Crypto-capture Miami in full at the bitcoin conference

Miami (AP) – Thousands of cryptocurrency enthusiasts gather in Miami as the city builds its reputation as one of the key places to develop blockchain technology, despite having outsider status.

Dozens of companies are using the Bitcoin 2022 conference, which runs from Wednesday to Saturday, as a platform for networking, presenting ideas and exchanging ads.

New York and Silicon Valley continue to lead in funding raised by blockchain startups in 2021 with $ 6.5 billion and $ 3.9 billion, respectively. But Miami is now linked to Los Angeles, from where the firm has raised more than $ 760 million in funding, according to CB Insights, a market research firm.

Last year, the FTX cryptocurrency exchange bought the rights to the NBA arena name in downtown Miami, replacing American Airlines. The largest crypto company that has yet moved to Miami, Blockchain.com, will house 200 employees in the Winwood fashion district, where other technology firms are also opening stores.

“Wynwood really has the spirit you’re looking for when building a new technology sector,” said Blockchain.com CEO and co-founder Peter Smith.

Many cite the hospitable atmosphere cultivated by local officials, especially Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who has drawn the country’s attention. attracting investment in technology and becoming one of America’s crypto-friendly mayors.

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

“It’s hard to deny that this is an amazing opportunity for companies to come here and build their project into a crypt,” said John Bartleman, CEO of Plantation, a Florida-based TradeStation, a multi-asset broker.

Bartleman’s company commissioned an 11-foot (3-meter) robot-like statue of a bull designed to emulate the “Walking Bull” from Wall Street. Suarez presented the artwork on Wednesday to a joyful crowd that kicked off a conference in Miami Beach.

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

All this enthusiasm contrasts sharply with the difficult year of bitcoin. As for the financial side, in November the cryptocurrency reached a high of $ 67,553.95, and at the end of January fell almost twice; it remains at about 30% compared to that November high. Bitcoin is also largely missing in many of the most popular trends in crypto, such as irreplaceable tokens or NFTs, which allegedly offer a way to auction “unique” copies of digital art and other cyber objects.

In a broader sense, critics question the assumptions underlying the claimed value and usefulness of cryptocurrencies, with some comparing the hype and unfulfilled promises of blockchain technology to the Ponzi scheme, which benefits early participants but leaves everyone else in trouble.

Katie Craninger manages regulatory matters at Solidus Labs, a company that tracks digital asset risks. The former director of the U.S. Bureau of Financial Protection said the sector was “not the Wild West,” but problems persisted.

“We believe that many companies in the industry need to come forward and really think through technical standards on how to protect investors and how to build wisely,” she said, adding that 30 companies are joining forces to teach people best practices, identify manipulative activities and identify measures that can prevent cryptocurrency abuse.

As Miami seeks to attract more investment, organizers of Bitcoin 2022 say at least 75 companies will be making announcements at the conference.

Last year, El Salvador President Naib Bukele made international news at the event, showing in a video that his country would be the first to do so. legal tender cryptocurrency. Bukele was due to speak at this year’s conference, but was canceled because his country is in a state of emergency after dozens of killings and arrests of 6,000 suspected gang members in the past week.

One of the most anticipated reports may come from 27-year-old Jack Mahlers, CEO of the Bitcoin Payments App, who worked with the Bukele government to launch bitcoin.

Mellers also collaborated with Twitter to sync his app with the social network to make it possible to send digital money as a “tip” without needing a bank like Cash App and PayPal, showing on video how he sent $ 10 to a person in Salvadoran Starbucks.

It remains to be seen what efforts will be made in the future. Between July 2020 and July 2021, the population of South Florida decreased by more than 18,000 people. And critics worry that the city does not have a high-ranking university that could create a workforce to keep companies thriving, as the Gulf area and New York do.

But Miami businessman Joseph Rupena, who will talk about his launch of cryptocurrencies at the conference, said he has been making efforts for several years.

A Rupeni company called Mila received $ 24 million in venture capital from investors to become a lender to people with significant digital wealth.

“For the first time, I think we have a platform – and a national platform – to tell others that there are really a lot of smart and capable people here. It is great that we can expand this message, ”Rupena said.

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

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