The Future Hub of Blockchain — Dubai?

Dubai

From its origins as a small fishing creek populated by nomadic Bedouin tribes for much of its history, Dubai gradually emerged into a regional trading and export hub in the early 20th Century. However, it wasn’t until the discovery of oil in the 1960s that the impetus for the Dubai we know today germinated.

Today, the Dubai economy is quite diverse and primarily tourism-based. Known for its combination of visionary leadership, highly advanced infrastructure, a large number of expats (over 80% of Dubai’s population is foreign-born), and a superbly connected flight hub anchored by one of the world’s greatest airlines, Dubai is naturally poised to embrace the latest technological innovations.

Dubai as seen from the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.

For anyone who has been paying attention to this fascinating metropolis, it came as no surprise to learn of news that the Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum announced an ambitious agenda to have all government documentation (i.e. visa applications) transacted digitally on the blockchain by 2020. This news was followed by the Dubai Land Department becoming the first government agency in the world to publicly adopt blockchain technology, promising to have 100% of land registry records migrated to the blockchain.

I recently traveled to Dubai for the GCC Blockchain Conference upon invitation from the organizers to get a sense of Dubai’s place on the global blockchain continuum. The lavish event was a success and attracted many notable projects and insiders from the crypto space, including founders such as Jonathan Chou of Bee Token, Ismail Malik of Blockchain Lab, and Tamar Menteshashvili of Aimwise. I also had dinner with Jörg Molt, founder of Satoshi School and board member of the Lightning Network. Having personally counseled Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and several heads of state about Bitcoin, Molt has the noteworthy distinction of having amassed over 250,000 bitcoin since the cryptocurrency’s inception in 2009!

At the GCC event inside the five-star Dusit Thani Hotel. From l to r: Myself (Hen Global), Tamar Menteshashvili (Aimwise), Jonathan Chou (Bee Token), and Youngjin Lee (Seoul-based investment fund partner)
Lunch with Blockchain Lab and ICO Board Magazine founder Ismail Malik
Post-dinner pic with Lightning Network board member Jörg Molt

Perhaps the most memorable part of my visit was the trip to the Dubai Future Accelerators office upon the invitation from Angela Morrison of Rock Expansion. Having attracted the likes of Uber and Consensys, the latter of which still maintains a team there — and a recent impromptu visit from Bill Gates — the program receives its support from the Dubai Future Foundation, and operates a program which attracts some of the most innovative entrepreneurs from around the world and strategically pairs them with the Dubai government to solve global challenges using Dubai as a testing ground.

Angela facilitated for me a busy schedule of back-to-back-to-back meetings with founders of interesting startups, such as Lendflo (disintermediation of the finance invoicing process), Hubpay (remittances payments), and Block Bank (disintermediation of commercial banking services).

What made my visit even more special was the rare, yet fortunate, occasion of a visit from the Crown Prince Sheikh of Dubai. As if having stimulating conversations with some of the sharpest minds around wasn’t enough, there was a palpable buzz going around that was directly the result of the anticipation surrounding the Sheikh’s visit.

Dubai Future Accelerators
1776 co-working space, where the Consensys team has a presence. Consensys founder Joe Lubin occasionally pops in for a visit.
Security buildup for the Sheikh’s visit
Sighting of the Sheikh himself
With Adam Cuffe of London-based Block Bank, which I have agreed to join as an advisor.

Needless to say, Dubai is definitely making its presence felt in the blockchain industry and jostling for the status of being the premier hub in the space. I expect much more newsworthy developments to emerge from there in 2018. In fact, the first week of the new year will see Dubai host the Dubai International Blockchain Summit, the largest blockchain-related conference in the Middle East.

Given the great time I had at the GCC Blockchain Conference in November, you can bet on my attendance at the January event. For readers interested in attending or sponsoring the event, please feel free to reach out to me for a warm intro to the organizers by sending an e-mail to hen@hen.global.

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