RISC Zero raises $40 million to bring in-the-weeds cryptography to regular developers

Advocates of zero-knowledge proofs, a cryptographic technique first outlined in 1985, envision a future where we can prove that we know our Social Security number without revealing the nine-digit code or verify—with one click—that hospitals correctly billed our health insurers.

Among crypto enthusiasts, the technique has generated its fair share of buzz, and the startup RISC Zero announced on Wednesday that it had raised $40 million to help developers quickly generate zero-knowledge proofs for most forms of computation.

Blockchain Capital led the Series A round, with participation from Galaxy Digital, Alchemy Ventures, Fenbushi Capital, Delphi Digital, among others. Brian Retford, cofounder and CEO of RISC Zero, declined to provide the company’s implied valuation. The $40 million joins the $12 million the startup raised in a seed round in August 2022 led by Bain Capital Crypto.

“Imagine a world where data privacy, security, and trust are no longer concerns, where software supply chains are transparent and verifiable,” Bart Stephens, founder and managing partner at Blockchain Capital, said in a statement. “This is the promise of zero-knowledge computing and the reason we are investing in RISC Zero.” 

RISC Zero’s additional capital raise follows a recent rush of funding for firms that specialize in zero-knowledge proofs to make most blockchains, which are essentially slow, decentralized computers, faster and able to do larger computations.

Retford and his two cofounders—Frank Laub and Jeremy Bruestle, an “autodidact, reads-math-papers-to-go-to-bed-at-night kind of person”—are not new to the world of Silicon Valley and venture-backed tech.

With RISC Zero, the three have now launched three startups. They sold their last one, which was A.I.-focused, to Intel, Retford told Fortune.

After the sale to Intel was coming to a close, Bruestle continued to harp on the potential of zero-knowledge proofs, which have two main advantages: the ability to prove you know something without revealing what you know and the ability to prove something true without the need to parse each and every statement.

“Everything that’s ever happened in the history of the universe could be compressed potentially into one of these little computational proofs,” said Retford.

After a fair amount of research, the three cofounders launched their latest startup. For most lay developers, zero-knowledge proofs are incredibly difficult to build. To design a proof from scratch, for example, “you’d have to learn a whole lot of theory,” Retford told Fortune.

RISC Zero has developed a platform, according to Retford, to remove that roadblock for developers and allow programmers who don’t have degrees in cryptography to spin up zero-knowledge proofs much more easily.

So far, his startup has generated a fair amount of interest from crypto firms, and, he said, they’re even in talks with some more “traditional” companies. With 35 employees, Retford says that RISC Zero plans to use its new stash of capital to build out its marketing and sales units.

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