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French Telecom Giant Orange to Invest in Bitcoin Startups

Op-ed - French Telecom Giant Orange to Invest in Bitcoin Startups

French telecom carrier Orange is looking to invest in Bitcoin startups in the coming months, Bloombergreports. Orange (formerly France Telecom), one of the largest telecom firms worldwide, is now one of the first big international phone carriers to become interested in the technology behind the digital currency.

“There’s something intriguing in this technology, so we want to be there as early as possible,” said Georges Nahon, CEO of Orange Silicon Valley. “This could be a digital platform of the future.”

Orange Silicon Valley has been holding Bitcoin events at its offices in San Francisco and is talking to two Bitcoin companies, Nahon said. The group can directly invest $20,000 per startup and tap into the larger funds of Orange Digital Ventures, the venture capital arm of Orange, which plans to support 500 startups worldwide by 2020 as outlined in its “Essentials 2020” strategy plan.

The Bloomberg article notes that venture capital investments in digital currency startups hit an all-time quarterly high of $233.95 million in the first quarter of 2015.

It may seem odd that Orange is planning to invest in Silicon Valley startups when there is plenty of talent in France and throughout Europe, but Nahon is persuaded that Silicon Valley still has an edge when it comes to disruptive technology development.

“Here’s where the spark of digital innovation is located and how the communication ecosystem is rapidly evolving,” he wrote in February. “This is why Orange Silicon Valley is in the San Francisco Bay Area. We’re here to work with companies to actively participate in these disruptive innovations.”

According to Nahon, the digital payments space will begin to see a marriage of new tech with incumbent institutions, which will opt for acquiring smaller, more agile and mobile-based startups, reminiscent of when mobile advertising firms were rapidly purchased in the past two years.

The Bloomberg article reports that, according to Nahon, Bitcoin technology could be used to cheaply transfer money between different countries. Orange already has more than 12 million users for its money transfer service Orange Money in Africa and the Middle East, and is looking to expand the business.

But Nahon realizes that the blockchain technology can have far-reaching implications beyond money transfer.

“Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin will remain a popular topic, but the focus starting in 2015 will be the adoption of blockchain,” Nahon wrote in January. “Developers and companies will flock to the technology in pursuit of developing the ‘blockchain killer application.’ Innovation like this will have implications far beyond payments, as it’ll be a new way for us to trust each other more generally, and facilitate changes in how society exchanges things of value.”

He added that new sources of funding and support for tech startups will come from renewed accelerators and incubators.

A related initiative is Orange Fab, the startup accelerator for Orange. It’s a three-month program that works with exceptional startups that are changing how people connect and communicate. Those accepted into the Orange Fab program receive help from engineers and business analysts onsite at Orange Silicon Valley, and also from thought-leaders, industry experts and investors active in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area.