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Crypto Startups Still Raising Millions in Capital Despite ICO Decline

In late July 2019, Sony Financial Ventures joined a $14.5 million funding round for Bitcoin (BTC) bank Bitwala. Back in 2017 and 2018, such a figure might not have made many headlines, as crypto startups were raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in initial coin offerings (ICOs).

The ICO boom has, however, stalled significantly, with fundraising figures for 2019 a far cry from the massive amounts earned by projects in the two years prior. Many of the tokens that came about during the ICO mania have also lost most of their post-offering value. Since the late 2017 crypto mania, there has been a considerable uptick in regulatory scrutiny of the industry as a whole.

While the ICO boom might have waned since the middle of 2018, there is still a lot of activity in the crypto fundraising space. The only difference is that, like much of the broader industry, the prevailing narrative appears to be taking on a paradigm shift — one that crypto proponents hope is tending toward making cryptocurrencies a more mature asset class.

Major ICOs of 2019

Data from ICO analytics firm shows that token sales have raised more than $340 million in 2019 from 83 crypto fundraising events. Monthly figures for 2019 can be seen in the chart below.

Funds raised in 2019

To put the ICO decline in perspective, token sales raised more than $900 million in June 2018 alone. On the whole, 2018 saw ICOs raise more than $7.8 billion from a total of 1,253 projects. In the previous year, 853 projects collected over $6.2 billion from token sales. So far, only March and May 2019 have recorded more than $100 million in ICO sales. The following are some of the major ICOs in 2019.

  • Tron Game Global raised about $80 million in its ICO, which took place between mid-April and mid-June 2019. The project focuses on developing blockchain-based internet decentralization protocols.
  • Algorand managed to raise close to $60 million during its June 17 ICO. The crypto project seeks to utilize proof-of-stake (PoS) in ensuring instant and scalable transaction processing. Coinbase recently announced plans to list the token along with seven others as part of its catalog expansion.
  • Coti earned $15 million during its June 4 to July 3 ICO sale. The blockchain payment protocol is aiming to connect merchants, governments, stablecoin issuers, etc.

Reports also emerged that Telegram would be conducting the public phase of its billion-dollar ICO. Back in 2018, Telegram raised $1.7 billion for its Telegram Open Network (TON) project — the second-highest-grossing token sale behind EOS, which pulled in $4 billion.

Related: What to Expect From the Telegram Open Network: A Developer’s Perspective

In an email to Cointelegraph, Joe DiPasquale, CEO of BitBull Capital — a crypto and blockchain hedge fund firm — commented on the factors that contributed to the decline of ICOs. According to DiPasquale:

“The ICO market was largely driven by greed, as speculators scrambled, hoping to find the next ETH. Unfortunately, the space was rife with scams as people soon realized they could raise hundreds of thousands if not millions, with vague promises and plagiarized whitepapers. Without a solid foundation, the bubble was destined to pop, and it is unlikely we will return to the ICO hype of 2017 and 2018. Instead, however, we may see a more standardized approach to crowdfunding develop, as is the case with security token offerings, which are in the works.”

ICO alternatives taking center stage?

Within the current narrative of a decline in ICOs, some commentators believe that there is significant interest in the sale of cryptocurrency tokens as an investment in blockchain-based startups. In a private correspondence with Cointelegraph, Igor Chugunov, CEO of Credits — a blockchain startup that focuses on decentralized application (DApps) development — declared that there is a continued interest in ICOs.

For Chugunov, there are still individual and corporate investors looking to put up equity in emerging projects that aim to use put blockchain technology to innovative uses across several aspects of the global business process. Providing further commentary on the matter, the Credits CEO added in an email to Cointelegraph that ICOs are now evolving into security token offerings (STOs) and initial exchange offerings (IEOs), declaring:

“Yes, we have to admit that the volume of fund-raising through ICOs has declined significantly. But let’s take into account that ICO is just a tool that is being improved and assumes new formats like STOs and IEOs. Innovative approaches to raising funds is an integral part of modern market realities. In my opinion, the decline in interest in such instruments like ICO is primarily associated with the strengthening positions of regulators in the market and the investor’s transition to a new degree of his evolution in the areas of market research, risk management, and capital management.”

The current cryptocurrency investment climate

With ICOs experiencing a massive decline, the narrative has shifted to other fundraising methods for cryptocurrency startups. Back in mid-June, Cointelegraph reported on Fireblocks — a digital asset cybersecurity startup — raising about $16 million in a Series A funding round from venture capitalists (VCs).

Amid the ICO mania, there have also been companies that have steadily accrued capital funding via VCs. Some of the major crypto-businesses like Circle and Coinbase have received millions of dollars from VC investors at different points in time. Commenting on the VC approach to investing in the digital asset space, DiPasquale surmised:

“VCs and seasoned investors in the crypto space are not attracted to hype. They seek solid teams with sound ideas and take a milestone-based approach to investments. Even in private rounds, they seek early entries to ensure maximum ROI and low risk. The general narrative is to identify new protocols and services which allow interoperability between various blockchains and support building infrastructures on top of them.”

Despite the crypto winter of 2018 that saw prices of digital tokens plummet by more than 80% across the market, VCs continued to invest in cryptocurrency projects. VCs reported invested more than $2.85 billion in crypto and blockchain projects in 2018.

While this figure might seem significant, it pales in comparison to the total outlay of VC equity investments in businesses throughout 2018. Data from Crunchbase shows that VCs put up more than $350 billion in private funding rounds. Echoing DiPasquale’s sentiments, Chugunov provided further explanation as to why VC involvement in the crypto space is still relatively insignificant, opining:

“Venture capital has not lost its interest in investing in cryptocurrencies, but the requirements for projects, in particular for products, teams, economic models and adhering to the roadmaps have grown significantly.”

As reported by Cointelegraph, cryptocurrency lender BlockFi has received about $18 million in Series A funding from VCs led by Peter Thiel’s Valar. The growing pre-eminence of venture funding in the crypto space also lends itself to sensible investments in projects that could possibly turn out to be economically viable. According to a previous Cointelegraph report, BlockFi has more than $53 million in customer cryptocurrency assets under management.

This arguably sensible investment strategy is in stark contrast to the high yield investment product vibe of the ICO era. With only a white paper and a vague business plan, most been unable to live up to their lofty self-set goals.

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