Crypto craze on full display at Miami Bitcoin Conference


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 Conference 2022 which runs from Wednesday to Saturday as a place to network, present ideas and share announcements.

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 the trendy Wynwood neighborhood, where other tech companies are also moving.

“Wynwood really has that kind of spirit that you look for when a new tech industry is built,” said Peter Smith, CEO and co-founder of Blockchain.com.

Many cite a welcoming environment cultivated by local officials, primarily Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who has attracted national attention attracting technology investment and becoming one of the Crypto-Friendly US Mayors.

Others note that Miami and Florida are good for business and have remained open during the pandemic, making it more attractive as a location.

“It’s hard to deny that this is an incredible opportunity for companies to come here and grow their crypto venture,” said John Bartleman, CEO of Plantation, Florida-based TradeStation, a multi-broker. assets.

Bartleman’s company commissioned an 11-foot (3-meter) robotic statue of a bull intended to mimic Wall Street’s “Charging Bull.” Suarez unveiled the artwork on Wednesday to a cheering crowd kicking off the conference in Miami Beach.

“Welcome to the future of finance,” said the mayor.

All of this enthusiasm stands in stark contrast to Bitcoin’s tough year. Financially, the cryptocurrency hit a high of $67,553.95 in November before falling 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.

Kathy Kraninger leads regulatory affairs for Solidus Labs, a company that monitors digital asset risk. The former director of the US Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection said the sector was “not the Wild West”, but challenges persisted.

“We think a lot of companies in the industry need to come forward and really think about technical standards on how to protect investors and build smarter,” she said, adding that 30 companies are joining an effort to train the people to best practices, identify manipulation activities and determine what measures could prevent abuse of the crypto market.

As Miami aims to attract more investment, 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 do legal tender of cryptocurrency. Bukele was due to speak at this year’s conference but canceled it as his country is in a state of emergency following dozens of murders and the arrest of 6,000 suspected gang members over the past week.

One of the most anticipated announcements may come from Jack Mallers, 27, CEO of payment app Bitcoin Strike, who worked with the government of Bukele on the 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 video how he sent $10 to a man at a Salvadoran Starbucks.

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, received $24 million in venture capital from investors to become a lender for people with massive digital wealth.

“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.

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Associated Press writer David Hamilton contributed to this story from San Francisco.

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