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Ex-Bitmain Chip Designer Takes on Crypto’s Mining Goliath

At Yang Zuoxing’s modest office a short drive from the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, desks are strewn with cryptocurrency mining equipment and cots stand ready for engineers too exhausted to go home after marathon days at work.

This is Yang’s bunker as he fights an uphill battle against Bitmain Technologies — his old employer and the world’s dominant provider of crypto mining chips — that may include an initial public offering for Yang’s two-year-old startup as soon as next year.

Yang says he helped Bitmain design its market-leading technology but left the company in June 2016 after co-founders Jihan Wu and Micree Zhan turned down his request for a stake in the business. Yang started his own crypto chip company, MicroBT, a month later. He now claims his firm’s mining gear is just as good, if not better, than Bitmain’s.

“We compete in every area,” Yang, 45, said in an interview.

His company is the latest to challenge Bitmain’s dominance in the market for specialized crypto mining chips, which Frost & Sullivan predicts will grow more than fivefold to $17 billion by 2022 despite this year’s selloff in digital assets.

Bitmain controlled an estimated three quarters of the market in 2017, but analysts including Mark Li of Sanford C. Bernstein have said that the company may be losing its technological edge. If competitors like MicroBT start taking more market share, they could complicate Bitmain’s plans to raise billions of dollars in a Hong Kong IPO.

Bitmain, which filed its preliminary listing application on Sept. 26, declined to comment for this article but has flagged increased competition as a potential risk for its business.

MicroBT has raised the equivalent of $22 million from individual investors and is in talks with institutional money managers in China for additional funding, Yang said. He’s considering filing for an IPO next year, joining a race to tap public equity markets that also includes Chinese rivals Canaan Inc. and Ebang International Holdings Inc.

Aneta Larkins

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