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Bermuda attracts attention of tech ‘big fish’

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One of the biggest names in crypto and digital technologies attended the inaugural Bermuda Tech Week, although not as a guest speaker.

Google and Binance were among the globally significant companies with representatives participating in the events, alongside outstanding pioneers such as Jeff Pulver.

Meanwhile, in general attendance was Justin Sun, founder of cryptocurrency platform Tron and chief executive officer of BitTorrent.

Tron's TRX is the eleventh largest digital currency in the world with a market capital of $1 billion.

Mr Sun this year successfully bid $4.5 million to secure a lunch meeting with Warren Buffett, and last week shared with his 1.9 million Twitter followers a picture of himself and David Burt, the Premier, at Bermuda Tech Week.

The calibre and prominence of those attending the event was remarked on by Stan Stalnaker, founding director of Hub Culture, and Roland Andy Burrows, CEO of the Bermuda Business Development Agency.

The aforementioned Mr Pulver praised Bermuda for embracing technology innovation. In the 1990s, he was at the leading edge of voice over internet protocol, many years before the emergence of services like Skype.

Sharing his thoughts on Bermuda Tech Week, Mr Pulver said: “This government is proactive. I don't know anywhere else on Earth where innovation is readily received, and because it is proactive, it encourages entrepreneurship, it encourages business to be developed.”

Mr Burrows said: “The week has been phenomenally successful. Having 300, 400, 500 people come to attend is a good story. We look forward to seeing how we grow exponentially next year.”

Bermudian-based Hub Culture staged its second Bermuda Innovation Sprint, which overlapped with Tech Week and included the Liquidity Summit.

Mr Stalnaker said it was amazing to see so many people participating in Tech Week, and added: “It wasn't just the quantity, it was the quality of the attendees.

“We brought in over 35 companies involved with the Liquidity Summit, they also represented some of the biggest companies in the world in the crypto space.

“And Tech Beach and the BDA [Bermuda Tech] Summit, even more so. Together you have the biggest companies in the space on the island.

“For the Sprint and for Tech Week it is really about framework”.

Praising the Premier, the Fintech Bermuda team and the Bermuda Monetary Authority, he said: “Bermuda does now have the best framework for this in the world, and it is attracting the attention of the really big fish.

“There are companies here on the island this week who are running over a billion dollars a month in transactions. They were here looking at Bermuda. That is bound to have a play because it is no longer theoretical, these big companies looking at doing activity and trying to understand how they could have some form of operations here.

“It is really a big shift from last year.”

The Bermuda Tech Summit opened with an announcement by Mr Burt that Government had committed to accept digital currency payments, providing they are one-to-one US dollar-backed digital currencies that are licensed by the BMA.

The intention is to have the initiative ready by the start of the new year.

Support has come from Circle, the first company to achieve a full licence under Bermuda's Digital Asset Business Act, and which counts Goldman Sachs among its backers.

Mr Stalnaker is among those offering support to the development who, along with Mr Burt spoke about what it could mean for Bermuda (see video).

In a follow-up interview, when asked about the potential for the digital currency payment initiative, and the possibility that some might view it as a risk, Mr Stalnaker said: “People will be surprised at the advantages it provides to Bermuda.

“A stablecoin is asset-backed one-to-one. You can be sure that the BMA is going to make sure that anyone who is operating a stablecoin here is fully asset-backed, so there is not a liquidity redemption issue.”

He added: “The opportunity is ease of payment and lower transaction cost, and in some companies' new business models that will pay you better interest.

“It is going to provide Bermuda the opportunity to make the whole island a laboratory for financial innovation which can scale outward.

“For start-ups and local companies, having that capability to work on these things here should mean the opportunity to scale exponentially later.”

He mentioned apps developed in Bermuda during the past two years, including DropIt Delivery, Sargasso Sea, Winnow and Trippmatch.

“These guys are in the centre of an innovative place for scaling their businesses in ways that other places can't.

