Wednesday morning, investors, developers and c-level executives in tech gathered at the Williamsburg Hotel in Brooklyn to participate in the inaugural Brooklyn Tech Week (BTW), a four-day, free conference where the focus is on blockchain technology, its current adoption so far, and how Brooklyn is leading the way in innovating its future.
So you might be asking, what exactly is blockchain?
A notoriously nebulous concept for anyone outside of tech or web development, blockchain technology has been described in the most simplest terms as “a new form of the Internet.” And similar to users of the Internet, you don’t necessarily need to know how it works to benefit from or use it. However, it’s a concept certainly worth understanding, if you’re willing to try.
Blockchains work to decentralize peer-to-peer activity so that the exchange of information or assets is not controlled by one central authority. By encrypting data into multiple blocks that form a collective and traceable chain, blockchain technology increases transparency and accountability in online transactions, dramatically improving trust in agreements.
Ethereum, an open software platform based on blockchain technology that enables developers to build and deploy decentralized applications, is helping to usher in an entire ecosystem where blockchain efficiencies work as a network.
The overall ambition is to create a more secure and simplified Internet that effectively eliminates the need for a third party interrogator. For example, through blockchain technology, the exchange of sensitive data, such as contracts, identity information or financial assets, is easily tracked and secured directly between both parties. The inherent functionality of blockchain eliminates the middleman and thwarts the hacking and manipulation of information from online threats.
The first major application of blockchain technology was Bitcoin in 2009, a cryptocurrency– or digital coin– that runs on a blockchain.
What many people also may not know is that in the midst of blockchain’s meteoric rise, Brooklyn has emerged as a central hub for much of these conversations.
And why not? Considering Brooklyn’s history, diversity and growing Tech Triangle, it has become an attractive destination for techies looking to move the latest innovation into real-world applications, said Brittany Laughlin, a partner with Lattice Investors and a speaker at the BTW conference.
She points to e-commerce company Etsy’s decision in 2009 to headquarter in Brooklyn as a “huge win, not only for Brooklyn, but also New York City.” Etsy’s success, she adds, led to the creation of wealth that “flowed over” and enabled more entrepreneurs to set up shop in the area.
And then there’s ConsenSys, the largest and fastest-growing blockchain company focused on building the Ethereum ecosystem: “ConsenSys… has built a huge team, so a lot of individuals go there, learn the business, and then a number of them have spun out to start their own companies or they’ve done it through ConsenSys,” said Laughlin.
CoinFund is another Brooklyn-based cryptofund investor that works to grow blockchain-focused companies.
In order for blockchain to work at its most effective level, it needs broad-based collaboration. So the greatest challenge and most important goal for the developers of blockchain-based tools right now is about getting the layman, the consumer to understand its utility and the value it can bring to their everyday lives.
This was a big goal of the conference, which is why it was free: lawyers, business professionals, web developers and some local small business owners attended the first day of BTW conference, eager to soak in as much as possible about block chain and some its more simple, everyday real-world applications.
Dimitri Love, the founder of the finance app Bundil, helps people “passively invest” in digital currency on Bundil’s blockchain-fueled platform by collecting the spare change from its users’ everyday purchases. So if a Bundil user purchases a sweater for $28.50, that extra 50 cents will be automatically invested.
“We want to be able to make it easy for the average person to get into pseudocurrencies like BitCoin or Ethereum,” explained Love, who was awarded a $100,000 investment from Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary for the further development of Bundil.
Kat Banas, a fashion stylist, consultant and costume designer, knows very little about technology, coding or web development. She attended BTW because she believes blockchain can be very useful in supply chain manufacturing, dramatically lowering the cost to do business in retail.
“I work with emerging designers and bigger designers as well, and where they are sourcing their materials is a big deal,” said Banas. “The shipping [costs] throughout those countries are enormous, and it makes it impossible to be a sustainable business.”
Banas believes that because the data stored in a blockchain database does not require any centralized verification, transaction fees will be significantly reduced, resulting in more affordable clothing.
“I think it will be a positive change, eventually,” she stated.
And Love echoes Banas’s remarks: “I see the blockchain technology being applied to various projects and definitely used in our everyday lives. I see a very, very promising future for blockchain.”
If you’d like to learn more about blockchain and its emerging applications, check out Brooklyn Tech Week’s free conference which continues through Saturday. To learn more and see a full schedule of events, go here.