Photo: Peter Travers / Getty Images

Orchid Labs says that it has developed blockchain-based protocol that lets users access the internet free of censorship, restrictions, and surveillance.

Why it could be a big deal: Orchid co-founder co-founder Steve Bell tells Axios that the idea originated from internet restrictions he experienced while during his time living and investing in China. And because Orchid's network is decentralized — it exists by virtue of its users operating Orchid software on their computers — it can't be shut down or controlled by a government or single entity. Not surprisingly, San Francisco-based Orchid's lofty ambitions caught the attention of top investors like Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz.

"I think a free Internet is a really important thing for society and they're solving it in a very elegant way through technology," says Sequoia partner Matt Huang. "This type of network is, to us, one of the most exciting first applications of the blockchain computational sharing economies."

How it works: The main idea is to incentivize people with unused internet bandwidth to share it with other users (presumably in places with restrictions), in exchange for payment via Orchid's Ethereum-based tokens. The company also says it's a more viable option than Tor and virtual private networks (VPNs), which are increasingly difficult to access in places like China.

The team: Orchid's co-founders include entrepreneur and investor Steve Bell, former Pantera Capital partner Steve Waterhouse, former Ethereum developer Gustav Simonsson, developer Jay Freeman (best known for jailbroken iOS device software), and Brian J. Fox, author of the GNU Bash Shell. Orchid's advisors include Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood and Stanford cryptography professor Dan Boneh.

Funding: Orchid has raised a $4.7 million in seed funding via a SAFT (loosely, a convertible note promising future tokens) from an investor group that includes Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz, DFJ, Polychain Capital, Metastable, Blockchain Capital, Crunchfund, Struck Capital, Compound VC and Richard Muirhead.

What's next:

Orchid plans to make its network and tokens publicly available next year through a public sale. One source tells Axios that early talk is about raising up to $350 million, although Bell says the company has no target.

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