StarkWare, the Israeli-based company behind the popular Ethereum layer-2 network StarkNet and scalability engine StarkEx, has announced a plan to harness zero-knowledge rollups to massively increase the capabilities of Bitcoin as well. As part of its commitment to this vision, the company announced on Tuesday a $1 million research and development fund to make it happen.

“Bitcoin today is mighty, but still a fraction of what it can be—I want to see the full works," StarkWare CEO and co-founder Eli Ben-Sasson said in a prepared statement. “Scale Bitcoin and we unleash blockchain’s power to transform the world.”

The foundation of the Bitcoin- and Ethereum-scaling solution will be StarkNet, already established as a permissionless, decentralized rollup for Ethereum. Rollups bundle hundreds of thousands of transactions together off-chain and then verify them on-chain for a fraction of the cost.

Key to moving forward is a pending proposal to restore a Bitcoin blockchain command known as OP_CAT, which would allow developers to set conditions under which Bitcoin can later be spent—leading to solutions for automated payments, reversible transactions, and other features that are available via smart contracts on other blockchains.


“We’re supporting OP_CAT because we believe Bitcoin should play a more central role in society and we believe that the OP_CAT Bitcoin soft fork is the safest path for Bitcoin to scale, notably enabling STARK and rollups,” Ben-Sasson said.

With that capability in place, he says the same mass scalability of Ethereum can be brought to the world's most established blockchain, while still retaining the spirit of its pseudonymous creator Satoshi Nakamoto.

“The STARK cryptography we are proposing can deliver everything Satoshi envisioned, including the cheap everyday micro-payments discussed in the Bitcoin White Paper,” Ben-Sasson said. “This must happen in a manner that is loyal to Satoshi’s original vision, and the only way to get there is with cryptography that upholds all of Satoshi’s values—trustlesness, decentralization and more.”

StarkNet, which touts an $8 billion valuation from its most recent investment round, announced that it began testing zero-knowledge proofs on Bitcoin last March, after committing to making its technology available under an open-source license


Although StarkWare has historically focused on Ethereum, Ben-Sasson says they are chain agnostic.

“StarkWare is often mistaken for being an Ethereum maxi, though actually we are scaling maxis,” Ben-Sasson said.

StarkWare notes that Ben-Sasson presented so-called STARK scaling at a Bitcoin conference in 2013—before founding StarkWare, or even the emergence of the term STARK, which stands for Scalable Transparent ARgument of Knowledge.

At the time, the company said, Bitcoin couldn't support STARKs, but Ethereum could. Now, between the Bitcoin Taproot upgrade in 2021 and the OP_CAT proposal, “Bitcoin is now primed for scaling.”

“Applications for anything and everything will be deployable over Bitcoin, something that is impossible today,” Ben-Sasson said.

In addition to the $1 million grant fund and aligning behind the OP_CAT proposal, StarkWare says it will prepare “ready-to-roll practical plans for deploying STARK scaling on Bitcoin,” based on the established success of its Ethereum implementation. There will also be a public repository of OP_CAT-based code, demonstrating its possible uses.

Ben-Sasson said crypto is “a source of good,” and that by committing to Bitcoin scaling, StarkNet can deliver “far more than the bandwidth needed” to reach and help everyone.

“I left academia because I’m convinced that crypto can clean up the digital world and finance,” Ben-Sasson wrote in Tuesday's announcement. “It can deliver integrity to money and rebalance power in our society, taking it away from big tech and restoring it to sovereign individuals.”


“To me, no such vision is complete without scaling the chain that started this great project,” he continued. “Scale Bitcoin and we unleash blockchain’s power to transform the world.”

Edited by Stacy Elliott.

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