Asia’s Richest Man Invests In BitPay

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After some serious drubbing in two of the world’s largest countries during past few weeks, the Bitcoin ecosystem may have found its biggest individual backer yet in Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man.

Li is now an investor in Atlanta-based BitPay, the startup with ambitions to become the PayPal for the virtual currency world. He has made this investment through his venture capital company, Horizons Ventures, an early investor in companies such as Facebook, Waze, Skype and Summly.

A BitPay spokeswoman told me that Horizons Ventures and the Founders Fund are among a group of investors including Shakil Khan, Barry Silbert, Jimmy Furland, Roger Ver and Ben Davenport, who have put around $2.7 million in the startup so far. Founders Fund is the VC group run by people who founded and were early employees at PayPal. In May this year, BitPay raised $2 million from the Founders Fund.

The South China Morning Post reported earlier today that Li has invested in BitPay through Horizons Ventures, but didn’t give any specific details on the amount invested.

Li’s investment in BitPay comes at a time, when regulators in India and the People’s Bank of China, have issued advisories against the virtual currency, and even questioned the legitimacy of Bitcoin.

Overall, the environment for Bitcoin seems more conducive the in U.S. where Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, recently said that despite risks, there are areas where virtual currencies hold long-term promise.

Indeed, BitPay said earlier this month that it has processed over $100 million in transactions this year, and has increased its merchant base to over 15,500.

It’s been a very busy month for Bitcoin, mostly filled with bad news in two of the world’s biggest countries. While China’s biggest Bitcoin exchange, BTCChina, stopped accepting deposits in Chinese Yuan earlier this month, exchanges dealing with the virtual currency in India are shutting down after a warning from the country’s banking regulator, RBI.

The 85-years old Hong Kong-based billionaire, who is also the chairman of Hutchison Whampoa, is buying into Bitcoin growth in the U.S. amid uncertainties in Asia.

John Greenwood, the chief economist of London-based Invesco, told the South China Morning Post that Li’s strategy of investing in a startup that provides enabling infrastructure for the virtual currency, offers lessons for investors looking to make money from Bitcoin.

This is what Greenwood told the newspaper:

“Just like investors in days gone by made more money out of selling shovels and picks to gold-diggers than anyone ever made out of the gold mine, he is investing in the peripheral activity that bitcoin has generated.”

Clearly, Li seems to have made a smart move by avoiding any direct investments in Bitcoin.

[Image: Flickr/Stanford EdTech]