A Plano blockchain company says it’s nearing “unicorn status” with a $66 million investment round led by Japanese behemoth SoftBank and a California venture capital firm that’s backed the likes of Airbnb, Peloton and Alibaba.
InfStones said Wednesday that the new funding brings its total capital raised to over $100 million. The blockchain infrastructure company had previously raised $45 million. It didn’t provide a current valuation but said it’s now “near unicorn status,” a term given to startups that have reached a coveted valuation exceeding $1 billion.
There are just over 1,100 unicorn companies worldwide, according to tracking by CB Insights. Its list includes Irving-based precision medicine company Caris Life Sciences and Dallas-based software firms o9 Solutions, ISN, LTK and Island.
Investors in InfStones’ new round are SoftBank Vision Fund 2, which invests in technology for the future, and GGV Capital, a Menlo Park, Calif., venture capital firm. INCE Capital, 10T Fund, SNZ Holding, and A&T Capital also joined in as investors. Last month, SoftBank’s Vision Fund reported a $27.4 billion loss for the year ended in March, partly because of the massive tech stock sell-off.
InfStones, founded in 2018, said it will use the cash injection to fund its expansion and accelerate growth, including hiring employees and making acquisitions.
It has 40 employees globally across offices in Plano, Palo Alto, Calif., Montreal and Beijing. It was based out of Palo Alto until last year, when the company moved its headquarters to Plano, where it’s here to stay for the long term, said business development director Sili Zhao.
“Over the past couple of years, we had hired a lot of new talent in Texas, the central U.S. and eastern U.S. And we had learned that Texas is a more friendly space for the company,” Zhao said. “There are a lot of blockchain people in Texas, and it has the [lobbying group] The Texas Blockchain Council.”
About eight workers are based in the Dallas area. The company leases space in Plano but employees have been remote since the Omicron surge, Zhao said.
InfStones was founded by Zhenwu Shi, who earned a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2014. He worked as a senior software engineer at Oracle and as a platform engineer at C3 AI before founding InfStones.
Cryptocurrencies have plummeted since November, with Bitcoin losing more than half its value at its current price of about $30,000, but companies such as InfStones aren’t as affected by its fluctuations. InfStones helps clients build applications on blockchain networks, including Ethereum, Cardano, Polygon, Solana and Chainlink.
“A crypto crash is always impacting everyone, but it has a smaller impact on us because we are focused on the infrastructure and not crypto trading,” Zhao said.
InfStones is not the only North Texas crypto company getting a big check this past year.
Dallas crypto-mining company Blockmetrix, founded last May, has raised over $50 million in venture funding and $25 million in debt financing. Dallas-based crypto mining company Applied Blockchain began operating last summer and raised about $50 million. And Dallas crypto software company Aurox, which launched to the public in September 2020, announced a $5 million investment round in February.
Investors have been pouring money into the blockchain space. Venture capital funding for crypto companies surged to $27 billion globally last year, more than the past 10 years combined, according to PitchBook.
Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase became the first crypto unicorn in 2017 after raising $100 million, giving it a valuation of $1.6 billion. By the end of 2021, there were 64 crypto unicorns, according to The Block Research, which provides research on the digital asset ecosystem.
NFT auction marketplace OpenSea reached unicorn status last July after a $100 million funding round got it to a $1.5 billion valuation. In January, it landed an additional $300 million investment, raising its valuation to $13.3 billion.
Other crypto unicorns include Ripple, valued at $15 billion in January; Fireblocks, valued at $8 billion in January; and Gemini, which reached a $7.1 billion valuation in November.
The crypto startups are keeping up with some of the more traditional tech startups such as grammar-checking startup Grammarly, valued at $13 billion, and online checkout platform Bolt, valued at $11 billion.