Protagonist launches $100M fund for early-stage crypto

Protagonist, a fairly new crypto fund and incubation lab, has launched its first $100 million fund to focus on early-stage crypto companies.

The firm began in the beginning of 2022 and originally was called Ship Capital, but changed its name soon after.

“Protagonist is more reflective of who we are and the folks we want to invest in,” George Bousis, co-founder of Protagonist, told TechCrunch. “We ultimately want to build a brand, it’s not just about building a VC firm or anything like that, it’s really about investing in founders building amazing things.”

It initially worked with individuals and family offices in the crypto space, but grew more open to institutions to partner with, Bousis said. “We want to build relationships, but it’s more about finding the right partners and picking the right LPs, opposed to chasing dollars…for us it’s really how we live our lives, we want to invest in people and build 50-year-old relationships.”

The fund was founded by Bousis, Dylan Macalinao, Ian Macalinao and Harry Hurst. Both the Macalinao’s founded the Solana-focused cross-chain liquidity network Saber Labs, while Bousis and Hurst are long-time entrepreneurs and investors.

The $100 million will be invested in mostly early-stage crypto companies focusing on gaming, infrastructure, emerging blockchains and ecosystems or security and privacy.

It is also developing and incubating its own protocols in-house. Its initial portfolio companies are a scalable layer-1 blockchain (Aptos), a Solana protocol that enables conditional ownership of NFTs (Cardinal) and a digital banking and lifestyle services platform (Cogni).

“Some of the things I’m really excited about personally is bridging the gap between digital and physical assets, and actually leveraging crypto, DeFi and blockchain as a technology without consumers realizing or understanding that they’re using it,” Bousis said. “I think that’s where the future is headed, a world where human behavior and experience doesn’t change but should only improve.”

Creating and investing in new crypto technology isn’t about having ordinary people creating or understanding seed phrases or crypto wallets, Bousis said. “The whole notion of interoperability should have never been a question or issue in the first place if you really want this industry to scale and touch the next billion users.”

While valuations are down across industries and crypto markets continue to be shaky, Bousis believes this is the best time to be investing.

“In bear markets and out of financial crises and whatnot, you see some of the best businesses and returns come from these markets,” Bousis said. “This is where legends are born and you can really make a name for yourself…we think this is where the real builders and investors are going to thrive.”

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