2018 VC investment into crypto startups set to surpass 2017 tally
For months now, much of the media attention on the crypto space has been directed at ebbs and flows in the price of bitcoin on one side, and whiz-bang ICOs on the other.
The price of the most valuable cryptocurrency, Bitcoin (specifically the BTC chain), has backpedaled significantly from highs set in December 2017. The chart below shows pricing data from the CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index (BPI) over the last 365 days.
Those dramatic price swings write headlines. And the media, Crunchbase News included, has not been shy in covering bitcoin’s ups and downs.
The hype around ICOs is understandable, as well, given that market’s velocity, eye-popping market capitalizations and titillating if unfortunate stories of theft and subterfuge.
But the comparatively quiet and glacially paced world of traditional venture capital deserves no short shrift from reporters, market analysts and enthusiasts alike. At the time of writing, 2018’s venture fundraising totals alone are more than 40 percent of the way to 2017’s high water mark, according to Crunchbase data.
And it’s been only around two months since the start of the year.
But like all emerging technologies, and most nascent companies working on them, there’s no telling whether these bets will generate significant returns. Like with the very cryptocurrency mining computers hashing away at these blockchains, venture investment in this ecosystem may prove to be a waste of energy and a lot of hot air. But venture investors seem alright with buying equity during the dip.
Here we’ll see how much venture money is being invested, by whom and where these venture-backed crypto companies call home.
(Data) mining for insights into blockchain and blockchain-adjacent companies
To avoid any complaints from so-called maximalist supporters of any one cryptocurrency or blockchain ecosystem, we’re going to base the following analysis on a fairly wide basket of companies.
To learn more about the data set of companies we used for this article, skip to the bottom for notes on methodology. What follows is an analysis of the data that shakes out of our bundle of crypto companies.
Venture dollar volume may eclipse 2017’s highs this year despite ICO hype
Despite all the market hype around ICOs, some of which have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, venture investment in blockchain and related companies has kept pace, as well.
What’s captured here are just good ol’ fashioned venture rounds — convertible notes, seed and angel rounds, Series As and on through the alphabet — not the Wild West world of ICOs. The chart above excludes rounds labeled as ICOs, even if they had participation from VCs.
The chart makes an important point: Despite price volatility in crypto-land’s most valued blockchain asset, bitcoin (specifically the BTC chain) venture investment — in terms of sheer dollar volume — is on pace to eclipse even the banner year of 2017.
Who is investing in all these rounds?
2017’s funding totals were boosted by a number of sizable venture rounds, including: Coinbase’s $108.1 million Series D, $43.45 million invested in Chinese ASIC chip manufacturer Canaan Creative and a $42.5 million Series B raised by multisignature bitcoin wallet provider BitGo.
2018 is off to a strong start with a $75 million Series B closed by secure hardware wallet-maker Ledger, $18 million invested in the seed round of Russian blockchain-for-cargo-tracking platform QUASA and $10 million invested in SF-based Harbor Platform, among other large rounds.
But which funds are investing in these more recently raised rounds? The chart below shows the most active venture investors from the past 14 months, according to what’s captured by Crunchbase data.
What’s interesting about the mix above is its diversity. There are plenty of mainstream investors among them, as well as many generalist accelerator programs, like Techstars and Plug and Play. But for every Andreessen Horowitz on the list, there are several more vertical-specific venture firms that have seemingly gone all-in on blockchain technology. These include the likes of Digital Currency Group, Blockchain Capital, Node Capital, Medici Ventures, Digital Finance Group and Polychain Capital, which, again, simply rank at the top of a list of hundreds of other investors.
So we’ve seen how much is being invested, but which countries are leading the way?
Listed headquarters of recently funded companies reveals legal trends
In the chart below, we chart the location of the blockchain companies that raised venture funding in 2017 and 2018 so far.
Two main features stand out from the chart above: venture fundraising activity in blockchain and blockchain-adjacent companies is highly concentrated in just a handful of countries, with the U.S. leading the way, and a small but growing percentage of companies are choosing to locate themselves in countries with friendly attitudes toward blockchain and cryptocurrency innovation.
The two that stand out here are Singapore and Switzerland, each of which are home to (at least) four percent of the startups that raised venture funding over the last 14 months. Over the course of reporting on other stories, Crunchbase News has learned from investors and entrepreneurs that many Asia-focused blockchain companies and investors in Singapore and Hong Kong are increasingly attractive domiciles for Chinese firms leaving that country in the wake of regulatory crackdown. Japan and Malaysia are also popular locales in Asia for blockchain companies and funds, in part thanks to permissive regulatory environments.
In Europe, Switzerland has been particularly progressive when it comes to clarifying policies around cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. At CryptoCon in Chicago earlier this month, Brent Traidman, chief revenue officer for Zurich-based mobile wallet-maker Bread, referred to the country as “crypto valley.” Switzerland’s financial authority issued specific guidance to companies looking to raise capital in ICOs last week.
As long as the regulatory environment for cryptocurrencies and other blockchain assets remains somewhat cryptic in the U.S., American crypto-entrepreneurs may opt to leave the country for clearer legal frameworks abroad.
Notes on methodology
Here’s how we found the data we worked with.
We first created a list of companies in Crunchbase’s bitcoin, ethereum, blockchain, cryptocurrency and virtual currency categories. Then we took the list of companies in Crunchbase’s data that have raised capital via an initial coin offering (a funding method better known by its initialism ICO). Finally, we created another list of companies that use those keywords, in addition to “digital currency” and “utility token” in their company descriptions.
We then combined and de-duplicated the list to produce a data set of just over 2,900 blockchain and blockchain-adjacent organizations that we’ll use in our analysis. And, at least for the purposes of this article, we’re going to refer to these companies using some variation of that inelegant if quite inclusive phrasing: “blockchain and blockchain-adjacent.”