All the Highlights from the Cryptocurrency World Expo in Berlin
As the European blockchain industry continues to grow, check out the brightest projects and biggest ideas driving the decentralization movement forward.
by Dana Knight.
At the Cryptocurrency World Expo in Berlin, a one-day conference covering the full gamut of the digital currency and blockchain space, the energy of Europe’s bustling and fast-growing tech scene was plain to see. I was introduced to many new blockchain startups and exciting business concepts, from big cryptocurrency exchanges to fintech startups, miners, traders, blockchain developers, and experts in tax and legislation.
The Expo was an intimate event with about 1,600 delegates and 60 exhibitors gathering at Cine Star Cubix, Alexanderplatz, in the heart of Berlin, and this gave attendees the chance to really get to know each other and the projects involved. The quality of the blockchain experts who spoke on the main stage was high, and the event provided great insight into the burgeoning blockchain scene in Berlin and beyond. The Expo lived up to its name, and was an international event, with startups from the US, Europe, Scandinavian countries, all the way to Japan via Kazakhstan. The atmosphere was contagious in its excitement.
Despite the hype that digital currencies have seen over the past year, a lot of people still don’t understand what blockchain is. Some things that newbies to the space should be aware of: First, blockchain technology is not restricted to the financial sector. Yes, it is the underlying technology behind digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, but its use and importance stretches beyond that.
Explained in relatable terms: If you count trust, transparency, safety, efficiency and personal accountability among your values, you’re a fan of blockchain, you just don’t know it yet! Why? Because blockchain makes the world a better place by making trust possible between any parties, anywhere.
To take it a level of abstraction higher, a simple definition of blockchain would be: a continuously updated record of who holds what. This record or ledger, is made up of chains of “blocks” of information that are secured by cryptography, through maths and code. The system is decentralised and the list of distributed ledgers is available for everyone to see. Further, the chain is based on consensus, making it a very democratic tool. Called “the next stage of the internet,” blockchain holds vast promise for every society, every business, every individual.
So many of the projects I saw represented at the Cryptocurrency World Expo took these ideas and capabilities to create solutions for very real problems. Here are just a few startups with which I was introduced that are implementing blockchain technology to interesting and creative results:
Profede claims to enable users to be financially compensated for trading in the gold of the 21st century: data! It does this by decentralising professional data and tokenising professional communication, like what you share on LinkedIn and similar sites. According to Profede CEO, Juan Imaz, this may grow to be a trillion dollar market, as major enterprise all over the world spending tens of thousands of dollars to access professional data in recruitment.
Using the same principle of data exchange, repay.me, a Berlin-based startup, makes it possible for people to shop for free. Their vision is to create the legal and technical conditions to allow users worldwide, online & offline, to pay with REME coins anywhere, and get up to 100% cashback on everything they buy, new or used, without additional steps. The repay.me marketplace will be online this spring.
Another ambitious startup, TontineTrust aims at providing blockchain based pensions. The CEO of the company, Dean McClelland, gave a talk with a slightly ominous title: “How Satoshi Would Solve the Next Financial Crisis.” He imparted on us both bad news — McClelland claims that the new global financial crisis has already started — and good news: The crisis can be solved, using blockchain solutions.
According to McClelland, the top 20 OECD countries face a $78 trillion pension shortfall, this being the difference between what governments promised to pay to retired citizens and what they can actually pay. This is extremely bad news for a large part of the population who is about to retire and all the generations coming after them. With a “tontine”, members can benefit from larger pensions the older they get with a peer-to-peer pension network.
Another notable project was Fire Lotto, an international lottery based on Ethereum. Its founder, Mikhail Bogdavov, pitched it as the world’s first truly fair lottery controlled by smart contracts and built into the blockchain. A bit of backstory: traditionally, governments had monopoly on this market (which is huge at over 300B) and take up to 50% of ticket sales, plus 60% taxes on winnings. On top of this, ensuring fairness of the game is a big challenge as there is the possibility of manipulation or fraud: are the tickets and lottery real? is the money really accumulated in one pool?
Fire Lotto solves this problem with blockchain technology and ETH smart contracts for collecting and distributing funds, drawing winning numbers in a random fashion, and paying commissions to token holders. This turns the traditional lottery into a completely transparent and fully decentralized platform with more chances to win for every participant.
And if you’re one of the lucky winners, you’ll need a platform to spend that money in a wise fashion. This is where Eligma comes in, another blockchain startup I discovered at Cryptocurrency World Expo Berlin. Eligma offers smart unified shopping using AI. Their product will save you a lot of time browsing through hundreds of similar products online trying to find the right one. This AI-driven and blockchain-based cognitive commerce platform makes shopping a less frustrating experience by changing the way people discover, purchase, track and resell items online.
And the proposition for their Testing Lab, Bitcoin City, is nothing short of fascinating, if a bit scary: a trade and shopping centre with 10,000 brands, 4,000 business, 450 stores, 70 bars and restaurants, complete with food court, recreation centre, water park, cineplex, hotels and a casino, attracting 21 million yearly visitors who will be able to carry out transactions both in fiat and cryptocurrencies using Eligma’s system EliPay with ELI tokens and its AI product search feature. Bitcoin City will enter both the online and offline worlds of commerce next month. If you still have problems picturing the concept, watch this video.
The main takeaway from the conference was a reflection that kept recurring from one speaker to the next: 2018 will be the year when crypto goes mainstream. It’s been almost 10 years since Bitcoin was invented, and in spite of its being acknowledged as an incredibly clever idea and a better alternative for storing value than gold is, only a tiny portion of the population is involved in this space — currently, slightly over 20 million people worldwide own a crypto wallet. But how can we make the crypto space more accessible? There are obviously no gatekeepers blocking people’s access to it, the main issue is the highly technical language used in this space, which makes the communication with the large public rather cryptic.
To this effect, Hideki Ehara, CEO of AI Innovation Japan, whose vision is to become Asia’s largest producer of token launches, talked about the importance of services such as consultancy for best practices and regulation for new startups. He also highlighted the importance of education initiatives like “wallet lecturing” for the general public, many of whom may still be confused about things like how to use a wallet, where to store a private key, or how to make an investment using cryptocurrencies — even in Japan where there’s a lot of excitement about cryptocurrencies. Ehara mentioned the company’s vast array of token-based projects, ranging from venture investments to diamond trading to research on incurable diseases and tokenized art.
If this brave new tech world is very exciting for some, it can also seem a bit scary for others. Not least among whom are the regulators, desperately trying to figure out the legal framework for this wild entrepreneurial landscape.\. While the US has a very strict attitude to regulation, Europe has a more mature, slower approach. In Germany for instance, BaFin provides a lot of advice for startups, investors and the public alike regarding token launches and ICOs, in an attempt to separate the scams from sound and innovative business models.
And there’s hope that the new entrepreneurial landscape will self-regulate. “Acting honestly and pursuant to the accountability principle is just the right magic this new technology era needs” read the slides of Irena Dimitric, head of legal at cofound.it. And this would be the ideal outcome, since innovation can’t really be stopped and progress only moves in one direction — forward.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author above do not necessarily represent the views of SingularDTV