Bitcoin presents an entirely new kind of economy to the world: decentralized, borderless and mostly unregulated. It's also enabling a new generation of entrepreneurs from outside the world's traditional, or 'developed' business breeding grounds. Helping them find their place is the world's first seed-stage startup fund exclusively for bitcoin businesses, Seedcoin.
Heading Seedcoin is co-founder Eddy Travia, a Hong Kong-based French expat who also organized Asia's first bitcoin conference in Singapore in mid-November. Despite having its offices in Hong Kong, Seedcoin's focus is international and (at this stage) not only on Asia, providing initial startup support to those with great ideas but in need of capital, guidance and connections.
The company launched its Seedcoin Fund I (SFI) on bitcoin securities platform Havelock Investments this week, with seven new businesses from several different countries and economies. SFI includes Singapore-based derivatives exchange BTC.sx, payment processors GoCoin, Cryptopay.me and Monero.co, Mexican remittance-focused exchange MEXBT, easy-to-use wallet client Hive, and a new kind of SIM card-based wallet called zSIM.
Funds raised through Havelock will be distributed among the startups, with Seedcoin keeping a portion as a management fee. Investors in SFI will receive dividends in bitcoin indirectly from the startups.
Searching the world
Seedcoin's first active business was DealCoin, a face-to-face bitcoin exchange and escrow platform who 'went public' on Havelock Investments in September, raising over 500 BTC in the first 10 minutes. Dealcoin's founder, Hakim Mamoni, first introduced Travia to bitcoin and is also Seedcoin's CTO and co-founder.
Travia said Seedcoin had received "60 applications through various channels," and had plans to help around 15 startups including bitcoin wallets, exchanges, and a few payment processors.
Seedcoin's goal is to help entrepreneurs all over the world, both in 'developed' economies and some with less experience in international business.
"There are things we take for granted in the Western world," said Travia, like a developed banking system. "We have a certain know-how about business processes, banking, etc. But take regions like Eastern Europe for example. There are young, brilliant guys, extremely talented and at ease with programming, but don't know anything about raising funds."
Travia said youth and inexperience meant a lot of bitcoin entrepreneurs were pretty casual in their approach, but were capable of learning fast and developing the professionalism they needed to grow.
"One guy asked me if he even needed to bother incorporating a business! He works entirely with bitcoin and didn't even have a bank account."
Travia said his company is building a network of mentors all around the world in places like Kenya, Philippines, Argentina, Ecuador, South Africa and Brazil. Even though Seedcoin is a 'virtual incubator', face to face relationships remain an essential ingredient in this kind of business.
With China wobbling as a bitcoin haven and a difficult 48-state regulatory environment for 'money transmitters' in the US, the world is likely to see more bitcoin innovation from other places, which have plenty of entrepreneurs but are not traditionally associated with startup activity.
"We don't have any plans to invest in the US at the moment, but the people we know there are asking us to provide them with opportunities in Asia and elsewhere," Travia said.
Hong Kong and Singapore
Hong Kong is a desirable place for any business to operate, said Travia, not just bitcoin-related ones. Despite the fact he hasn't seen much bitcoin activity in Hong Kong yet, he believes it could easily grow into a hub for trading platforms. The territory's legal system is business-friendly and autonomous from China's, and there haven't been any overt moves to regulate bitcoin there so far.
Singapore also shows promise, as another city-state with financial hub status and a healthy technology startup scene. Its financial regulator, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has issued warnings on bitcoin but also recently approved the trading platform itBit, which itself raised $5m in startup capital.
Travia says he, like many people, only became involved with the bitcoin startup scene in mid-2013. He began traveling to Asia in 1999 to recruit students for a technology-focused MBA, and then moved to China permanently in 2004 to engage in private equity investments.
After arranging several VC deals for Chinese startups and attending VC conferences, he noticed Chinese companies starting to look internationally for investors. He decided to become a bridge between them and foreigners looking for new opportunities.
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