Thousands of cryptocurrency enthusiasts are gathering in Miami as the city, despite its underdog status, builds its reputation as one of the prime locations for blockchain technology development.
Dozens of companies are using the Bitcoin 2022 conference, which takes place from Wednesday to Saturday, as a meeting place to network, present ideas and share announcements for the industry and beyond.
New York City and Silicon Valley continued to lead blockchain startup funding in 2021 with $6.5 billion and $3.9 billion respectively. But Miami is now linked to Los Angeles, where companies according to market research firm CB Insights have raised more than $760 million in funding.
Cryptocurrency exchange FTX bought the naming rights to the NBA arena in downtown Miami last year, replacing American Airlines. The largest crypto company to move to Miami to date, Blockchain.com will house 200 employees at a location in the trendy Wynwood neighborhood, which is also home to other tech firms and investors.
“Wynwood just really has that kind of spirit that you’re looking for when you’re building a new technology sector,” said Peter Smith, CEO and co-founder of Blockchain.com, comparing it to the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco and Brooklyn NYC. “Ultimately you want to be with the other tech companies.”
Many cite a welcoming environment maintained by local officials, most notably Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who has garnered national attention by luring technology investment and has become one of America’s most crypto-friendly mayors.
Others note that both Miami and Florida are business-friendly and have stayed open during the pandemic, making it more attractive as a location where people can work remotely.
“It’s hard to deny that this is an amazing opportunity for companies to come here and build their venture in crypto,” said John Bartleman, CEO of TradeStation, a multi-asset broker based in Plantation, Florida.
Bartleman’s company commissioned a 10-foot-tall, robot-like statue of a bull meant to emulate Wall Street’s “Charging Bull.” The artwork was unveiled by Mayor Suarez on Wednesday to a joyful crowd gathered in Miami Beach to kick off the conference.
“Welcome to the future of finance,” Suarez said. “I’ll give you the Miami bull!”
All of this enthusiasm is in sharp contrast to Bitcoin’s rough year. On the financial side, the cryptocurrency peaked at $67,553.95 in November just before collapsing by almost half in late January; it’s down about 30% since the November high. Bitcoin is also largely absent from many of the hottest crypto trends such as non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, which purportedly offer a way to auction off “one-of-a-kind” copies of digital art and other cyber objects.
More broadly, critics question the assumptions underlying crypto’s claimed value and utility, with some comparing the hype and previously unrealized promises of blockchain technologies to a pyramid scheme benefiting early entrants, but all others in the fails.
And aand scams related to cryptocurrencies and NFTs are causing some consumers to exercise caution.
dozens of companies
As Miami looks to attract more investment in cryptocurrency projects, Bitcoin 2022 organizers say at least 75 companies will make announcements at the conference.
Last year, El Salvador President Nayib Bukele made international headlines at the event when he revealed via video that his country would be the first to make cryptocurrencies legal tender. Bukele will attend the conference this year.
One of the most anticipated announcements could come from 27-year-old Jack Mallers, CEO of bitcoin payments app Strike, who has worked with the Bukele government on bitcoin adoption nationwide.
Mallers has also partnered with Twitter to sync its app with the social network to make it possible to send digital money as “tips” without requiring a bank like Cash App and PayPal, and demonstrated in a video how he sent 10 dollars to a man in a Salvadorian Starbucks.
“Why would anyone ever use Western Union again? When you take one of the largest social internet networks in the world, you combine it with the world’s top open currency network,” he says in the video posted on YouTube. “Western Union, pawn on E4. What’s your move?”
It remains to be seen what the effort will bring in the future. South Florida experienced a population decline of more than 18,000 people between July 2020 and July 2021. And critics worry the city doesn’t have a top-ranking university that could build a workforce to help businesses thrive like the Bay Area and New York do.
But Miami businessman Josip Rupena, who will be speaking about his crypto-mortgage startup at the conference, said he will strive for a few more years.
Rupena’s company, called Milo, has raised $24 million in venture capital from investors to become a lender for people who have built significant digital wealth but don’t want to exchange cryptocurrency for US dollars to buy a home.
“I think for the first time we have a platform – and a national platform – to tell others that there are really a lot of smart and capable people here. It’s great that we can amplify this message,” said Rupena.