Insider trading and naked short selling took advantage of a settlement system that has barely changed since the 1960s. Blockchain-based capital markets could make such practices impossible. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The market for Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) has been skyrocketing throughout 2018, even though the mainstream news coverage of this relatively new way for companies to collect funds has been, on the whole, negative.

There are three trends shaping the ICO market. Regulatory uncertainty, savvier and bigger market players and, with this increased resources. ICOs collected 18% more funds in the first quarter of this year than in all of 2017. That’s $6.3 billion in only three months. So what is driving the growth, especially when the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States has effectively stopped all token purchases by American non-accredited investors (i.e. anyone with less than $1 million in liquid wealth, among other criteria)?

While the US grabs most of the headlines, regulatory action in Asia also has the power to send shockwaves through the industry. Project manager Toshiki Tashiro at Module, a crypto-economic ecosystem on a cloud storage network, says “Asia is home to the lion’s share of bitcoin miners, which means the region has vast reserves of bitcoin and other digital currencies. While there are strict regulations in China and Korea, it’s still the center of the crypto world. Anyone undertaking an ICO should get used to spending a lot of time in Korea and neighboring countries and familiarizing themselves with the regulations there.”

With or without increased scrutiny from regulators, another key trend of 2018 is that market participants are wising up. In many cases, this does not just mean that participants are becoming savvier (which they are), it also means that there is a shift from crowd financing to collecting funds from professionals such as venture capital (VC) funds.

While American VC funds have been into crypto for a year or two already, even their traditionally conservative European counterparts are now getting heavily involved with blockchain.

Nicholas Rumble, CEO of Curaizon, a healthcare technology and data firm, said: “The days of a token white paper being an online ticket to riches are over. We spend much of our time talking face-to-face with highly sophisticated backers who understood the mechanics of financing long before bitcoin was invented, and haven’t forgotten any of the fundamental principles.”

With larger players comes increased resources. As noted above, ICOs collected more in the first three months of this year than in all of 2017 – if you include Telegram’s gigantic ICO, which is rumored to have pulled in $1.7 billion with the support of only 200 private investors.

Khalil Lin, director of overseas operations at Befund, a decentralized crypto-currency fund service, argues that: “ICOs are converging with Investment Banking and Venture Capital. The due diligence skills brought by such professionals is powerful evidence that projects deserve support and are truly built to last. Sensible regulation and professional analysis are nothing to fear for truly world-class entrepreneurs. In fact, they mean that funds can be gathered faster from strategic backers who don’t just give funds but also provide invaluable counsel on running high-growth early stage companies.”

Traditional investment markets often enter a summer lull around this time of year. With ICOs being so new, it’s hard to know if the same pattern will emerge. In the space of only a year, ICOs have gone from almost nothing to becoming the preferred vehicle to provide major resources to technology companies.

Daria Generalova is co-founder of ICOBox.

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