Investors have never been shy about treating Bitcoin as an investment rather than a spendable currency, but the companies that operate in the digital currency space have had a harder time attracting capital.
Mainstream investors will take more interest in Bitcoin-based companies when one of those companies engages in an initial public offering. A Bitcoin mining company or a digital currency exchange may start an IPO within the next six months, says Brock Pierce, founding partner of San Francisco-based Crypto Currency Partners.
"When they see the economics that can take place, everyone who hasn't taken time to learn or understand Bitcoin will be diving in," Pierce says.
Bitcoin has become a $500 million market during the first seven months of 2014, continuing a growth phase that initial investors sparked in early 2013. More big companies, including Dell, Dish Network and Overstock.com, have begun accepting Bitcoin payments.
Consumer adoption has to get to a point where more investors will feel digital currency has gone mainstream enough to make it a profitable investment, says Pierce, who was part of a panel of experts at the North American Bitcoin Conference in Chicago.
"It has to be easier to use, and easier to buy through wallets or ATMs," Pierce says. "We need it so simple that all of our parents and grandparents can do this without calling us to ask how."
As it is now, consumer adoption is a fuzzy topic for bitcoiners. Investors and enthusiasts can't pinpoint exactly how many digital currency users exist in the fast-changing world of Bitcoin wallets.
The Bitcoin industry also finds itself in a mounting "civil war," as opinions clash over how much regulation (if any) is necessary to give the digital currency legitimacy.
Regulation may make more users comfortable with Bitcoin, but it also threatens to restrict the ways the digital currency can be used. For example, Bitcoin users were able to donate funds to WikiLeaks in 2010 after mainstream payments companies blocked transfers to the organization; this might not have been possible if Bitcoin payment processors were under the same scrutiny the major card networks face.
One faction of Bitcoin businesses wants to emphasize regulatory compliance, while another faction is saying it will go "underground" to avoid government influence, says Michael Terpin, co-founder and chief marketing officer for Santa Monica, Calif.-based investors BitAngels.
"They need to identify things they can all agree on," Terpin says. "We really need a cooling off period in which we allow these companies to experiment for a time, as long as they are not breaking laws."
Entrepreneurs seeking to enter the Bitcoin market need to do their homework and approach venture capitalists with a team in place, says Alyse Killeen of New York-based Future Perfect Ventures and Los Angeles-based March Capital Partners.
"Investors are not as interested in an individual with a good idea; they want to see a team," Killeen says.
Ultimately, the value of Bitcoin will say a lot about what consumers and investors think about it. But, as with most things Bitcoin, it is difficult to predict what that value might be.
Even if investors feel that the price of a bitcoin is held down by the lack of merchants supporting the digital currency, most predict a bitcoin will be worth between $1,000 and $3,000 by the end of the year.
Still, the path for investors is not entirely clear.
"The distance between Bitcoin and Wall Street is pretty large yet," Pierce says.