Blog: Crypto fundraising
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Venture Capital vs ICOs: Funding Avenues for Crypto Startups

Venture Capital vs ICOs: Funding Avenues for Crypto Startups
Written by
Adam Nebolsi
Published on
November 8, 2023

Navigating the world of crypto startups can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to funding options. The comparison of venture capital vs ICOs funding avenues for crypto startups offers a distinctive contrast, each bringing unique characteristics and benefits to the table. But how do you know which one is the right fit for your business idea? This blog post aims to shed light on both funding avenues, exploring their pros and cons and helping you make an informed decision.

Key Takeaways

  • Venture capital and ICOs are two different methods of fundraising for startups, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
  • Investment structures such as venture capital and ICOs present different levels of risk and reward, requiring careful consideration to ensure the best return possible.
  • Crypto startups should consider their objectives, risk profile & available resources when choosing between VC or ICO funding avenues.

Understanding Venture Capital and ICOs

Venture capital and ICOs, though different in nature, serve the same purpose: raising funds for startups. Venture capital funding is a more traditional institutional approach, involving private equity firms or venture capitalists investing in early-stage companies in exchange for equity. On the other hand, ICOs are a fundraising method within the cryptocurrency industry, where tokens or coins are issued to raise capital for a project.

Within the cryptocurrency sector, various types of venture capital (VC) entities exist, ranging from large, established firms to more compact collectives known as "crypto angel investors." Despite these smaller VC groups potentially lacking a broad professional history, their wisdom, usually derived from early participation in cryptocurrency, can provide meaningful support to startups. It's crucial for entrepreneurs to assess prospective VC collaborators in line with their startup's specific needs, goals, risk tolerance, and the necessity for knowledge and resources.

Venture Capital Basics

At its core, venture capital is a long-term investment in early-stage companies, typically in exchange for equity. This type of venture funding aims to achieve long-term growth and eventual exit strategies, such as an acquisition or an initial public offering (IPO). The VC funding process often includes legal and financial requirements, thereby necessitating the assistance of professionals to guarantee compliance.

Venture capital firms, angel investors, and retail investors can play a pivotal role in the growth and expansion of startups. Their expertise and connections across industries can help propel a company to new heights, guiding them through the challenging journey of turning a business idea into a successful enterprise.

Initial Coin Offerings Explained

ICOs, unlike venture capital, are a form of crowdfunding for blockchain projects. Instead of offering equity, companies issue digital tokens or coins that can be used within the project’s ecosystem. These tokens are usually sold to investors in exchange for capital, making ICOs an attractive alternative to traditional VC funding for crypto startups.

ICOs come with inherent risks because they're not as regulated, which leaves them open to fraudulent activities. It's crucial for investors to do comprehensive research and due diligence before getting involved. While the legal obligations for ICOs may be limited, tax rules for holding digital assets can differ from one jurisdiction to another. Therefore, potential tax liabilities may arise. Investors are encouraged to consult with professionals for advice on legal and tax matters associated with ICOs in their specific location.

Comparing VC and ICO Funding Models for Crypto Startups

A comparison of VC and ICO funding models should take into account factors such as investment structures, speed of fundraising, and availability of expertise and resources. Venture capital funding models generally involve equity investments, while ICOs involve token sales. ICOs tend to be quicker than traditional VC rounds, providing startups with faster access to capital. However, VC funding models typically offer greater access to expertise and resources than ICOs, which can be a significant advantage for startups looking for guidance and support.

Understanding these differences can help crypto startups make informed decisions when choosing the right funding avenue for their specific needs and goals. The right choice will depend on factors such as the startup’s risk profile, objectives, and the amount of capital required.

Investment Structures and Returns

Venture capital (VC) investments typically center on equity with a focus on fostering long-term growth, whereas Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) issue tokens that can yield both short and long-term returns, contingent on the success of the project. ICOs are versatile, catering to a variety of investment strategies, from quick turnarounds to long-term investments, thus offering flexibility. The decision to opt for VC or ICO funding is influenced by individual investment strategies, the potential of the project, and the long-term objectives.

It's important to note that each funding option comes with inherent risks. For instance, VC investments may necessitate startups to cede some control over their company. On the other hand, ICOs can be highly volatile due to factors like market sentiment and regulatory changes. Weighing the potential risks and rewards of each funding avenue is crucial for startups when making their decision.

Fundraising Speed and Efficiency

One of the key benefits of ICO funding, when compared to VC funding, is its potential for rapidity and effectiveness. ICOs can frequently be wrapped up within a few weeks or months, giving startups earlier access to much-needed capital. This swift procedure enables entrepreneurs to get their projects off the ground and concentrate on expansion, bypassing the traditionally protracted fundraising process that comes with VC funding. However, it's important to note that the exact timeline can fluctuate based on factors such as the complexity of the project, regulatory requirements, and the state of the market during the ICO.

Nonetheless, the expedited fundraising process associated with ICOs may introduce challenges, including a heightened risk of fraud and a lack of regulatory oversight. Startups must carefully evaluate these factors when deciding between the two funding options to raise money.

Access to Expertise and Resources

VC funding offers startups more than just capital; it also provides access to a wealth of industry expertise and resources that can prove invaluable in guiding a company to success. This level of support can help startups navigate the complex world of crypto, ensuring they make well-informed decisions and avoid potential pitfalls.

In contrast, ICOs may lack the same level of expert guidance and resources, as they often rely on the support of their community and token holders. While this can foster a sense of collaboration and collective ownership, it may not provide the same level of valuable insights and connections that VC funding can offer.

Pros and Cons of VC and ICO Funding for Crypto Startups

In assessing funding options for crypto startups, the advantages and disadvantages of both venture capital and ICOs should be taken into account. Each funding avenue has its unique benefits and drawbacks, and the right choice will depend on the specific needs and objectives of the startup.

