The collapse of digital currency exchange Mt Gox earlier this year may have cast major doubts over the future of bitcoin, but the industry has continued to evolve at pace, and investment in bitcoin companies appears to show no signs of slowing.
In the second quarter of this year bitcoin start-ups raised over $76.8 million; not far short of the $85 million raised in the whole of 2013.
While VC investment in bitcoin is far higher in the US than in Europe – $200 million compared with around $10 million in the last year – thanks to innovation within the most active continental countries, cumulatively, these now represent around 25% of the global bitcoin network.
A number of successful bitcoin companies have already emerged from Europe, including Stockholm-based KnC.
Europe is also home to several well established bitcoin clusters, the largest based in London and Amsterdam, as well as Berlin, Zurich and Paris, where Europe’s first bitcoin centre, La Maison du Bitcoin, was recently opened by entrepreneurs Thomas France and Eric Larcheveque.
Entrepreneurial activity in other European markets is also picking up. Denmark has the successful payment operator Bips and the Bitcoin Nordic Exchange , while Norwegian bitcoin entrepreneurship has produced the JustCoin exchange, among others.
Many financial experts in Europe believe that the continental regulatory environment is in many ways easier for bitcoin entrepreneurs to navigate than that of the US, and there have been rumours of bitcoin companies moving from the US to Europe to capitalise on this.
Poland is also making a foray into bitcoin territory, with start-ups to watch including Cryptostore and The Bitcoin Jar, and even among the least affluent EU member states, bitcoin start-ups are emerging, including Romania’s BTCxchange.ro, Latvian payment start-up BalticPay, and Estonia’s Hitbtc .
Ironically, the problem facing many European bitcoin entrepreneurs is a lack of regulatory clarity. Some individual countries have yet to decide how to handle virtual currencies within their own borders, leaving entrepreneurs in the dark when it comes to complying with business legislation during start-up.
The European Commission, however, has announced in the last few days that it will be pursuing Bitcoin legislation.
It was the same lack of legislative clarity that has kept the large financial institutions away from bitcoin speculation, but that tide is now turning, according to Global Advisors, a Jersey-based hedge fund company that recently announced the first regulated bitcoin fund based on the island.
Director Jean-Marie Mognetti says: “Two months ago, traditional hedge fund investors were considering our project as a utopia. The regulator and Jersey Government decision changed the paradigm by giving us the opportunity to be managing the first regulated vehicle.
“After such an act of realpolitik from the island we have seen incoming due diligence demands from various part of the world including Jersey.
It was not just our traditional fund client base that contacted us but also more conservative industry players, such as private banks that are approaching us due to increasing requests from their high net worth, risk aware clients. It’s the first time we’ve seen such traction.”
Mognetti is confident of raising around $200 million of capital within a year.
He adds: “The institutions we are talking with are all multi billion dollar institutions, with the smallest ticket being around $5 million to $10 million.
Some of these institutions are interested in a more active role, including becoming a full backer of the project, allowing them to guarantee investment access to their clients and build a strategic position in the market.”
Greater clarity around the financial regulations, whether imposed at national or EU level can only bolster interest and confidence within the investment community, which in turn will strengthen the ecosystem and drive growth and innovation in the start-up sector, with new applications of bitcoin technology expected to emerge over the coming months.