Polymer Labs secures $23M to bring IBC to Ethereum

Polymer Labs is hoping to bring the Cosmos to Ethereum with its latest interoperability protocol

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Julia Manga/Shutterstock modified by Blockworks

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Polymer Labs, a modular IBC-based networking protocol, has secured a $23 million Series A co-led by Blockchain Capital, Maven 11 and Distributed Global. 

Other investors, including Coinbase Ventures, Placeholder, Digital Currency Group, North Island Ventures and Figment Capital also participated in the round.

Polymer can be described as a modular layer-2 network that employs Cosmos SDK’s IBC protocol, OP stack’s settlement functionality and Eigenlayer’s data availability layer. It is the brainchild of Bo Du and Peter Kim.

After being in the blockchain industry for a few years, the Polymer founders experienced firsthand how difficult it was to build interchain products. In the summer of 2021, they made a decision to drop their side projects and focus on fixing blockchain interoperability.

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Initially, the team wanted to design their own interoperability protocol — similar to that of many general message-passing protocols that exist today. However, during their research, they came across the Cosmos SDK’s Inter-Blockchain Communication protocol, Du told Blockworks.

IBC is an inter-blockchain communication protocol, as its name suggests. It allows different blockchains in the Cosmos ecosystem to communicate with each other. The protocol is designed to ensure that information can be securely transferred between separate operating chains. 

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“IBC already had years put into its design and architecture, so we decided to stick with IBC and not invent a whole new standard,” Du said.

Kim added that at the time, IBC was the most decentralized, elegant solution to establish connections and pass messages between chains.

“​​We realized this was something that could be expanded to other chains; basically export the technology to have industry penetration rather than just the Cosmos app chains,” Kim said. 

So how does it work?

The team wanted to find ways to make the already established interoperability protocol on Cosmos a mainstream standard in the Ethereum ecosystem.

“It’s not easy to integrate IBC natively into all these different chains, which is why we designed the virtual IBC protocol, which essentially allows chains that don’t natively implement IBC to access IBC execution through Polymer and have Polymer execute IBC on its behalf,” Du said.

Many blockchain interoperability protocols today are focused on the state component of interoperability, which involves aligning the status of the data stored within separate systems, but Du believes this is just one part of the interoperability problem.

Read more: Interoperability isn’t just a buzzword

Beyond the state layer, two other layers need to be considered. This includes the application layer — that is, the layer responsible for encoding and decoding sent data and the transportation layer (TAO) — which manages the routing of raw data. 

“All of IBC’s core logic will live on the transportation layer; this becomes decoupled from the application layer, and Polymer will hold the IBC state on behalf of the connected chain,” Du said. 

This means that at the end of the day, the application — which lives on Ethereum — will be able to interact with the IBC network through Polymer smart contracts. 

“Polymer will then take the apps intended actions and execute the associated IBC logic and produce a commitment to the IBC state of that chain on Polymer — so essentially, Polymer is maintaining this merkle-ized IBC state on behalf of the connected chain,” he said. 

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Similar work to decouple state, application and transport layers is being explored by the interoperability protocol LayerZero.

IBC has been around for a long period of time. Du notes that its specs cover various considerations ranging from authentication, timeouts and acknowledgment, somethings its competitors may not have. 

This means that applications will not have to individually implement these different changes when there are protocol upgrades.

“If you want to design a protocol that is going to last for generations of builders, you need to be able to handle these different edge cases properly,” Du said. “This is a foundational level protocol.” 

Investors in Polymer Labs, Yuan Han Li and Joshua Rivera from Blockchain Capital, shared this sentiment. 

They note in a press release reviewed by Blockworks that “while numerous arbitrary messaging protocols have emerged to address the cross-chain interoperability, they have all done so by building a new messaging standard, paradoxically causing more fragmentation when a standardized and battle tested way to move data between heterogeneous blockchains already exists.”

Ultimately, the Polymer team is hoping to ensure that IBC becomes a widely adopted interoperability standard that will shape how blockchain applications of the future will communicate. This latest funding round will bring the team closer to launching mainnet.


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