Record quarter for Bitcoin investments, Africa sees growth

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The first quarter this year saw a record amount of venture capital ploughed into Bitcoin companies globally, with the US$299 million invested taking the all-time total Bitcoin startup funding to US$676 million.

The State of Bitcoin Q1 2015 report released by CoinDesk, which reports news, prices and information on Bitcoin and other digital currencies as well as a per-minute Bitcoin Price Index, focuses on events in the Bitcoin ecosystem since the beginning of 2015.

It reports the first quarter of this year saw a record-breaking amount of venture capital – US$229 million – invested in bitcoin startups, taking all-time Bitcoin investment to US$676 million, with Q1’s deal activity led by 21 Inc and Coinbase, companies that received US$116 million and US$75 million respectively.

The figures represent a 51 per cent increases on the end of 2014, with the number of countries that received VC investment in Bitcoin growing from 18 to 22. Kenya was one of the four new countries, after BitPesa became the first Bitcoin startup based in Africa to receive VC funding.

Disrupt Africa reported in February Bitcoin remittance startup BitPesa, which also has operations in Ghana and plans to launch in Tanzania and Uganda, had raised US$1.1 million from the likes of Pantera Capital Management, Crypto Currency Partners, Stephens Investment Management and existing shareholders such as the Bitcoin Opportunity Corporation and Future/Perfect Ventures.

Bitcoin is a growing industry in Africa, with the continent’s first Bitcoin conference taking place this week in Cape Town, while Disrupt Africa has previously reported on developments at Ghanaian Bitcoin remittance company Beam.

CoinDesk said investment in Bitcoin startups was well ahead of that made in internet startups at the beginning of the internet boom in the 1990s.

“Since the start of our State of Bitcoin reports, we have aimed to quantify the well-worn statement that “Bitcoin is like the the early internet” by comparing levels of VC interest between the two,” CoinDesk said.

“Our last report indicated that total VC investment for Bitcoin companies in 2014 well exceeded the US$250 million invested in first-sequence internet startups in 1995. Looking ahead, this year’s total VC investment in Bitcoin startups is currently projected to surpass the US$638 million invested in first-sequence internet startups in 1996.”

CoinDesk said overall the Bitcoin ecosystem showed “robust growth” in the first quarter of this year, despite a price plunge in the first half of January.

“Bitcoin’s price surprised many by breaking below US$200, considered to be an important psychological marker,” the company said.

The CoinDesk BPI dropped to US$177 in mid-January, and is down 24 per cent in 2015.

“Although Bitcoin saw a significant decline at the start of 2015, its price has since stabilized around US$250. In turn, the upward trend in monthly trading volume has not been negatively impacted by Bitcoin’s price decline,” CoinDesk said.

The company said this could be a reflection of expanded opportunities to trade on both Bitcoin’s upward and downward volatility, while the digital currency’s price action appears to be attracting less attention.

However, the report found the rate of growth in the number of Bitcoin-accepting merchants continued to taper off this quarter, which CoinDesk attributes to a “fundamental problem” not in a lack of merchant interest in Bitcoin, but rather the lack of consumer adoption.

“The pace of wallet growth is almost constant over the past year, leading to some concern about the credibility of these numbers and questions about how many wallets are actively used for bona fide transactions,” CoinDesk said.

The company is forecasting there will be a total of 12 million Bitcoin wallets by the end of 2015.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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