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Bitcoin-Backed Lending Startup Debuts | Austin's New Bitcoin Hedge Fund

Thursday, November 30, 2017
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Make it a Double

Brent: I went to bed last night thinking about Amazon HQ2, and I woke up blasted by bitcoin news from near and far. Lemme pour another cup of coffee and dive into both topics. Actually, make that a double espresso. 

Here we go...

The Big One

A breakdown on the day’s biggest Inno story.

The Great Big Bitcoin Boom Has Arrived 

Bitcoin is out of the foothills and into the mountains. But it's rocky up there. After topping out at $11.4K, the cryptocurrency has descended a bit to $9.7K this afternoon, according to Coinbase. And, just as crypto enters the mainstream conversation, a bitcoin-based lending service and a bitcoin hedge fund have emerged in Austin. 

First up -- Unchained Capital, a lending service, publicly launched today. The startup, led by two of the co-founders of InfoChimps (acquired in 2013), has been quietly offering loans to a private group for about a year. Unchained offers cash loans of up to $1 million to borrowers who offer bitcoin and Ethereum as collateral. The loans have a 10-14 percent interest rate and terms of up to two years. The startup has been providing loans for about a year in a private beta test — and Thursday they opened the loan service to people in about 30 states.

The idea is that plenty of people have accumulated bitcoin and would like to leverage it somehow without selling it and giving up on future gains. So, they're letting folks use their coin as collateral. 

Within the bitcoin ecosystem, most people don’t do anything with their bitcoin,” Joe Kelly, co-founder of Unchained Capital told me a couple weeks ago. “They just hang on to it.

>>> Check out our profile on Unchained right here.

Next up -- A Hedge Fund: Justin Schmidt, an active Austin investor, has launched a new hedge fund for crypto investing, the ABJ reported. The fund is called Translunar Crypto LP, and Schmidt told the ABJ he has recruited 30 LPs and hopes to raise $20M to put in various crypto coins and initial coin offerings. 

What's it all mean? 

There are a lot of unknowns here. Virtually everyone acknowledges blockchain, the underlying technology that enables bitcoin, is a game-changer for many applications outside of currency. They also seem to agree crypto will live on despite bitcoin bubble talk -- as is evident from Nasdaq's forthcoming bitcoing futures site and several leading governments working on their own cryptocurrencies.

A few years ago, crypto chatter was easy to brush it off. But now, in this very moment, it is going mainstream. And, with the media spotlight and general pandemonium around crypto, many financial leaders (proponents of bitcoin and skeptics) are urging investors to be cautious -- particularly novices who can't easily recover from losing what they put in. 

Meanwhile, Austin startups are innovating to capitalize on it. Aside from Translunar Crypto, Austin's Multicoin Capital, a crypto fund; Austin Bitcoin, a consulting agency; and Wanchain, a cross-blockchain finance network, are among other local crypto startups to watch.

Making Moves

Inside the people, companies and organizations making moves today.

Uber Announces Project Jumpstart Winners

Uber named AIDS Services of Austin as the first place winner of its Project Jumpstart competition. Uber this morning awarded the organization $10K. Mobile Loaves and Fishes won second place and $7K and The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders won third place and $3K. Every three months Uber drivers nominate organizations they care about for the award.

Google Fiber is Tagging the City with Cultural Murals

So, maybe Google Fiber hasn't quite reached your neighborhood (join the club). But the internet service arm of Google is reaching out across the city in a new program that is providing top local graffiti artists with a lot of wall space for murals that celebrate the city's culture and history. It's part of a campaign they're rolling out in all Fiber markets. Mila Sketch, Truth and Zuzu were the artists to create murals in Austin. 

SpareFoot's Blog is Content Marketing Award Finalist

SpareFoot's "The Storage Beat" has been named as one of seven finalists in PR Daily's 2017 content marketing awards. The storage industry blog has become a key read for those interested in storage trends and the larger storage ecosystem, and their team cranks out interesting news roundups and content at a rapid pace. Their coverage includes business news, such as fundings and acquisitions in the industry, and thought pieces that explore things like how self-driving cars could impact the storage industry.

