So while we test the platform with our engineers/QA and the developer community, we’ll be making gradual improvements and adding more capabilities and functionality. The goal? From the Alonzo hardfork and the arrival of Plutus smart contracts, a rapid scaling of the developer experience, with new tools, APIs and environments to support an already burgeoning ecosystem of talent.

For regular updates make sure you follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel. For an overview of projects #BuildingOnCardano be sure to check out the Essential Cardano repo.

Building on the Cardano Summit

As well as a showcase for all things Cardano, the summit weekend also provided a platform for working with our growing developer community

12 October 2021 Fernando Sanchez 6 mins read

Building on the Cardano Summit

The recent two-day Cardano Summit offered the perfect opportunity to interact with the global developer community. This landmark event became the stage where Cardano, its partners, and developers came together to form a synergistic whole of creativity and interaction. This collaboration yielded some impressive results.

IOG teams organized, or were closely involved with coding challenges and hackathons that served to showcase the evolving potential of Cardano for hosting decentralized applications (DApps) and smart contracts. We learned a lot from these experiences, and had a lot of fun doing it.

Two particular events stand out: the Plutus Capstone Challenge, which was organized and hosted by IOG (special hat tip to the IO community team’s Matthew Capps for his efforts), and the WyoHackathon, an event that ran concurrently to the Cardano Summit. IOG teams helped organize some of the challenge categories at this event, with IOG's Hernán Rajchert and Pablo Lamela acting as judges.

Plutus Capstone Challenge

Cardano has reached many milestones in recent months, including the delivery of a ‘programmable’ mainnet and smart contracts with the Alonzo hard fork.

A new development ecosystem is now emerging, with the Plutus Pioneer program as one of its cornerstone community initiatives. Two cohorts have graduated since the program's launch in early March 2021, with over three thousand taking this valuable primer in Plutus and functional programming.

As well as a celebration of the journey so far, we wanted to use the Cardano Summit to recognize our Plutus Pioneers and Plutus developer partners and offer them the chance to showcase their skills with a ‘capstone’ event.

Our Summit Capstone event brought together developers from around the world to solve coding challenges. The challenges were specifically chosen to provide tools that the whole community could use to help them build Plutus decentralized applications (DApps), a chain index explorer, for example. The event consisted of a per-region 8-hour period, following the sun from Asia-Pacific, through Europe, and to the United States. The event ended as the sun set on Saturday.

About the event

For each region, a team of experienced Plutus engineers from IOG and five partner companies mentored the participants. We kept the Capstone deliberately low-key and informal – a learning experience, and ‘testbed’ for future events. Still, participants were eager and took the challenges seriously. In particular, the IOG team was struck by the attendees’ desire to work together and invest longer than the allotted time in working out complex solutions.

We received very positive feedback on the communication and organization of the event itself, and especially on the quality of support provided by the Plutus experts at IOG, Metalamp, MLabs, Obsidian, and DQuadrant. Three of our mentors were graduates from a 2020 Haskell training course by Dr. Lars Brünjes. It’s fantastic to see this positive evolution, as these graduates have now reached a stage where they are able to help developers build Plutus applications. We also saw the beginning of the use of Cardano Stack Exchange, with problems being posted, soon followed by solutions.

By the end of the event, teams of pioneers had made 16 polished submissions, reasoning about and attempting to solve challenges. These included NFT-authentication for DApps, distribution tools for Cardano-API wallet-funds, designing a trinket-to-gold ‘smelter’ game for concurrency, and many others.

Apart from the satisfaction of bringing Cardano developers together in this celebration of our budding Plutus community, the enthusiasm and positive uptake of this foundational coding challenge encourages us to run more in the future. We plan to extend competition periods, include team events, and turn on event marketing to bring the whole developer ecosystem into the fun.

The winners

This Plutus Pioneer Capstone brought together Pioneers, our partners, and our IOG teams in a synergistic effort that really paid off.

The winners of the Capstone event 2021 were, by region:

APAC Asia Region

  • NFT Authentication Tool, by ganesh#9022 - $5,000 prize

EMEA Europe Region

  • Cardano-CLI Wallet Test Tool, by domy2018developer#8139 - $2,000 prize
  • Cardano-CLI Transaction Editor, by #Titan-c#2872 - $1,000 prize
  • Cardano-CLI Integration Testing toolkit, by flippy#1542 - $500 prize
  • "Tokenomia" - Native Tokens Toolbox, by Nicolas Henin [Smart Chain]#7822 - $500 prize

USA Region

  • Win-win Dispute Resolution Application, by mks#4918 - $5,000 prize
  • PiggyBank Savings Application, by eponymousEli#4492 - $3,000 prize

It was a great start to IOG’s plans for similar events over the coming months. Congratulations to all the winners and thanks to everyone who took part.

WyoHackathon 2021

Meanwhile in Laramie, Wyoming, there was a weekend event that ran from 6pm on Friday September 24th to 9am on Sunday September 26th, with people taking part live from the University of Wyoming, or online from anywhere in the world using Discord and submitting their entries through DevPost. Representatives from IOG contributed to the event by helping with some challenge categories and acting as judges.

