Bitcoin investors rush in: Liberty City Ventures raises $15 million dedicated fund

By Erin Griffith , written on May 14, 2013

From The News Desk

Mario Coins

Sick of Bitcoin yet? WELL BUCKLE IN. We're in for a long summer of Bitcoinery. While it may be too late to effectively mine for Bitcoin of your own, the ecosystem of services and platforms for the currency have only begun development, hype nothwithstanding And that has investors excited.

On the West coast, Adam Draper has launched, an accelerator dedicated to backing and fostering the growth of Bitcoin-related startups (Michael higlighted the program's first class of startups this morning). Barry Silbert, founder of Secondmarket, has also gone big on Bitcoin with his Bitcoin Opportunity Fund.

Now the East Coast has another Bitcoin advocate: Liberty City Ventures, a seed-stage startup which launched last year, has announced a $15 million dedicated fund for investing in Bitcoin-related startups.

In addition, the firm will be operating a Bitcoin incubator in Manhattan, providing office space and community for startups in the Bitcoin ecosystem. It will open within the next few months.

Liberty City Ventures has already been active in the Bitcoin community with its Bitcoin meetup, launched last month. The next meetup is May 28.

"We have reached a point where, while it's still early days and there is still a massive technology gap, there is a real chance to put money to work investing in businesses," says Charles Cascarilla, founding partner at Liberty City Ventures. Dorothy Jean, a founding partner at the firm, notes that because of the regulatory hurdles and security requirements of the category, Bitcoin startups are more capital-intensive starting out than typical seed-stage companies.

Cascarilla concedes that $15 million in seed-stage funds may be "more than the space can handle right now," but over the next three to five years, Bitcoin and virtual currency-related startups will proliferate. The fund has commitments from institutional investors as well as capital from high net worth individuals.

In case anyone was wondering, none of the transactions -- both the investments or the fund itself -- will be done in Bitcoin, though Cascarilla noted that If an investor wanted to contribute to the fund in Bitcoin, they'd accept it. ("But we aren't going to speculate with Bitcoin as a vehicle," he notes.)

There are ten to 15 notable Bitcoin-related startups, Cascarilla says, including Bitstamp Tradehill, BitPay, CoinLab, Coinbase, BitPremier, Coinsetter and Coinbase (which last week raised $5 million from Union Square Ventures and others). The potential for big companies to emerge from the four to five categories surrounding Bitcoin is exciting. That includes exchanges which make it easier to move Bitcoin around. No one has brought advanced trading technology and capital with the related security in a reliable way yet, Cascarilla says. There is also transmitting money seamlessly in a way that complies with regulations. Traditional banking services is another area Liberty City Ventures will be tracking closely, as well as virtual wallets that give users an easy way to store Bitcoin. "All of these are functions you need to have in a built out way, and no one has really addressed them yet," Woods says. "It needs to happen."

Cascarilla stressed that it is still very early days. Bitcoin needs stability, but it is filling a serious niche that wasn't being filled before. It may not be around forever, but digital currency will, and for now, Liberty City Ventures (along with Draper, Silbert, Union Square Ventures, and upcoming PandoMonthly guest Chris Dixon) is betting that Bitcoin is the best-positioned digital currency to last.

Liberty City Ventures' main seed-stage fund launched last year as an evergreen investment vehicle with four partners: Cascarilla, who is a portfolio manager at private equity firm Cedar Hill Capital Partners; Jean, who previously worked at public relations firm Brew PR; Andrew Chang; who was COO at Condition One; and Emir Woods, who also works as a portfolio manager at Cedar Hill. They've made three investments in New York startups to date: adtech company TripleLift, social shopping catalog Pickie, and political content platform ElectNext.

Update: a prior version of this story incorrectly attributed quotes to Emir Woods that were spoken by Charles Cascarilla; the story has been updated to reflect the correction.