All posts in “Cryptocurrencies”

CoinBits launches as a passive investment app for bitcoin

Erik Finman is a twenty-something bitcoin maximalist as famous for his precocity as he is for his $12 bet on the currency a few years ago.

Now, Finman, who built his first company while still in High School, is launching a new startup called CoinBits, which allows users to passively invest in bitcoin.

The idea, according to Finman, is to democratize access to the currency by letting everyday folks invest nominal sums through well-known mechanisms like roundups on transactions made with a credit or debit card or through regular transactions from a customer’s savings or checking account to bitcoin through CoinBits.

Every transaction also helps Finman’s own bitcoin holdings grow and makes the young entrepreneur a little wealthier himself through his bitcoin holdings.

Users can make one-time investments of $10, $25, $50, or $100 dollars through the web-based platform and can establish a level of risk for their holdings.

Finman’s app collects no commissions on transactions and 98% of the Bitcoin is stored offline — for safety.

“Overall, investing in Bitcoin is complicated and can feel almost impossible,”. said Finman. “Coinbits allows you to put that spare change in Bitcoin. For example, if you spend $1.75 on French fries, that remaining 25 cents is invested automatically.”

Withdrawals are handled by CoinBits which will give users same-day processing for a 50 cent-fee and offers an easily downloadable record for accountants to deal with any gains or losses associated with bitcoin.

Given the fractional nature of these investments, and the volatility of bitcoin, it’s hard to know what real value investors can reap from these small transactions, but it’s a less risky way to experiment with building bitcoin holdings than take a huge flyer on the market.

These startups are locating in SF and Africa to win in global fintech

To become a global fintech player, locate your company in San Francisco and Africa.

That’s the approach of payments company Flutterwave, digital lending startup Mines, and mobile-money venture Chipper Cash—Africa-founded ventures that maintain headquarters in San Francisco and operations in Africa to tap the best of both worlds in VC, developers, clients, and the frontier of digital finance.

This arrangement wasn’t exactly coordinated across the ventures, but TechCrunch coverage picked up the trend and some common motives among these rising fintech firms.

Founded in 2016 by Nigerians Iyinoluwa Aboyeji and Olugbenga Agboola, Flutterwave has positioned itself as a global B2B payments solutions platform for companies in Africa to pay other companies on the continent and abroad.

Clients can tap its APIs and work with Flutterwave developers to customize payments applications. Existing customers include Uber,  Facebook,  Booking.com and African e-commerce unicorn Jumia.com.

The Y-Combinator backed company is headquartered in San Francisco, runs its operations center in Nigeria, and plans to add offices in South Africa and Cameroon.

Flutterwave opened an office in Uganda in June and raised a $10 million Series A round in October. The company also plugged into ledger activity in 2018, becoming a payment processing partner to the Ripple and Stellar blockchain networks.

Grainchain, a blockchain-based platform for commodity sales, launches in Mexico

In the two years since GrainChain launched its distributed ledger-based transaction platform for bulk dry goods the company has brokered thousands of contracts on everything from corn, sorghum, wheat, and soybeans to even sand from its headquarters in McAllen, Tex.

Now the company is expanding its services to Mexico, partnering with the government of Tamaulipas, to help farmers and grain elevators with commodity management and settlement.

Integrating with existing grain elevator equipment, GrainChain will deploy its sensors and software to automate the certification of inventory, invoice settlement and reporting to buyers and sellers, according to a statement from the company.

Although the company’s blockchain adoption is new, GrainChain began developing its technology six years ago as an inventory supply chain management toolkit for farmers.

The company’s founder and chief executive Luis Macias had sold his previous software business Verge Data to an insurance company in 2005 and took some time off before wading back into the software development business in McAllen.

In 2012, Macias says he was approached by Hi Star Grain about developing software to manage the sales process for bulk dry goods.

The company spend the next five years working on the technology.

Before a commodity is ever shipped GrainChain sets up a contract between a buyer and a farmer for their supply negotiated through GrainChain’s digital portal. That contract is submitted to the chain along with an agreed upon payment that’s held in escrow until delivery.

In the field and at the silo GrainChain’s system consists of a logistics toolkit to monitor and track harvests coming out fo the fields and through individual silos. The goods are certified for quality assurance using the company’s sensor technology and that certification is recorded onto a HyperLedger-based blockchain.

Once the shipment is verified then payment is released to the farmer in the form of a dollar-backed GrainPay stablecoin that allows instant settlement of the transaction. The asset-backed token is burned once the contract is filled and the tokens are converted into whatever fiat currency was agreed upon in the initial contract.

GrainChain makes its money by charging a commission on every transaction that moves through its platform.

The company raised $2.5 million from Medici Ventures — the investment arm of Overstock — back in October and is now expanding into international markets.

“We’re giving the farmer the ability to work with a higher risk customer because they’re getting guaranteed payment,” says Macias. “Sometimes, they can’t go past the normal broker they go through.”

