Thousands of cryptocurrency enthusiasts are flocking to Miami as the city builds its reputation as one of the key places to develop blockchain technology despite its underdog status.
Dozens of companies use the Bitcoin 2022 conference which runs from Wednesday to Friday as a place to network, pitch ideas, and share announcements with the industry and beyond.
New York City and Silicon Valley continued to lead in funding raised by blockchain startups in 2021, with $6.5 billion and $3.9 billion. But Miami is now tied with Los Angeles, where companies have secured more than $760 million in funding, according to market research firm CB Insights.
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 so far, Blockchain.com, will house 200 employees in a location in trendy Wynwood, where other tech companies and investors are also moving in.
“Wynwood really has that kind of spirit that you’re looking for when a new tech industry is built,” Blockchain.com CEO and co-founder Peter Smith said, comparing it to San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood and in Brooklyn in New York. “At the end of the day, you want to be with the other tech companies.”
Many cite a welcoming environment cultivated by local officials, primarily Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who has garnered national attention for attracting tech investment and becoming one of America’s crypto-friendly mayors.
Others note that Miami and Florida are business-friendly and have remained open during the pandemic, making it more attractive as places where people can work remotely.
“It’s possible to move to a place where you can buy a house and see the sun every day,” Smith said.
All of this enthusiasm stands in stark contrast to Bitcoin’s tough year. Financially, the cryptocurrency peaked at $67,553.95 in November just before plunging nearly in half at the end of January; it remains down about 30% from that November peak. Bitcoin is also largely absent from many of the hottest crypto trends, such as non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, which allegedly offer a way to auction off “one-of-a-kind” copies of digital art and digital art. other cyberobjects.
More generally, critics question the assumptions underlying the claimed value and usefulness of crypto technology, with some comparing the hype and so far unfulfilled promises of blockchain technologies to a pattern of Ponzi which benefits the first participants but leaves everyone in the lurch.
As Miami aims to attract more investment for cryptocurrency projects, Bitcoin 2022 organizers say at least 75 companies will make announcements at the conference.
Last year, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele made international news at the event, revealing via video that his country would be the first to make cryptocurrency legal tender. Bukele will be at the conference this year.
One of the most anticipated announcements may come from Jack Mallers, 27, CEO of bitcoin payment app Strike, who worked with the government of Bukele on the nationwide launch of bitcoin.
Mallers has also partnered with Twitter to sync its app with the social network to allow digital money to be sent as “tips” without the need for a bank like Cash App and PayPal, demonstrating in a video how he sent $10 to a man at a Salvadoran Starbucks. .
“Why would anyone use Western Union again? When you take one of the largest social internet networks in the world, you combine it with the best open money network in the world,” he says in the posted video. on YouTube. “Western Union, pawn at E4. What is your approach?”
It remains to be seen what the effort will yield in the future. South Florida saw its population shrink by more than 18,000 people between July 2020 and July 2021. And critics fear the city lacks a top-ranking university that could create a workforce to grow businesses, as the Bay Area and New York are doing.
But Miami businessman Josip Rupena, who will speak about his crypto-mortgage startup at the conference, said he would give the effort a few years.
Rupena’s company, called Milo, has received $24 million in venture capital from investors to become a lender for people who have accumulated massive digital wealth but don’t want to convert cryptocurrency into US dollars to buy a House.
“For the first time, I think we have a platform – and a national platform – to tell others that there really are a lot of smart, capable people here. It’s great that we can amplify that message,” Rupena said.
Associated Press writer David Hamilton contributed to this story from San Francisco.