"We're investing in about 10 bitcoin startups," Plug and Play's Scott Robinson revealed to an audience of investors at the recent Winter EXPO.
The crowd in attendance saw a batch of fintech (financial technology) startup pitches, 11 of which had a focus on bitcoin.
Plug and Play's location in Sunnyvale, California is also home to the weekly Silicon Valley Bitcoin Meetup, which has 397 members and meets from 18:00 – 20:00 (local time) every Tuesday night. At the expo, Robinson called bitcoin "one of the most exciting things in the valley".
Here is a rundown of the bitcoin startups that pitched for funding:
"We offer a way to withdraw bitcoins from traditional ATMs," said Brian Santos, CEO of Bitwal. Santos has designed a way to load and unload bitcoin from an ATM card.
Bitwal's concept is to "safely load digital currency in a re-loadable debit card". According to Santos, it has a limit of $2,000 per day, from 1.5 million ATMs globally. The company plans to run as a service powered by the Ripple payments network.
Buying bitcoin is a “user pain point, and people cannot find solutions in their own market,” said Taras Kuzin, CEO of Novelty Lab and former director at Western Union.
Novelty Lab plans to build a full operation exchange to provide the next generation of financial services for consumers and businesses. The company has already handled 5,400 transactions. It plans to use any funds raise to work towards obtaining money transmitter licenses in all 50 U.S. states.
"Online bitcoin businesses are getting hacked everyday," said Jakob Storm, one of the founders of CrowdCurity. The company crowdsources IT security for bitcoin companies. This involves building security reward programs with best practices and rules for testing.
CrowdCurity has already had more than 100 security professionals verify vulnerabilities. And half of its rewards have been paid out in bitcoin."We are 99designs meets IT security," said Storm.
Co-founder Mugur Marculescu started his BitPagos pitch by telling the story of Sebastian, the company's Argentinean CEO, and citing that his country's currency "has lost its value three separate times". In some Latin American countries, there is a 30 – 50% loss of credit card processing payouts by merchants, he added.
BitPagos aims to solve this problem by accepting credit cards and paying out in bitcoin, protecting users from inflation and other problems. The company is focusing on hotels in the Latin American market to start.
Founder Travis Skweres says that his exchange CoinMKT represents "how the world trades cryptocurrency". The company trades in USD and seven different decentralized currencies, including bitcoin, litecoin and namecoin.
Skweres described distributed money as the "most ridiculous entrepreneurial and revolutionary opportunity." The company has over 13,000 traders signed up, 15% of which use real money. CoinMKT is planning for international expansion in "large countries that don’t have a bitcoin exchange," according to Skweres.
John Light, who founded the Buttonwood open-air cryptocurrency trading exchange in downtown San Francisco, is the founder of PawnCoin. The idea driving the company is allowing people to have liquidity, while still holding onto bitcoin.
"What do you do when you need cash?" he asked. "Bitcoin is an asset with upward potential, but investors need liquidity," he said. PawnCoin plans to offer ID verification in less than 90 seconds and fast cash using multiple payment options – thus, customers can access the value of their bitcoin.
"Buying bitcoin is completely foreign versus any other financial product," said Avish Bhama, CEO of Vaurum. Bhama has had previous experience in finance, and has hedged currency at Apple.
His company is building a system to provide the financial world access to bitcoin, as it doesn't currently have a great ability to get in and out of bitcoin investments.
"Bitcoin is a financial product with a lack of access," he told the audience. Vaurum has already closed its first few institutional customers.
"We built a tiny supercomputer," said Tony San, CEO of Raspberry Coins. The company was showcasing something called the 'Microminer', which San described as a "mobile supercomputer to mine bitcoins".
The company has built its hardware to be more flexible than traditional computers, as its machine "runs at the speed of raw hardware". The company is hoping to use its 'power of hardware, flexibility of software' model for bitcoin mining, and other applications, like testing Sikorsky helicopters.
"You download Gliph, attach an existing bitcoin wallet, it's a simple experience," said Rob Banagale, CEO of mobile app Gliph. The company wants to "help bring bitcoin to the world" through messaging, whereby users attach bitcoin to communications much like people do with files in email today.
The company is also exploring peer-to-peer marketplace concepts and identity products. One concept, 'cloaked email', is already a part of its app.
Editor's note: Gliph iOS has since been forced to remove its bitcoin attachment feature by Apple. However, this feature is still available on Android devices.
"Bitcoin is pseudonymous," said Alain Meier, one of the founders of BlockScore. The company's product "helps businesses make decisions" about customers by using the block chain to identify them.
BlockScore is also implementing an API that will help to verify customers through dozens of public records. It will charge $1.10 per ID verification and 40 cents for an additional question that will ensure transactions are being performed by a real person.
Jay Severson, Gambit's founder, told the audience that he decided to start a bitcoin gaming company after noticing "SatoshiDice transactions take up a lot of block chain".
The company has an online real-time multiplayer gaming platform that allows people to play and earn bitcoin. Users can deposit bitcoin and make wagers on the site. Games like 'Rock Paper Scissors' and 'Bitnopoly' are two of the seven games available on the platform right now.
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