Plug and Play Unveils Bitcoin Startup Incubator With Expert Mentors

Daniel Cawrey
Jan 31, 2014 at 17:20 UTC
Updated Mar 20, 2014 at 12:33 UTC
NEWS

An established startup incubator located in Silicon Valley, California is launching a bitcoin-centric accelerator.

The Plug and Play Technology Center has recruited some key figures within the digital currency industry after announcing Plug and Play Bitcoin Winter 2014, a program that will foster businesses in the bitcoin realm.

The accelerator is accepting five bitcoin-related ventures for a program that will begin on 24th February. Startups accepted into the program will be given $25,000, startup space in Sunnyvale, plus access to a number of experts working within the bitcoin industry.

 Familiar faces

Notable advisers include; Jacob Farber from law firm Perkins Coie; Roger Ver, an angel investor in various established bitcoin companies; and Patrick Murck, the Bitcoin Foundation’s general counsel.

“With a smaller group of five startups, face time with the mentors will be ample,” says Scott Robinson, who has been leading Plug and Play’s bitcoin initiatives. He added:

“Each mentor has committed to offering sessions for presentations, discussion and one-on-one interaction within a group setting no larger than 30 people.”

Plug and Play has previously invested in successful ventures such as PayPal and Dropbox. Robinson says that those investments “were partly a result of the partnerships we foster among the most robust investor networks in Silicon Valley, which includes over 200 VCs and 500 Angels”.

Plug and Play clearly intends to replicate that formula by fostering bitcoin-based innovation.

 The test of time

The incubator is looking specifically for unique ideas in the bitcoin space, Robinson told CoinDesk. The key criteria for potential startups is that they can stand the test of time and build upon the intriguing peer-to-peer network philosophy behind bitcoin’s distributed system.

“We’re primarily looking for startups utilizing the protocol in an innovative fashion: we don’t want ‘Amazon but with bitcoin’.”

When it comes to potential compliance matters, Plug and Play is open to working with digital currency startups that may have to deal with possible US-based regulatory issues. Digital currency-related policy outside of established federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) guidance is relatively unknown right now.

Yet recent hearings conducted by the New York Department of Financial Services may provide some policy clarity soon. Regulation may eventually come in the form of a method involving some sort of specialized licensure.

As a result, Plug and Play has brought on as mentors people who are knowledgeable of the regulatory opacity bitcoin companies must work in for the time being.

“We’re fairly open to all startups at this point – luckily, our partners are incredibly versed when it comes to navigating complex and dynamic legal ramifications, specifically in virtual currency,” said Robinson.

“We’re not against looking at a new and innovative ways to innovate with looming MSB (money services businesses) implications.”

Global reach

Robinson also pointed out Plug and Play’s global reach. That could be an asset in the event of possible sanctions levied against bitcoin businesses in certain jurisdictions. “Our reach is unique: We have accelerator initiatives in Berlin, Singapore, Vancouver and other locations. This provides incredibly powerful entry points into markets more amenable to bitcoin regulation,” he said.

Plug and Play Tech Center offices.

Plug and Play Tech Center offices.

It is important for there to be incubators in order to nurture the development of nascent bitcoin startup companies. Investor interest in the space resolutely gives these businesses resources to help them thrive. Plug and Play’s recruitment of 15 mentors for their program gives credence to that.

As it stands, the incumbent player in the bitcoin accelerator world right now is the San Mateo-based Boost VC. That incubator has already backed nine bitcoin startups through its program. Entrepreneur Magazine has called Boost VC the “Currency Kings” of the venture-backed world.

Boost will be holding a Demo Day for its most recent accelerator class on February 11 in Menlo Park. As in the past, CoinDesk will be covering the bitcoin-related companies that will be pitched to investors on the day.

As for Plug and Play, accepted companies in its bitcoin program will be plugged in with “200+ VC’s, 500+ angel investors, and 100’s of experienced entrepreneurs,” according to Robinson.

Interested startups are encouraged to apply on the accelerator’s AngelList posting. Here is the full list of mentors for Plug and Play’s Bitcoin Winter 2014:

1) Bill Tai of Charles River Ventures
2) Andreas Antonopoulos, IT Security Expert and CSO of Blockchain.info
3) Wences Casares, entrepreneur and investor
4) Michael Terpin, CEO of Social Radius
5) Ryan Gembala of Azure Capital
6) Adrian Fenty of Andreessen Horowitz and Perkins Coie; former mayor of Washington, DC
7) Patrick Murck, Bitcoin Foundation general counsel
8) Jacob Farber of Perkins Coie
9) Rik Willard, founder of NYC incubator MintCombine
10) Petar Nedyalkov of Voivoda Ventures 
11) Roger Ver, “Bitcoin Jesus” and angel investor 
12) David Johnston of BitAngels
13) Atish Babu of Omnivore Capital
14) Brock Pierce, serial entrepreneur and angel investor
15) Jean-Jacques “J” Cabou of Perkins Coie

Mentor image via Shutterstock

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