5 Bitcoin and finance startups to watch from DEMO 2014

Finance innovations like Bitcoin are creating huge waves in tech communities around the world. Here are five startups you should pay attention to from the 2014 DEMO conference.

Image: CNET

Money has been around for a long time. Many financial institutions are almost as old and, because of that, they remain largely stable and unchanged.

This presents a wide-open space for new startups to sneak in and shake things up. Online banking and money management tools are changing perceptions about how the internet plays into finance.

Additionally, digital and virtual currencies are causing even more disruption. The conversations around Bitcoin and the regulations of it have brought even more attention to how technology and new ideas can change how we look at money.

These five Bitcoin and finance startups, launched at the DEMO conference in San Jose, California, are building on the innovations around the business of money.


The goal of SmartContract is to allow users to sign contracts for purchases using Bitcoin with less risk. The site uses the "power of the blockchain" to track data that can be verified relative to the terms of the contract. The contracts are stored as code in a decentralized database that cannot be manipulated by either party.

Contracts can be electronically signed instantly, and users can make USD payments in Bitcoin. Currently, SmartContract offers three contract types: stabilized Bitcoin payments, conditional Bitcoin escrow, and pay for performance contracts. The company is also working on a real estate contract that will release payment with the home deed shows that it has been purchased, and a GPS tracking contract that would release payment when a geographic location is reached.


Justin Litchfield took the stage at DEMO to talk about his Bitcoin exchange company, Obsidian. The USA-based company has partnered with a national, FDIC insured bank that allows users to store money in USD and make Bitcoin exchanges through the platform. The goal is to make it easier for American Bitcoin investors to buy and sell the digital currency.

The site presents users with a clean dashboard that displays current Bitcoin prices in USD, and how much money the user has in their bank account. From this dashboard, users can purchase Bitcoin. When asked by a panel if he considered moving to the EU or to another geographic market, Litchfield said that moving to other countries is part of the company's future plans.


The company Pavilion.io was founded by two 17-year-old high school students and was built on the goal of eliminating escrow providers and escrow fees forever. The flagship product is the company's "Trustless Exchange," an automated escrow-type mechanism that is built on the Bitcoin blockchain and multi-signature technology.

The front end of the product is a White Label plugin that allows funds to be released when purchased goods are delivered. Pavilion.io is partnered with the four major package shippers and, once the tracking number is verified, the funds will be released to the seller.


Hellobit uses the Bitcoin network of technologies to make sending money easier and cheaper. According to the company's website, it can reduce the cost of sending money up to 50%. Senders and receivers use a secret code that allows the money to stay in their control during the transaction.

The company matches senders and exchangers to make the cash transfer happen. Exchangers are screened individuals that earn Bitcoin for delivering the money in hand to the receivers after they are given the secret code. So, a sender sends money through Hellobit and an exchanger delivers the cash in hand to a receiver, earning Bitcoin for doing so.


"The investment industry is broken, and we all know it," said Brad Lawler, the founder and CTO of Austin, Texas-based Draft.

Draft is a mobile app that simplifies the investment process and helps users lower the amount of fees they are paying. The app utilizes crowd-sourced data to show users how similar investors are performing. All of the data from a user's investment portfolio is displayed side-by-side against the top performers in their community.

Draft is building a community around investing and hopes to leverage that community to help individual investors make better choices in investing. For those users who prefer to work with a financial advisor, the app can be used in tandem with a physical advisor as well. The app is now in public beta.


Filing expense reports is a frustrating process for business travellers. AppZen automates expense report creation through a mobile app interface. The tool also offers real-time compliance and automatic expense report auditing. Users can take a photo of a receipt and the app guides them through the process, asking them specific questions about the individual expense to capture the details and plug it into an expense report.

The tool uses machine learning to better understand user behavior and flag potential fraudulent behavior. AppZen works with existing ERP software programs such as those from Oracle and SAP. In the future, the company wants to automate many more business processes.

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