What bear market? Investors throw record cash behind blockchain firms in 2021

VC investments into crypto over the first six months of 2021 have already more than doubled those witnessed in all previous years combined.

Despite the recent slight recovery of the cryptocurrency market, there is no denying the fact that the crypto industry has been faced with a great deal of volatility over the last few months, made evident by the total market capitalization of the sector that dipped from $2.5 trillion to $1.18 trillion over a 45-day span earlier this year.

Through all these ups and downs, however, 2021 has continued to see an increasing amount of capital enter this fast-evolving space. For example, reports indicate that over the first half of the year alone, venture capital (VC) funds poured in $17 billion into various crypto-related startups and companies.

To put things into perspective, the above-stated figure is by far the most witnessed in any single year and is nearly equal to the total amount raised in all previous years combined. Johnny Lyu, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange KuCoin, told Cointelegraph: “Early-stage investors of cryptocurrency have already achieved profitability and have a deep understanding of the development rules of the market. This is the key reason why they are willing to invest despite market fluctuations.”

Lyu further opined that for traditional investors, the crypto industry allows them to obtain higher returns in a shorter cycle, citing the volatility of Bitcoin (BTC) as an example of the same. “When the market experiences volatility, it is the best time for investing, and investors will profit from it.”

A closer look at the numbers

A hefty chunk of the aforementioned $17 billion figure comes from a single deal that saw a new cryptocurrency exchange called Bullish draw $10 billion in cash and digital assets following an initial injection by Block.one of $100 million, 164,000 BTC, and 20 million EOS tokens. Block.one led the capital raise alongside Peter Thiel, Alan Howard, Galaxy Digital and other investors.

In fact, just this one deal would have been enough to make 2021 the biggest year for venture capital investment in the crypto space, but if that wasn’t enough, the remaining $7.2 billion dollars would have equaled 2021 with 2018’s record of $7.4 billion raised, which is even more impressive considering that there are still five more months to go before the end of the year.

On the subject, Igneus Terrenus, head of communications for cryptocurrency exchange Bybit, told Cointelegraph that these numbers are not really startling since VCs are known for their voracious appetite for risk: “VCs are leveraging a relatively abundant and fungible resource — i.e., capita — to tap into something that is far scarcer and unique, which is partners and talents with whom they can build long-term value together.”

More notable VC activities

A little over a month ago, Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz announced the launch of its $2.2 billion crypto fund, with a spokesperson claiming that the company was “radically optimistic” about this space despite the price fluctuations. “We believe that the next wave of computing innovation will be driven by crypto,” partners Katie Haun and Chris Dixon were quoted as saying.

Furthermore, it should be pointed out that Andreessen’s first crypto-focused fund went live nearly three years ago, a time when the market was at its lowest levels historically, thereby showcasing the firm’s long-term belief in relation to this yet-nascent industry.

Similarly, Fireblocks, an infrastructure provider for digital assets, revealed that it had been successful in raising $310 million in a Series D round of funding, thus bringing the company’s total valuation to a whopping $2 billion in a period of less than six months. The fundraiser was co-led by institutional giants including Sequoia Capital, Stripes and the venture arm of Thailand’s oldest bank, Siam Commercial Bank.

Solana, a project that seeks to deliver a high level of scalability and transaction speed, also recently announced that it had completed a $314.15 million private token sale, making the nine-figure total the fourth largest fundraising event in the history of the crypto industry. Some of the company’s investors include Polychain Capital, Alameda Research and Blockchange Ventures, among others.

Cryptocurrency exchange FTX too recently closed a $900 million funding round, which saw a total of 60 participants, including Softbank, Sequoia Capital, Coinbase Ventures, Multicoin, VanEck and the Paul Tudor Jones family. As a result, the trading platform’s valuation has grown to $18 billion from $1.2 billion just a year ago, making it one of the largest cryptocurrency companies in the world.

