One of cryptos longest-running exchanges has been sold

One of the longest-standing crypto exchanges has new owners after Europe-based Bitstamp was sold to South Korea’s Nexon, marking the gaming firm’s second such acquisition.

The acquirer is NXMH, a Belgium-based PE and investment firm owned by NXC — the parent of Nexon — and it will take a majority 80 percent stake in the business for an unknown fee. The New York Times’ Nathaniel Popper suggested earlier this year that Bitstamp was in the process of being sold “to South Korean investors” for $400 million, but NXC declined to comment on the price when asked by TechCrunch.

NXC acquired 65 percent of Korea-based exchange Korbit one year ago for 91.3 billion KRW, or approximately $79.5 million at the time.

Bitstamp was founded in 2011 by Slovenian entrepreneur Nejc Kodrič with an initial €1,000 and it survived the heady early days of crypto, unlike a certain peer named Mt. Gox. Today, Bitstamp is ranked inside the world’s top 30 exchanges based on trading volume with more than 100 staff. Bitcoin and XRP are among its most traded tokens, according to data from Coinmarketcap.com.

The company has a license to do business across the EU but it also works with customers worldwide.

Bitstamp has been profitable since its early life, but Kodrič revealed the sale is down to the potential to work with NXC, which he sees as a like-minded partner.

Bitstamp has been regularly approached by suitors for quite some time. The reason why we finally decided to sell the company is a combination of the quality of the buyer, the quality of the offer and the fact that the industry is at a point where consolidation makes sense. A major factor in agreeing to the sale is that the mission, leadership and vision of the company remains the same.

We believe this acquisition is the logical next step in Bitstamp’s growth as a company and I look forward to the future with this team.

The Bitstamp CEO said business will continue as normal — he’ll retain his position as CEO and keep 10 percent of the company.

Interestingly, he told Fortune that regulatory compliance meant the deal took some ten months to close after first being agreed in December 2017 when crypto market valuations hit a peak — with Bitcoin, in particular, getting close to a record $20,000 valuation.

Bitstamp raised around $14 million in capital from investors along its journey, with U.S-based Pantera capital one of its major backers.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Coinbase is now worth more than all but three cryptocurrencies

With its shiny new $8 billion valuation, Coinbase is now worth more than all but the top three cryptocurrencies that trade on the platform.

That’s right, the only cryptocurrency assets that are worth more than the platform that trades them are Bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple. Bitcoin Cash, the currency forked from Bitcoin, is a distant fourth in valuation at $7.3 billion.

Coinbase’s Series E is nearly three times as much as the company raised in its Series D, and the fresh cash brings Coinbase’s total-capital-raised-to-date to over $520 million.

That’s a lot of money. Indeed, if Coinbase’s capital raised figured is compared to the market cap of the world’s various cryptocurrencies and other similar assets, it would rank around 20th.

But the bet for investors is, and should be, that if cryptocurrencies are indeed the next big idea in the ways that humans determine value, then Coinbase should be worth far more than any of the assets that trade on its exchange.

The fact that it’s neither indicates how much farther the company has to grow, or the limits of the thesis that cryptocurrencies will take over the world.

It shows that the wager on a particular crypto company is looking like a better investment than putting money to work in nearly any of the other crypto assets that are for sale. During the last few crypto booms, some investors said that it was probably simpler to just invest in various tokens instead of companies working on blockchains — faster returns and your money would be more liquid, to boot.

However, at least in the case of Coinbase, that wager likely wouldn’t have worked. Coinbase is also the company that every investor has wanted to invest in; it’s been a known winner for a while now, so its performance isn’t a huge surprise.

And now with $300 million, Coinbase is well-capitalized to survive either a market downturn (one will come eventually), and the current Crypto Interregnum.

Coinbase’s chief executive certainly thinks the market will grow. As we noted, Coinbase currently allows trading to just a handful of cryptocurrencies, but it has long harbored ambitions to expand beyond that.

Speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt SF in September, CEO Brian Armstrong revealed that he sees a future in which every cap table will have its own token. Based on that, he said he believes that Coinbase could host hundreds of tokens within “years” and even potentially “millions” in the future.

How a Ugandan prince and a crypto startup are planning an African revolution

Crypto and blockchain enthusiasts have been railing for years against the centralized world of banks, but many have been doing so from the privileged vantage point of developed countries. But what if blockchain technology turned out to be most revolutionary in emerging economies?

Take Africa for instance. Consumers in those countries became so frustrated with the banking fees imposed on their transactions every time they wanted to merely top up their mobile airtime, that airtime minutes alone actually became a form of money. Banking in the way it’s been developed for the developed world simply does not work when a transaction to top up a phone can cost more than the airtime itself.

