Crypto Currency innovation: Kenya’s BitPesa Raises $1.1 Million, Expands Operations

– BitPesa, the Nairobi-based startup that’s taken aim at the global remittance business, announced that it’s raised $1.1 million in a second round of funding led by San Francisco-based Pantera Capital. Dan Morehead, Pantera’s CEO and founder, joined the startup’s board of directors. WSJ Reports

Other investors included Crypto Currency Partners, Stephens Investment Management, Bitcoin Opportunity Corp., and Future/Perfect Ventures. The company, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, has raised a total of $1.7 million.

“We’ve learned a lot, and we’re growing,” Elizabeth Rossiello, BitPesa’s CEO and co-founder, told MoneyBeat. The company now has a staff of nine full-time employees, and has expanded its services beyond the remittance business. “We’re surprised ourselves about how many people are excited about it.”

BitPesa launched its remittance business last spring, beginning with only the U.K.-Kenya “corridor,” and expanding out from there. It’s operating in Ghana, and plans to start offering its services in Tanzania and Uganda in the first quarter.

“This whole year has been a really big learning curve,” she said.

The firm now offers a brokerage service, buying and selling bitcoin on behalf of customers, and discovered that its remittance service is collared to some extent by how easy or hard, how cheap or expense, it is for expats to buy bitcoins in their host countries. Canada’s become a big market for them, Ms. Rossiello said, because buying bitcoin there is easy. Conversely, the U.K. has been more difficult. “It gives us a hint about where to move next.”

The remittance business and emerging markets are one of the most promising fields for cryptocurrencies, at least so far as providing both a legitimate business case and a social good. There are more than two billion people considered “unbanked,” without access to banking services. Anyone with access to a cellphone, however, can potentially access services like BitPesa. It remains a small slice of the overall business – BitPesa hasn’t yet reached its goal of capturing 1% of the local market. But it is, as Ms. Rossiello pointed out, growing, and receiving funding from the likes of Pantera is a sign that big players in the digital-currency world are taking it seriously. (Paul Vigna)

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– Our colleagues over at the Journal Reports team are taking an interest in cryptocurrencies. They’re planning to cover the space in a special report that will run in a few weeks (March 2), and as part of that, they’re asking for our – well, your, really – help.

The team is asking what you think on the issue of cryptocurrencies: do they have a future? While the poll question itself is a yes-or-no question, the poll includes a field for comments, so this is your chance to make your case for, or against, bitcoin and its peers.

Here’s their pitch:

Few currency topics generate as much excitement–and controversy these days–as Bitcoin. Naysayers argue that cryptocurrencies, unlike traditional currencies which are backed by central banks, have no real underlying value. Others counter that a cryptocurrency’s worth is still what the market says it is—as is true for many forms of investment. These advocates say investors should focus on which cryptocurrencies are widely accepted, which will grow in popularity, and which will collapse.

What do you think? Do cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have a future? (Results and excerpted reader comments will be published in a coming WSJ report).

Here’s the poll, and they are absolutely encouraging people to write comments. They’re interested in more than just yes or no.