Lastly, Dapper Labs, the team behind CryptoKitties and NBA Top Shot, secured about $305 million in new funding this March from a number of past and present NBA stars including the likes of Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant and Alex Caruso, and other investors including The Chernin Group and Will Smith’s venture capital outfit Dreamers VC. Following the closure of this latest funding round, Dapper Labs now reportedly holds a $2.6 billion valuation.

Is more institutional money incoming?

To gain a better understanding of whether more capital will continue to enter the crypto space, Cointelegraph reached out to Antoni Trenchev, managing partner at Nexo, a digital asset service provider. In his view, the crypto-finance sector possesses enormous untapped potential, especially with digital currencies allowing for an unprecedented level of inclusion for the under-banked. He added:

“The deals we are seeing right now — like Fireblocks snapping up $310M, SoftBank investing $200M in Brazilian crypto exchange Mercado Bitcoin — are being made by billion-dollar money managers after months of boardroom discussions and a result from long-term strategic decisions rather than momentary judgment.”

Not only that, fintech firms currently seem to have an unprecedented opportunity to build upon their existing client bases by offering modern products and services that users and companies really need, especially those that can serve as hedges against inflation — fears of which are looming large on the horizon all over the world.

Simon Kim, CEO at Hashed, an early-stage venture fund, believes that VCs are just now starting to understand the intrinsic value of crypto projects as it was difficult to justify the price of tokens that most blockchain projects had created in the past years:

“Ethereum is facilitating millions of transactions through numerous DeFi services, metaverse games and NFT services built on top of the network. There are now more than 20 million monthly active user accounts using Ethereum. The intrinsic value of DeFi tokens is even more apparent than Ethereum or Bitcoin.”

He further highlighted that much like how the IT industry leaders such as Amazon and Google grew amid the dot-com bubble, many crypto projects today have a solid foundation with a suitable business model and data. “This is why VCs are now pouring their money into crypto projects. They now believe that the next Google, Amazon and Facebook could be found in the space”, said Kim, closing out.

Related: COIN price fails to impress as more crypto firms are eager to go public

On a more technical note, Lyu highlighted that the increasing VC investments can, in large part, be attributed to the growing number of users that have seemingly flooded into various centralized exchanges (CEXs) and decentralized exchanges (DEXs) in recent months, adding: “Some popular DEXs such as Uniswap and PancakeSwap have exceeded traffic numbers related to some leading CEXs.”

What lies ahead?

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that has had the global economy in a sort of standstill over the last year and a half, reports suggest that global venture capital funding over the first half of 2021 has shattered all previous records, with the figure now standing at $288 billion. That’s more than $100 billion when compared with the last six-month cycle record that was set during the second half of last year.

Jehan Chu, Managing Partner for Kenetic, a venture capital firm investing in blockchain companies, told Cointelegraph that the ongoing glut of capital sloshing around the world is forcing investors to take greater and greater risk in search of alpha, and despite ongoing institutional uncertainty about the future of crypto, they have no choice but to invest in the space:

“Fortunately, blockchain technology and crypto have graduated from a carnival freakshow to an inevitable future, so confidence in the underlying companies is at an all-time high. Additionally, a generation of cheap money flowing from the U.S. printing press has concentrated into the hands of investors. There has never been so much capital and the traditional gates have been eroded by partisan politics and poor financial management.”

Founding managing partner at Borderless Capital Arul Murugan believes that as more applications go live, greater infrastructure will be required to be built and as more infrastructure is built, it will attract even more applications, creating a virtuous cycle that started happening this year.

Not only that, he is of the opinion that the gap between traditional finance and decentralized finance (DeFi) is closing up with more people steering towards the crypto spectrum. Murugan opined: “Right now, crypto is less than 1% of traditional finance and people are seeing huge growth opportunities.”

Therefore, as an increasingly digitized future draws closer, the use of crypto tech will likely continue to grow, so it stands to reason that more players from the traditional finance space will continue to make their way into this burgeoning market, helping it to grow even further.

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