South African-based startup Wala realized this early on. It developed a smartphone app that acted like a wallet, facilitating customer transactions via the app with existing banking infrastructures. But the high banking fees for nearly every function was hurting Wala’s customer base and the company’s early business model as a mobile wallet for the smartphone generation.

They needed a zero-fee solution, but the existing financial system just didn’t work. That’s when they realized they could switch to a cryptocurrency and allow payments across a peer-to-peer network for merchants, offering airtime, data, electricity bills — even the ability to pay school fees.

Today Wala, which raised $1.2 million selling Ethereum-based “$DALA” tokens in an initial coin offering (ICO) in December last year, is facilitating thousands of transactions in daily accounts across Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa, with most of those as micropayments under $1.

Since the launch of their $DALA currency in May 2018 (currently accessible through the Wala mobile application), more than 100,000 $DALA wallets have been opened and more than 2.5 million $DALA transactions have been processed, says the company. The multi-chain crypto asset — at least right now — uses Ether for the wallet and Stellar for transactions, though it is not locked to any one platform.

Through $DALA protocols (Kopa, Soko and Kazi), consumers have access to borderless, low cost, efficient and unique financial services enabling them to earn, save, borrow and transact in a new, decentralized, financial system.

But Wala does not plan to stop there.

Today, Dala, announced it has partnered with a gigawatt-scale solar program for Uganda to create a blockchain-enabled clean energy economy.

Here’s how it’s going to work:

Long-time energy company CleanPath Emerging Markets Uganda (CPEM) is partnering on the project with the Ugandan government and the Ugandan Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, which will mean Ugandans are able to buy solar energy from this massive new infrastructure project using $DALA.

CPEM will use the DALA blockchain platform to manage its ledger, its vendor contracts and its partner commitments. The company has more than 11,000 MWs of renewable energy experience already under its belt.

The $1.5 billion program aims to create a new clean energy economy in Uganda, not only creating employment and kick-starting a clean energy economy but new economic development in Uganda. Ugandan consumers will be able to buy solar power in $DALA, workers can be paid in $DALA and the program will even run on $DALA.

Tricia Martinez, Wala co-founder and CEO, told me at the recent Pathfounder event in Oslo: “The numbers we’ve seen since the launch of $DALA have been staggering, and a large portion of our current users are Ugandan, so this partnership is a natural next step to allow users the opportunity to further benefit from using $DALA. The high level of user traffic also shows us that Ugandans are ready to use crypto assets in their day-to-day transactions.”

But the story wouldn’t have come about without an enlightened African prince who could have stepped straight out of the mythical kingdom of Wakanda, as featured in the recent smash-hit movie Black Panther.

For the founder of CPEM is Prince Kudra Kalema of the Bugandan Kingdom (a Ugandan royal family), whose ancestry goes back to at least the 14th century. Buganda is now a kingdom monarchy with a large degree of autonomy from the Ugandan state.

“We’re truly excited about this program and our partnership with Dala”, says Prince Kudra Kalema of the Buganda Kingdom, who is also managing partner and co-founder at CPEM. “By providing Ugandans with an opportunity to access clean energy through $DALA, we’re fostering a more inclusive decentralized financial system not possible with legacy technologies.”

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Prince Kalema told me: “My family considers itself to be the custodian of the land, and I have been searching for about a decade to find solutions that would improve the country. But what could we work on when people couldn’t even switch their lights on?”

It became obvious to him that the biggest issue was affordable electricity. And to do it in a renewable way. And it had to be solar. Microgrids turned out not to be the solution. And it had to be at scale.

But the question is, why did he hit on cryptocurrency?

“We began using the $DALA protocol because it became very clear that the financial structure in Uganda was not adequate. It was clear we needed something. There is no way the Uganda shilling is stable enough for the type of program we are doing. Wala was already invested in the same country and wasn’t just about the idea of a running a crypto coin in an emerging market, but was also about creating the best type of financial institutions for the country. That goes hand in hand with what we are doing. It became a no-brainer.”

“Ugandans are saying that what we have right now does not work.” — Prince Kudra Kalema

He says the $DALA crypto combined with his solar project will be much easier to run in Uganda than in countries like the U.S.: “Over 80 percent of Ugandans are under 35, and very well-educated. I don’t like the term leap-frogging, but this is what this is. They don’t have to unlearn anything that was there before. They are eager to figure out and learn about a solution that will help them. When you look at how quickly mobile money was adopted by Ugandans — it became powerful not because it was imposed but because people yearned for it. Ugandans are saying that what we have right now does not work. The banking transaction fees, the cost of remittances… — it’s difficult for them to be enthusiastic about something they know doesn’t work already.”