Top SEC Officials Visit Austin

Top U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission officials were in Austin Wednesday and Thursday for the SEC Government-Business Forum, which is typically held in Washington D.C. but relocated to Austin this year. SEC Chairman Jay Clayton and Commissioners Kara Stein and Michael Piwowar spoke at the forum today alongside Austin founders from The Native, Virtuix, NextSeed and Vinson & Elkins.

A Beat reader who was at the event said conversations centered on improving regulations to help small businesses raise capital and crowdfunding rules (both The Native and Virtuix used crowdfunding to raise money). They also touched on initial coin offerings -- or ICOs -- and Bill Hinman, director of the SEC's Division of Corporate Finance, suggested ICOs look like securities that should register or file for an exemption with the SEC. It looks like we may have a long way to go before the feds settle on how to handle crypto fundings.

Tech Reporter Leaving the Statesman

Lilly Rockwell, who has covered the Austin tech industry for the Statesman's 512Tech site, had her last day at the Statesman today. She was part of the initial team assembled when 512Tech launched in March 2016. Rockwell joined the Statesman in 2014 as a city hall reporter. She also worked at the paper from 2006 to 2009 as a business reporter. And, way back when, Rockwell and I briefly worked in the same newsroom at The Wichita Eagle. She said earlier this month she's leaving to pursue her passion for real estate and to become a realtor. 

An Update on Austin's Amazon HQ2 Discussion

Last night, I was on stage with a few of the people who are most in-the-know when it comes to convincing Amazon to bring its proposed second headquarters in Austin. Here are a few quick takeaways from the TeXchange discussion.

  • When asked if they want Amazon HQ2 in Austin, a majority of the crowd raised their hand in favor. Perhaps 15% say they don't want it. It's just a show of hands among mostly high-level tech executives. But it's about the exact opposite of what many of my non-tech friends say -- I think about 3/4s of my friends don't want it. This highlights how business interests sometimes conflict with cultural/quality of life interests. 
  • Austin has about 30 potential sites for HQ2. But Ryan Bohls, who represented Amazon on their 80K sq. ft. Austin office, said he thinks the Domain would be the most obvious and most workable area. 
  • Amazon's 50K HQ2 jobs isn't as insane as it sounds. Tina Cannon, senior director of government affairs at the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said that Austin's current growth rate of about 25K-30K people a year shows that Austin can absorb that kind of additional growth.
  • Might have been a joke. But when I suggested Chamber officials must have tried getting Matthew McConaughey to help pitch Amazon on Austin, Cannon said they considered sending the star to Seattle as a stunt -- but they quickly backed off that, noting that Austin doesn't need to resort to that move to win Amazon over.

In The Know

The Inno stories you need to read today.

Yahoo launches cryptocurrency vertical as popularity rises (Axios)
Austin's First Cannabis Oil Dispensary Is Ready to Grow (Austin Chronicle)
Meet The Startup Revolutionizing The Lab Testing Industry (Forbes)

In The Community

The events and happenings to know about tonight and this week.

This Week

Next Week & Beyond

Keeping Austin Weird & Wired

The fun stuff

The Healthiest Rats in Austin

The Texas Tribune reports today that several hundred rats have invaded the Texas Health and Human Services building near North Lamar and 45th Street. Yes, you read that right -- the state's top health agency has a rodent problem. The agency has a $60K bill to get Orkin to trap and/or kill the little fellas. 

"Employees described to the Tribune seeing trapped rat corpses in office hallways," the Tribune wrote. "Some shared harrowing cellphone photos of the furry creatures’ mangled bodies. But perhaps most disturbing, employees said, are the myriad live rat sightings."

Talk about nibbling away at my faith in government. 

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Meet The Author

Brent Wistrom

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