There are a few venture capital firms dominating the blockchain industry so far, including Google’s venture capital arm Alphabet, Goldman Sachs, the Digital Currency Group, and Draper Associates. However, one of Amazon’s biggest competitors, the e-commerce giant Overstock, is fast becoming one of the most bullish legacy players in blockchain investing. Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne is reportedly reorganizing the corporation to prioritize blockchain ventures.

Meanwhile Medici Ventures, an Overstock subsidiary strictly focused on investing in blockchain startups, recently led a $2.2 million funding round for the Boston-based voting technology startup Voatz. Medici is focused on projects that relate to capital markets, banking, digital identities, voting, real estate and property. Along those lines, Voatz has already worked with many different types of communities, including labor unions and the Libertarian Party. From town hall elections to budget meetings, 70,000 voters participated in Voatz-powered elections so far.  

“Part of what we are trying to do at Medici is invest in an ecosystem of blockchain companies that are involved in specific industries,” Medici Ventures president Jonathan Johnson told International Business Times. “We think that having a robust voting application will also help our capital markets companies. There’s synergy that they’ll have there.” Johnson has firsthand experience with how inefficient and unreliable the voting process can be. As a resident of Salt Lake City, Utah, he relies mostly on vote-by-mail ballots for local elections.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported hundreds of mailed ballots were rejected in 2017 due to a slew of bureaucratic errors, including late mail and voters who forgot to sign the envelope. Utah’s vote-by-mail turnout was strikingly low, around 18 percent of ballots sent out according to County Clerk Sherrie Swensen. “You had this trusted institution, the country clerks, who made huge mistakes,” Johnson said. “People got ballots who shouldn’t have gotten ballots...Our state auditor did a study of the confidentiality sleeves and found many of the sleeves are see through. So now I’ve lost my secret vote...Never once in my life have I known with certainty if my vote was counted as cast.”

Voting machine 650,000 voter records were found on a voting machine sold on eBay. Photo: kafka4prez/Flickr

This isn’t an isolated issue. Fortune reported 48 states asked the Department of Homeland Security for help fixing security holes and vulnerabilities in the machines used for the 2016 election. People who advocate for a blockchain-based voting system argue it is cheaper, more convenient and offers less opportunities for mistakes along the way. In Australia and Europe, companies such as Horizon State and Waves are exploring similar solutions. Debates about voter fraud could soon become almost irrelevant.  

“With blockchain technology, I can register to vote with biometrics. So I can get the ballot on my smart phone, scan my iris or use my thumbprint,” Johnson said. “Voting on the blockchain is cryptographically secure and anonymous...I can confirm on the system that my vote was counted as cast.” He added the convenience of being able to vote almost anywhere, as long as the registered voter has his or her smartphone, could dramatically increase voter participation. “That’s good for democracy,” he said.

Blockchain voting technology isn’t the only type of innovative Medici is pushing forward in 2018. Overstock also launched the cryptocurrency branch tZero, which will closes its month-long initial coin offering on January 18. These tokens will represent digital assets, such as securities, traded among accredited investors and institutions on through proprietary tZero marketplace. As a policy, Medici does not invest directly in tokens. This is partially because the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issued repeated warnings that some cryptocurrency projects may be offering unregulated securities. Instead of buying tokens, Medici invests through equity.

“We are waiting to see how the regulatory landscape plays out. We think that a lot of the tokens out there that have claimed to be utility tokens will probably be deemed securities, and as such subject to SEC regulation,” Johnson said. “If, like we think, many of the tokens are ultimately securities and the SEC is going to rule that way, then they are going to need to trade on an SEC sanctioned exchange. And that doesn’t exist today, other than tZero.” The tZero ICO raised $100 million in the first 12 hours of its presale.

Some of the other cryptocurrency projects Medici has invested in so far include the Latin American fintech startup Ripio, which CoinDesk reported raised $37 million through an ICO, and the Belgian voting startup SettleMint. With less than a dozen blockchain startups in Medici’s portfolio so far, some analysts still overlook Overstock’s growing influence in the space. Yet one unique aspect of Medici’s growth, which mirrors ConsenSys Ventures in the Ethereum community, is a more holistic approach to investing.

Some of the most reputable institutional investors in the cryptocurrency industry, from crypto hedge funds to VC firms, are offering portfolio companies expertise and opportunities for collaboration, not just capital. Experienced blockchain experts are scarce, so this type of support is especially appealing to startups.

“We have a team of around 35 blockchain developers who can build enterprise-grade software. Many of our portfolio companies are taking advantage of the human capital that we offer to jumpstart their technological work, in addition to venture capital,” Johnson said. “The timeline on all these blockchain companies is still yet to be determined...But we’re very bullish on it because we think it’s sound and this the capability to eliminate middle men, in the end of the day it will win the day.”