Uganda continues to be a market hungry to adopt new technology, and the recent announcement that Binance is launching a fiat to crypto exchange in the country is a recent example of this.

He added: “Uganda has always been at the forefront of these types of things. Even before we were a protectorate of the British Empire, Uganda was part of the region where people would travel to find out how to deal with things in Africa. We had an intricate tribal system. The British didn’t invade, they made it a protectorate because of this.”

The details of the plan are ambitious. Prince Kalema’s CPEM plans to create a gigawatt-scale solar power development program in Uganda providing clean energy to 25 percent of the population and creating 200,000 new jobs in the clean energy economy.

The program would more than double the current electricity generation capacity in Uganda (equivalent of about two average U.S. coal power plants), where 75 percent of the population has no access to energy.

By using $DALA, Ugandans will be able to consume energy at zero transaction fees, use it for everyday purchases and also convert it back to fiat Ugandan currency via agents/merchants and cryptocurrency exchanges.

It will even allow CPEM and the government of Uganda to make grants of free power available to the poorest, while keeping a completely auditable and tamper-proof record of these grants.

The story of how a small startup came to take African markets by storm begins in 2014.

Initially backed by angel investor and a social-impact VC (Impact Engine) in the U.S., Tricia Martinez’s Wala (pictured above) joined the Barclays Techstars Accelerator in London in 2016. It later set up shop in Cape Town, South Africa and started growing its team (it’s now at a total of 12 staff).

Not long after, South African VC Newtown Partners invested and Wala then issued the $DALA crypto-asset and set up the Dala foundation. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Newtown is headed-up by Vinny Lingham (of the well-known Civic and Ethereum-based project).

Martinez is passionate that cryptocurrency is going to be the solution emerging markets like Africa have wanted and needed for years: “The fact that the unit of account and store of value for this program is $DALA proves its utility and shows its potential to become a preferred financial system across emerging markets. We’re excited to be involved from the ground-level and look forward to playing our part in creating a just and accessible financial system for consumers.”

She says both the prince and the Ugandan government “needed a partner that can help drive the financial inclusion to get them into a more efficient digital system. That’s when they heard about us. When we started talking we both saw the opportunity to actually build an entire ecosystem built on a crypto asset.

“So it’s not just that consumers are buying that energy cryptocurrency, but the workers who are building our energy grids will get paid in it. So they’ve become very passionate about blockchain especially from the energy perspective, to create transparency. Working with the government to create more accountable records of what they’re building out could even reduce the potential for corruption.”

As Martinez points out: “In the hands of over 100,000 users in Uganda, already people are purchasing their electricity needs, products and services. The goal with this project is for people who are getting the energy to be able to then tap into all these other services that we offer. We’re also going to be launching cashing agents so that people can go to those mobile money agents around the corner to cash in and cash out to their wallet.”

It’s clearly a big project. Some observers will see the words “Uganda” and “Cryptocurrency” in the same sentence and no doubt come out with some kind of trite, dismissive, assessment.

But Wala’s experience on the ground — and it cannot be emphasized enough how important that is, compared to the armchair commentators at most blockchain conferences in the Western world — combined with the hunger of an emerging nation, a passionate prince and the ingenuity of its people should not be underestimated.

Coinbase now lets users buy bundles and launches its own index for the top 50 coins

Coinbase is shaking things up quite a bit lately and its latest tools are geared toward cryptocurrency traders just getting their toes wet.

On Thursday, the company announced that it would add a feature called Coinbase Bundle. The new offering lets users purchase a market-weighted sampling of Coinbase’s five available cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin and Ethereum Classic. The idea is that a bundle of coins offers users a starter pack for cryptocurrency trading on the platform with stakes of their choosing. In reality, until Coinbase adds more coins, it’s not exactly a diversified portfolio so much as a slightly counterbalanced selection of Coinbase’s current limited offerings.

In June, Coinbase introduced index funds targeted toward institutional investors in the U.S. While those funds required an investment between $250,000 and $20 million, Coinbase Bundle is geared toward the casual individual investor with bundles that start at $25. For beginning traders that prefer to follow rather than beat the market, betting on broad growth over time, a product like Coinbase Bundle makes sense. Or rather it will when Coinbase adds a lot more coins.

It looks like Coinbase is preparing to add a lot more cryptocurrencies

Users who buy a Coinbase Bundle can expect to see the funds appear in their wallet like normal. There, the funds will behave like separate assets that can be sold and sent elsewhere.

