Just two days before the start of the Tour de France, on June 24th 2021, Team Qhubeka Assos announced that it would now be named Qhubeka NextHash owing to a new five-year title sponsor partnership with the cryptocurrency startup NextHash Group.
Per the team’s press release: “NextHash is a global entity comprised of several units that combine the traditional financial industry with brand new digital class assets, by harnessing the power of blockchain technology.
"NextHash aim to make the digital, crypto and financial world accessible to all perfectly aligns with our team’s mission to provide a platform and an opportunity to those in need everywhere.”
NextHash is the brainchild of London-based Slovenian serial entrepreneur and angel investor Ana Bencic who, per LinkedIn, worked previously in the human resources industry before moving into the fast-moving cryptocurrency business, founding Nextinter, the parent company of NextHash in 2018. (NextHash itself was founded in 2019.)
Qhubeka NextHash has been in search for stability as far as sponsors are concerned in recent years, having already changed its title partners in both 2019 (to NTT Cycling) and 2020 (to Qhubeka-Assos). A financial deal that promises five years of support should in theory be a lifeline to the struggling South African team.
However, according to Slovenian news website Siol.net, Bencic’s enterprises haven’t always been stable endeavors. She recently came under fire for her involvement in the demise of British skills development company SkillsMatter.
Bencic and NextHash promised a three-million euro investment in the company, which never came, something the founder of SkillsMatter claimed directly caused that company’s insolvency.
In the same article, NextHash denies this, replying that the startup declined to finance SkillsMatter after receiving documents about the company’s financial situation. SkillsMatter aside, per the same article: “Ten of the eleven companies in Slovenia where she is currently listed as a founder, director or procurator have blocked or closed current accounts.”
NextHash is not the first investment of Slovenian cryptocurrency in cycling. Xaurum, a cryptocurrency backed by gold, became a naming sponsor of the Slovene continental team Ljubljana Gusto Xaurum (now Ljubljana Gusto Santic) in 2018, the team for which Tadej Pogačar was riding at the time. Xaurum pulled out quietly as sponsor at the end of the year presumably after the cryptocurrency lost 80 per cet of its value over the course of 2018.
When asked via email to speak to team management about the stability of the partnership and the allegations made about NextHash and Bencic in the Slovenian press, Qhubeka NextHash communications redirected CyclingNews to Matjaz Ivanusa, a representative from NextHash. Ivanusa had this to say via email when asked the same question:
“It depends what will be the agreement. NFT can be done as stable coins or they can be done as normal utility tokens. This needs to be discussed internally with your technical, management, and marketing team. I did not see the contract so for me it is hard to guess what is the arrangement. Hope my answer gives you some idea about your question.
"Slovenia is a special territory so we are moving our activities all our as inspectors, institution and also the government is not making it easier so we do not have time to prove our rights in courts. Long story short: online newspapers can write sometimes stories that are not true but articles still stay online. And for this company, we made the completely right decision.”
Kate Wagner is a Chicago-based writer and critic. Her work on cycling can be found in various publications including Bicycling Magazine and ProCycling. Her newsletter, derailleur, is currently covering the Giro d'Italia in an unconventional, experimental fashion, featuring essays, short stories, multimedia works and illustration.
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