SDF Scene Report: Mexico City
North America’s largest city is vibrant, tenacious, and ready for take-off.
Mexico’s capital is the largest city in North America with a metro population of over 21 million, but you’d never know it walking down the quiet, canopied streets of Condesa and Roma Norte. These neighborhoods are where the majority of Mexico City’s tech accelerators and incubators are located, nestled in colonial-era buildings in between the trees. The atmosphere is peaceful and almost sleepy, which belies the dynamism of the start-up scene: the last decade has seen an explosion of entrepreneurship in Mexico City (otherwise known as CDMX, or the Ciudad de México).
In early April, the Stellar Development Foundation held its first meetup in Mexico City, and I had the opportunity to get a firsthand look into CDMX’s DLT community. Some were seasoned developers and fixtures in the blockchain scene; others were being exposed to the protocol for the first time. Uniformly, however, the community was curious, good-natured, and eager to engage with practical use cases for the technology.
Overshadowing the event was a cloud of questions around the immediate future of blockchain tech in CDMX. There’s a lot of debate, and a real diversity of opinion, regarding the recently proposed changes to regulation around cryptocurrencies in Mexico. In late March, the Mexican Office for Domestic Affairs proposed a bill that would effectively shut down cryptocurrency exchanges.
The proposed bill allows the public 60 days to comment on this legislation, which has ignited debate throughout the country and in online forums on precisely what form the future of DLT in Mexico will take.“Our new government hates cryptocurrencies… this is going to set us behind 10 years” one developer grumbled at the bar, while another attendee voiced a different opinion, that this is simply a move to target speculative investment, and projects with vision beyond cryptocurrency trading won’t be meaningfully affected.
Despite the shifting sands of opinion on the future regulatory landscape, blockchain entrepreneurs in Mexico City haven’t taken their noses off their respective grindstones. There are some ambitious projects that are entering increasingly sophisticated stages of development.
The day after our event, I had the opportunity to meet with AirTM’s CEO Ruben Galindo and Marco Neri, CEO of Saldo. Both of these teams are building products around Mexico’s $35 billion dollar remittance market. It’s a smart move; Mexico doesn’t only represent the third largest country in terms of remittance inflows, it also has traditional cross-border payment infrastructures that could use an efficiency update, and a regulatory regime that thus far has allowed for DLT disruption. Though each is taking a very different approach, both Marco and Ruben offered compelling insight into issues of currency dynamics, and shared the belief that expanding education around blockchain is going to be necessary for Mexico’s development and startup community to build the projects that match their collective ambition.
While in Mexico City, I also went to a meetup hosted by Blockchain Meetup CDMX, tucked away in the back room of a co-working facility behind a pair of well-loved ping pong tables. There, CEO Daniel Uribe gave a presentation to a rapt audience on his vision for Genobank.io, which safely stores genomic information using blockchain technology. I had been expecting the event to be light on content and heavy on networking, as many of the other blockchain meetups I attend are, but this crowd seemed to have a laser-focus on learning rather than small talk.
While rivalries exist everywhere, I found the DLT community in Mexico City to be uncommonly fraternal. When discussing projects that other teams were working on, any comment that could be remotely construed as critical was unfailingly bookended by saying how talented and well intentioned the team behind it was. The community is still small enough — and the DLT ecosystem still nascent enough — that it’s important to be nice to one another. There’s an intuitive knowledge in budding communities that encouragement and support in equal measure are vital to success, not just on an individual level, but for everyone.
I saw this in Mexico City during the night of our event. When my co-host, Marco from Saldo, was midway through his presentation a soft rain started to fall on the uncovered heads of the audience. Rather than run for cover under the awning, the crowd continued to respectfully offer Marco their undivided attention until the end of his presentation as raindrops made their way down foreheads and onto shoulders, with not a whisper of a complaint. And I have the fondest memory of how after the event, a small group of us departed for a local late night pizza shop where we shared a pie and a round of local Victoria beer, sharing our visions of a DLT-enabled future until the early morning hours.
Mexico’s blockchain ecosystem is steadily gaining strength, buoyed by the humor and camaraderie of its community members. Watch this space: you’ll find a dynamic community finding its shape.