Beyond bundles, Coinbase is also launching a few educational cryptocurrency tools geared toward anyone still learning the ropes. The first of those tools is Coinbase Asset Pages, the company’s own CoinMarketCap-like database where anyone can view details about the top 50 coins by market cap, whether they’re listed by Coinbase or not.

Like other resources, Coinbase’s new tool will provide “historic trading data, current market cap, a description of the cryptocurrency, and links to relevant white papers and project websites.” Unlike other resources, Coinbase artificially lists its own offerings at the top rather than depicting those coins where they actually fall in terms of market cap.

Coinbase is also launching a dedicated learning hub on its site where new users can browse topics like “What is blockchain?” and “Where do cryptocurrencies get their value?” — in many cases, a good question. Given Coinbase’s appeal to brand-new users, it’s kind of surprising that this didn’t already exist. Particularly that it wasn’t implemented late last year when many wide-eyed investors bought it at all-time highs and were handed big losses in the months to come.

After mainstream interest in digital currencies cooled from the fever-dream highs of late 2017, making Coinbase’s famously user-friendly entry point into the cryptocurrency world even more approachable for first-time buyers, if many remain, can’t hurt. The company is also clearly readying for its plan to list coins well beyond its current limited offerings, a transformation that will see the platform evolve from its historical identity as a blue chip stock shop to something more akin to digital currency’s attractive, well-lit corner store.

Coinbase’s new top 50 asset pages and learning hub are live now. Coinbase Bundles, limited to the U.S. and Europe, will start showing up for users today, and the rollout will continue through the next few weeks.

SparkLabs is launching a cybersecurity and blockchain accelerator program in the US

Investment firm SparkLabs has run accelerator programs across APAC, now it has announced its first that’ll be based on U.S. soil and it’s a cybersecurity and blockchain program that’ll be located in Washington, D.C. from next year.

The program will be led by former Startup Grind COO Brian Park and Mike Bott, who is ex-managing director of The Brandery accelerator. Advisors signed on to work with the batch of companies includes top names like Microsoft’s former chief software architect Ray Ozzie, Litecoin creator Charlie Lee, LinkedIn co-founder Eric Ly and Rich DeMillo, who was the first CTO of HP.

Named “SparkLabs Cybersecurity + Blockchain,” the program will kick off with an inaugural batch of companies in March next year, with applications opening accepted from January. SparkLabs co-founder and partner Bernard Moon told TechCrunch in an interview that the plan is to run the program for four months with two intakes per year.

It’ll use SparkLabs’ standard investment approach that sees selected companies offered $50,000 for up to six percent equity. That’s variable on a case-by-case basis — for example for those that have raised significant early funding at a large valuation — but Moon said that the priority for the security and blockchain program is to seek out companies that are bootstrapped or at least have not raised much.

Moon said that the general focus is not on cryptocurrency but instead enterprise-led technologies. So, on the blockchain side, that might mean protocols and other infrastructure layer plays, although Moon said he does believe that there is scope for more consumer companies, too.

SparkLabs has a dedicated blockchain fund — SparkChain Capital — but neither that fund nor its principal, Stellar founder Joyce Kim, is directly involved in the accelerator. That’s very deliberate, Moon said, because SparkLabs wants to grow its network in the blockchain space outside of SparkChain, although he did explain that the program will be “a vetted deal source” for the fund, so graduates could potentially look it to when they want follow-on funding.

Outside of SparkChain Capital, SparkLabs is active in crypto, primarily through its presence in Asia — especially Korea where it operates its first accelerator program. The company is even tokenizing two of its accelerators — a six month IOT-focused initiative in Korean smart city Songdo and Cultiv8, an accelerator for agriculture and food tech in Australia — although Moon said that the project has been delayed but remains on track to happen soon. Investment-wise, it has backed over 10 blockchain companies and a dozen in the cybersecurity space.

The cybersecurity and blockchain program has an interesting story. Park and Bott originally spun out AOL’s Fishbowl Labs accelerator program but after a discussion with Moon for advice, the pair ended up signing up with SparkLabs. That’s a move that Moon believes will help bring a global perspective through SparkLabs’ presence in the rest of the world — it has six other programs globally — and marrying that with what’s happening in the U.S.

“We want to foster and grow a robust ecosystem in both cybersecurity and distributed ledger technologies.  We believe these two verticals are synergetic by nature, but we will seek innovations beyond the overlap,” Park said in a statement

“It’s so early within this space that we are only seeing the Friendsters and MySpaces of the blockchain world.  The next Facebooks and Twitters will be developed over the next several years,” he added.