Subsequent sections will delve further into the advantages and disadvantages of VC and ICO funding, offering a well-rounded overview to aid crypto startups in their funding strategy decisions.

Benefits of Venture Capital Funding

Venture capital funding offers several key advantages for crypto startups. First, the expert guidance and long-term support provided by venture capitalists can be invaluable in helping companies navigate the complexities of the industry. Additionally, the credibility that comes with VC backing can boost a startup’s reputation and increase its chances of success.

Moreover, a VC fund can provide startups with the following benefits through VC funding, including access to VC funds:

  • The capital they need to grow and expand
  • The advantage of not having to worry about immediate repayment or monthly payments
  • The opportunity to focus on product development and market expansion, rather than being burdened by immediate financial pressures.

Drawbacks of Venture Capital Funding

Despite the numerous benefits, venture capital funding is not without its challenges, it's crucial to acknowledge that venture capital funding comes with its fair share of hurdles. Among these are the high return expectations from venture capitalists, which can instigate a sense of urgency in startups to attain swift growth. This urgency can occasionally clash with the long-term strategic goals of the crypto startup, rendering venture capital funding a tricky path to tread for early-stage companies in the cryptocurrency sector.

Another potential drawback of VC funding is the loss of control that comes with relinquishing equity. Startups may have to cede some decision-making power to their investors, which can be difficult for founders who value autonomy and independence. Additionally, securing VC investment can be a challenging and competitive process, with many startups vying for limited funds.

Advantages of ICO Funding

ICO funding offers several key benefits for crypto startups, including:

  • Speed: ICOs can raise funds quickly, allowing startups to secure capital and focus on growth and development.
  • Global reach: ICOs offer a global investor base, increasing the pool of potential investors and enabling startups to tap into a diverse range of resources and expertise.
  • Lower barriers to entry: ICOs provide an opportunity for startups to raise funds without the traditional barriers associated with traditional funding methods.

These advantages make initial coin offering (ICO) funding an attractive option for crypto startups.

Additionally, ICOs typically do not require startups to relinquish equity, allowing founders to maintain control over their company and its direction. This can be an attractive option for entrepreneurs who are hesitant to give up a stake in their company to secure funding.

Disadvantages of ICO Funding

Despite its advantages, ICO funding also comes with its share of challenges. One of the main drawbacks is the regulatory uncertainty surrounding the space, as governments worldwide continue to explore how best to regulate ICOs. This can lead to potential regulatory changes that could impact the value of tokens and the viability of the project.

Moreover, the lack of regulation in the ICO space can make it vulnerable to fraud and scams. Investors need to be vigilant in conducting thorough due diligence before participating in an ICO to minimize the risk of losing their investment. Additionally, the lack of expert guidance in ICOs can make it difficult for startups to navigate the complex world of crypto and make informed decisions.

Early Crypto Investment Opportunities: VC-Backed Presales vs. Public ICOs

Investors seeking early-stage involvement in crypto startups can find opportunities in both VC-backed presales and public ICOs. Each option comes with its own set of risks and rewards, and investors must carefully weigh these factors when deciding where to invest their capital.

VC-backed presales offer the advantage of expert guidance and due diligence from venture capitalists, which can help minimize risk and provide a more stable investment opportunity. On the other hand, public ICOs can offer potentially higher returns, but also come with a higher degree of risk due to factors such as regulatory uncertainty and vulnerability to fraud.

Choosing the Right Funding Avenue for Your Crypto Startup

In the end, choosing between venture capital and ICO funding hinges on the specific needs and objectives of the crypto startup. Factors such as the startup’s risk profile, objectives, and the amount of capital required will all play a role in determining the best funding avenue.

For startups that value expert guidance, long-term support, and credibility, VC funding may be the better option. Conversely, startups that prioritize speed, global reach, and lower barriers to entry may find ICO funding more appealing. By carefully evaluating their requirements and objectives, crypto startups can make an informed decision on the right funding avenue for their unique circumstances.


Navigating the funding landscape for crypto startups can be a complex process, with venture capital and ICOs offering unique benefits and challenges. By understanding the key differences between these funding avenues and carefully evaluating their needs, goals, and risk tolerance, startups can make informed decisions that set them up for success in the competitive world of crypto. Ultimately, the right choice will depend on the specific circumstances of the startup, and both VC and ICO funding can offer promising opportunities for growth and development.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is the biggest venture capital in crypto?

Based on a deep dive into the world's crypto VC firms and top venture capitalists in DeFi projects, it's clear that Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z Crypto) is currently the biggest venture capital in crypto with US$7,565 million under management. The other notable venture capital funds are Coinbase Ventures, Paradigm, Digital Currency Group, and Framework Ventures.

How much VC funding is in crypto?

VC investment in crypto has decreased significantly, with Pitchbook data revealing that only $2.3 billion was invested in the first half of 2023 compared to $162 billion in the same period of 2022. Similarly, a Crunchbase report found that VC investment totalled $76 billion in the first quarter of the year.

Are ICOs better than Venture Capital?

ICOs provide the opportunity to reach a broader spectrum of potential investors. On the flip side, venture capital is usually obtained from seasoned investors or well-established firms, leading to a higher likelihood of success with this method. However, it's important to note that ICOs generally come with higher risks.

How does VC funding work in crypto?

Crypto Venture Capital (VC) firms are groups of investors who pool their money together to invest early in crypto projects or companies. Their goal is to gain large returns from high-growth crypto startups, and the trend of VC investment in the crypto space has been rising steadily.

What is the main difference between venture capital and ICO funding?

Venture capital usually involves equity investments in startups, whereas ICOs are a form of crowdfunding through token sales for crypto projects.

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