Currently the company has 14 different commodities including: corn, soybeans, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, sorghum, coffee, cocoa, and sand.

“We have the ability to do any dry commodity that has the ability to be graded,” says Macias. “What we really found is that when there’s a contract that’s built and it’s slow-pay or no-pay or arbitration that comes through on the contract, it’s devastating to the farmer. This gives them the security to take on what would otherwise be riskier customers.”

Okta unveils $50M in-house venture capital fund

Identity management software provider Okta, which went public two years ago in what was one of the first pure-cloud subscription-based company IPOs, wants to fund the next generation of identity, security and privacy startups.

At its big customer conference Oktane, where the company has also announced a new level of identity protection at the server level, chief operating officer Frederic Kerrest (pictured above, right, with chief executive officer Todd McKinnon) will unveil a $50 million investment fund meant to back early-stage startups leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain technology.

“We view this as a natural extension of what we are doing today,” Okta senior vice president Monty Gray told TechCrunch. Gray was hired last year to oversee corporate development, i.e. beef up Okta’s M&A strategy.

Gray and Kerrest tell TechCrunch that Okta Ventures will invest capital in existing Okta partners, as well as other companies in the burgeoning identity management ecosystem. The team managing the fund will look to Okta’s former backers, Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz and Greylock, for support in the deal sourcing process.

Okta Ventures will write checks sized between $250,000 and $2 million to eight to 10 early-stage businesses per year.

“It’s just a way of making sure we are aligning all our work and support with the right companies who have the right vision and values because there’s a lot of noise around identity, ML and AI,” Kerrest said. “It’s about formalizing the support strategy we’ve had for years and making sure people are clear of the fact we are helping these organizations build because it’s helpful to our customers.”

Okta Ventures’ first bet is Trusted Key, a blockchain-based digital identity platform that previously raised $3 million from Founders Co-Op. Okta’s investment in the startup, founded by former Microsoft, Oracle and Symantec executives, represents its expanding interest in the blockchain.

“Blockchain as a backdrop for identity is cutting edge if not bleeding edge,” Gray said.

Okta, founded in 2009, had raised precisely $231 million from Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock, Khosla Ventures, Floodgate and others prior to its exit. The company’s stock has fared well since its IPO, debuting at $17 per share in 2017 and climbing to more than $85 apiece with a market cap of $9.6 billion as of Tuesday closing.

Social investment platform eToro acquires smart contract startup Firmo

Social investing and trading platform eToro announced that it has acquired Danish smart contract infrastructure provider Firmo for an undisclosed purchase price.

Firmo’s platform enables exchanges to execute smart financial contracts across various assets, including crypto derivatives, and across all major blockchains. Firmo founder and CEO Dr. Omri Ross described the company’s mission as “…enabl[ing] our users to trade any asset globally with instant settlement by tokenizing assets and executing all essential trade processes on the blockchain.” Firmo’s only disclosed investment, according to data from Pitchbook, came in the form of a modest pre-seed round from the Copenhagen Fintech Lab accelerator.

Firmo’s mission aligns well with that of eToro — which is equal parts trading platform, social network and educational resource for beginner investors — with the company having long communicated hopes of making the capital markets more open, transparent and accessible to all users and across all assets. By gobbling up Firmo, eToro will be able to accelerate its development of offerings for tokenized assets.

The acquisition represents the latest step in eToro’s broader growth plan, which has ramped up as of late. Earlier in March, the company launched a crypto-only version of its platform in the US, as well as a multi-signature digital wallet where users can store, send and receive cryptocurrencies.

The Firmo deal and eToro’s other expansion activities fit squarely into the company’s belief in the tokenization of assets and the immense, sector-defining opportunity that it creates. Etoro believes that asset tokenization and the movement of financial services onto the blockchain are all but inevitable and the company has employed the long-tailed strategy of investing heavily in related blockchain and crypto technologies despite the ongoing crypto winter.

“Blockchain and the tokenization of assets will play a major role in the future of finance,” said eToro co-founder and CEO Yoni Assia. “We believe that in time all investible assets will be tokenized and that we will see the greatest transfer of wealth ever onto the blockchain.” Assia expressed a similar sentiment in a recent conversation with TechCrunch, stating “We think [the tokenization of assets] is a bigger opportunity than the internet…”

After the acquisition, Firmo will operate as an internal R&D arm within eToro focused on developing blockchain-oriented trade execution and the infrastructure behind the digital representation of tokenized assets.

“The Firmo team has done ground-breaking work in developing practical applications for blockchain technology which will facilitate friction-less global trading,” said Assia.

“The adoption of smart contracts on the blockchain increases trust and transparency in financial services. We are incredibly proud and excited that [Firmo] will be joining the eToro family. We believe that together we have a very bright future and look forward to pursuing our shared goal to become the first truly global service provider allowing people to trade, invest and save.”