The WyoHackathon featured several categories, with 140 participants and 20 submissions registered in total.

The IOG team helped to organize two Marlowe-related categories.

  • Marlowe contracts - Find existing financial agreements that could be modeled as Marlowe contracts and develop them inside the Marlowe Playground
  • Marlowe future - Envision how you might modify the various components of the Marlowe Suite

Prizes

There were five submissions to the Marlowe categories, and the prizes were distributed as follows.

The winning entries for the Marlowe contracts category were:

  • #1 ($5,000 prize) - Pass through billing - Considers the scenario where a vendor resells or lends a product to a client and takes a commission depending on whether there is a dispute.
  • #2 ($2,000 prize) - Pizza delivery - A contract that gives a partial (or full) refund, depending on how late the delivery was. The implementation only asked the client, so it didn’t consider the possibility of a malicious client.
  • #3 ($1,000 prize) - Turing toil - Uses a hypothetical oracle that returns muscle strength to incentivize two gym buddies to motivate them and motivate each other.

There was just one winning entry for the Marlowe future category:

  • #1 ($1,000 prize) - Company Merger - Takes stocks from two different companies and combines them, considering the value of the original stocks according to a hypothetical oracle.

We would also like to thank Colin Hobbins from the Plutus engineering team for participating on-site on the presentation of the Hackathon, and Kegan McIlwain and Stone Olguin for supporting participants on-site and over Discord.

Speaking about the event, IOHK researcher and developer Pablo Lamela said 'It was very refreshing to see how original all the submissions were. I think this kind of insight will help us know how to make Marlowe even better and more useful for users.'

Conclusion

The Capstone event confirmed that there is great interest in Cardano amongst the developer community following the Alonzo update. Cardano is now a versatile, scalable platform that supports DApps and smart contracts, something that has been warmly welcomed by the wider community.

The Summit was just a 48 hours-long event, but that doesn't mean that our close collaboration with the community ends there. Quite the opposite. We will continue developing and expanding Cardano's features over the coming weeks and months, providing the developer community with the required tools and support to interact with our ecosystem.

Catch up on all the announcements and sessions from the Cardano Summit 2021 website and IOG’s Twitter.

Acuant's new strategic partnership with IOG and Atala PRISM to offer enhanced security in the DeFi space

New capability will eliminate bad actors and strengthen security by offering fraud prevention and anti-money laundering technology

29 September 2021 Fernando Sanchez 3 mins read

Acuant's new strategic partnership with IOG and Atala PRISM to offer enhanced security in the DeFi space

During the Cardano Summit, we announced a new strategic partnership between IOG and Acuant, an identity verification, document authentication, and fraud prevention technology services provider. Its goal? To create a safer decentralized finance (DeFi) environment with Atala PRISM, IOG's decentralized identity platform.

This deal has been forged in response to evolving regulatory requirements for blockchain-based finance and identity platforms. Many regulatory bodies now require that blockchain projects can prove a user’s identity and ensure that malicious actors are kept out. The integration with IOG's platform will mean that Atala PRISM has access to over 300 sanction lists and watch lists. This digital awareness, and the implementation of Know-Your-Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) compliance checks will prevent bad actors from infiltrating the ecosystem.

One of the fundamental principles of digital identity is that individuals should be able to hold the keys to their own identities, rather than be dependent on fragmented and siloed third parties. This is something that both IOG and Acuant are firm believers in. Having a verifiable identity credential could be a game-changer for the 1.7 billion people globally who currently cannot prove their identity. By leveraging blockchain technology to foster financial inclusion, all these people could gain access to vital services like bank accounts, loans, healthcare, and many others.

Partnering with Acuant will allow us to enrich Atala PRISM, and offer a more secure digital ID verification process, ensuring provable identity is available to everyone. The creation of verifiable and secure identity credentials makes ID checks easier and more reliable. Ultimately, all these factors combine to create inherent trust in the system.

Global partners in every major industry

Atala PRISM is built on Cardano, a third-generation proof-of-stake blockchain. Combining Cardano’s provable security, scalability, and speed with Acuant’s market position and regulatory compliance technology creates a feasible alternative to current national identity systems. This opens up financial and social services to billions of underserved sectors of the global population.

Acuant has worked with hundreds of global partners in every major industry and almost in every country and territory in the world. The company has verified billions of identities worldwide for transactions ranging from simple age verification to border-crossing or opening a bank account, and it currently collaborates with almost one hundred blockchain based businesses, including more than 50 digital currency exchanges.

Speaking during the Summit, Jose Caldera, Acuant’s Chief Product Officer, said: “Our trusted identity platform has been built with purpose and serves our mission to power trust for all. We aim to empower our clients with inclusive technology that allows them to execute their vision of providing services to all demographics, even those that may be otherwise financially underserved.”

“This partnership with IOG is so exciting to us,” he continued. “We share the belief in creating technologies that have a positive social impact. The fundamental concepts that are built within the Cardano blockchain align with our principle of democratization of trust.”

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