“So, it's great for the local start-up scene, it's going to be great for payments for consumers, it will potentially create new ways for Bermudians to generate wealth, and it puts Bermuda in front of everyone else in the world in being able to deploy fintech.”

Speaking broadly about Tech Week, Hub Culture and future plans, Mr Stalnaker said: “From the point of view of Liquidity [Summit], we see massive change in the scope of the conversation.”

He talked about a session that discussed Hollywood and the use of blockchain for film financing and tokenisation, and also digital asset vaulting, such as could be used of intellectual property and film rights.

He said the best thing was getting “all the players in the room to work on ideas that help everybody”.

Mr Stalnaker believes Sir John Swan, the former Premier, said it best.

“At Liquidity, he said Bermuda has the ability for businesses to operate like friends and build friendship between people, because it is a very personable place.

“You can't live and work in Bermuda without bumping up with everybody else all the time.

“So, there is a cordial note of civility that most exist in Bermuda, and that infects the companies and that civility is hard to find elsewhere and it makes Bermuda very attractive.”

He also spoke about a hope that a “global digital middle-class” can be created.

“The focus has been on building these stupid unicorns that soaked up all the money and make a few people really rich. That's not a good recipe for society,” he said.

“What is more important is that we need to start focusing on building a global digital middle class.”

Hub Culture released Ven, a digital currency, in 2007. While its Ultra Exchange, a digital asset exchange, went live last year in a limited capacity. Mr Stalnaker said: “We are working with the BMA on how best to use it. Our hope is to work with the BMA to get that viable for the community here in Bermuda.

“Our AI project is gathering steam and our governance project is up and running. We have this ecosystem of technologies that go far beyond Ven, which exists here.”

The organisation has seven employees on the island that are doing work.

Ms Stalnaker said: “They are not ‘jobs', but we have a whole team of people here who are working. Some of them are young people who we are training up.

“It's not full-time jobs, but it is people working for us here. It's flexible and it's persistent, and we are training them in things like decentralised virtual real estate development, or customer service for onboarding according to BMA compliance.”

During the coming year Hub Culture intends to expand its set-up at Davos, Switzerland, during the World Economic Summit.

“We will be building the tech lodge — a new building focused on human freedom in the age of monolithic tech. It is going to be a conversations around human freedom,” said Mr Stalnaker.

Hub Culture also intends to have a presence linked to the World Expo in Dubai, with a virtual pavilion and possibly a physical one. The organisation will also have a pavilion in place when Tokyo hosts the Olympics.

Turning to wider issues, asked about his thought on the difficulties being encountered by Facebook and its Libra digital currency project, which has seen major supporters, including PayPal, Visa and Mastercard, step away from the project, Mr Stalnaker said: “Libra is a Western democratic response to pervasive global payment systems by Russia and China.”

He said Telegram, which started in Russia, and China's WeChat, both have more than a billion-users each and have digital currency plans.

“So the US and Europe working together have a choice; they have to scale social-based payment systems or they are going to lose control of the global payment system. It's not like in the future, it is in the next six months.

“What is really at stake is the US-control of peer-to-peer payments.”

Mr Stalnaker believes Libra will go ahead.

Big shift: Stan Stalnaker, founding director of Bermudian-based Hub Culture, which launched its digital currency Ven in 2007, spoke about the impact of Bermuda's approach to tech innovation (Image from Royal Gazette video)
Tech pioneer: Jeff Pulver speaking at the Bermuda Tech Education Summit, part of Tech Week (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
In attendance: Justin Sun, left, CEO of Tron, tweeted this photograph with David Burt, the Premier, from the Bermuda Tech Week (Photograph by Justin Sun/Twitter)
Tech hospitality panel discussion at the Hamilton Princess (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Making impact: Roland Andy Burrows, CEO of the Bermuda Business Development Agency, addressing delegates at the Bermuda Tech Summit (Photograph supplied)

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Published October 21, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated October 21, 2019 at 9:05 am)

Bermuda attracts attention of tech ‘big fish’

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