Bitcoin exchange Coinbase launches early-stage venture fund

  • Popular cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase is launching a vehicle for early-stage investments called Coinbase Ventures.
  • Coinbase may invest in direct competitors, the company says.
  • "We will invest in companies that are in the space and are aligned with our values," Coinbase President and Chief Operating Officer Asiff Hirji tells CNBC's "Fast Money" Thursday.

Popular cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase is launching a new incubator fund for early-stage start ups, the company announced Thursday.

"We're going to invest off our balance sheet into crypto companies," Coinbase President and Chief Operating Officer Asiff Hirji told CNBC's "Fast Money" Thursday. "We will invest in companies that are in the space and are aligned with our values."

Profits from the fund will be "de minimis" in the scope of the entire company but the fund is already off to a $15 million start and set to grow, Hirji said.

The fund's seed-stage investments, which will begin this week, will help companies and founders in the crypto and blockchain space get off the ground. It's also meant to focus on building relationships within that ecosystem, he said.

In order to do that, Coinbase could be investing in its competitors.

"You may also see us invest in companies that ostensibly look competitive with Coinbase," the San Francisco-based company said in a blog post. "We're taking a long term view of the space, and we believe that multiple approaches are healthy and good."

Hirji emphasized that Coinbase Ventures is searching for founders, not the next money-making cryptocurrency.

"By giving them access to capital we hope that they will grow great businesses," he said. "It's not about investing in the token, it's not about trying to line up tokens that we would put on our exchange."

Cryptocurrency exchanges have come under scrutiny by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission this year. The SEC announced in March that it is looking to apply securities laws to everything from cryptocurrency exchanges to digital asset storage companies known as wallets.

Coinbase is the leading U.S. marketplace for buying major cryptocurrencies. Its GDAX exchange for professional traders offers bitcoin, bitcoin cash, litecoin and ethereum but does not currently offer ripple, or XRP.

Adding a new coin to Coinbase would likely bring in many more buyers. Rumors that the exchange would add XRP sent prices up earlier this year.

The company is not adding any new cryptocurrencies at the moment but Hirji said as soon as there is more regulatory clarity, it will start listing more assets.

Meanwhile, Coinbase Ventures will not give preference to companies they invest in when it comes to choosing new cryptocurrencies for the platform, he said.

"We are not investing in currencies because we do not want even the appearance of a conflict of interest," Hirji said.

The company also announced support for withdrawal of bitcoin "forks," which are a method of giving holders of a certain coin free access to newly created coins.

"This change will allow customers to more easily withdraw assets associated with Bitcoin Forks across all Coinbase products," the company said in a separate blog post Thursday.

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