Miami is a developing utopia for digital entrepreneurs and remote workers. Zero state income tax, beaches, beautiful weather, and for the same cost of a basement apartment in NYC or SF, you can be waking up to a sunrise on the water.
Despite its travel brochure-esque allure, an anticipated flood of entrepreneurs has yet to come. At a macro scale, the world’s tech innovators tend to flock to cities like the Bay Area and the Northeast where talent and capital flow aplenty.
However, within the last decade, the stream of able-minded entrepreneurs and investors started to explore opportunities with asymmetrical upsides in markets that have yet to near the levels of saturation of New York City and San Francisco. Miami, along with other secondary and tertiary startup markets such as Austin, Denver, and Atlanta has started to see spikes in both talent and investment capital.
COVID-19 also serves to exacerbate this trend, as the modern megalopolis transformed from its starry-eyed appeal into a more hellish rapid-contagion landscape. Nearly all companies have shifted to full-on remote work for the time being, and along with their employees, are starting to see the benefits of working remotely.
That brings us to blockchain and cryptocurrency in Miami. The core of the blockchain and cryptocurrency ethos is decentralization, and startups in the space are no different. This very decentralization and its implicit encouragement of remote work have made Miami a hotbed of blockchain and cryptocurrency activity.
Miami is home to several blockchain community-oriented initiatives, including the Miami Blockchain Center, The North American Bitcoin Conference, and the Miami Bitcoin Hackathon (which this writer’s team snagged the #1 prize in 2016.)
We connected with Eryka Gemma, the CEO of the Miami Blockchain Center, a hub and incubator for the blockchain and cryptocurrency community. She has worked closely with the Mayor and city of Miami to put Miami Blockchain on the map.
Could you give us a two-minute movie trailer of your life? How did you end up involved in the cryptocurrency and blockchain space?
When I was younger, I was really interested in politics. I genuinely wanted to understand what was happening politically. I would watch CSPAN and the news. I remember specifically one day watching the vice president on the news and everything he was saying just seemed like a lie. He was saying a lot of numbers, big words, and was very charismatic—I liked him, but he wasn’t actually saying anything of coherent value.
I would complain to friends about it and they told me to go watch this guy, Ron Paul. I did, and was immediately hooked, learned I was a libertarian and minarchist. I learned about the Federal Reserve and how the money system was flawed. I didn’t want what Dr. Paul said to be true but it just made sense. He was the first politician I’d come across where I felt they were saying something of value instead of just talking in circles.
At 19, I became a delegate for Ron Paul in Washington State. I learned so much, from the experience and met some of the smartest people that I’d met at that point in my life. People who were really intelligent in a lot of different ways, but specifically they were all critical thinkers who took action.
These were also the people in my life who introduced me to Bitcoin. Unfortunately, like most people in abusive relationships (I was in an abusive relationship with the state and mainstream media) I brain dumped everything from the experience when Ron Paul lost and forgot about bitcoin and moved to Florida to attend Embry Riddle Aeronautical University where I got a Bachelors of Science in Aeronautics.
But, I still loved my economics– I would host discussions on campus about Austrian vs. Keynesian economics and give speeches with titles like “the corruption of the Mainstream Media”, “Who is Rupert Murdoch” and “the subconscious mind.”
After college, I started working in the aircraft trading industry for a big wall street bank. The CEO of the bank was a legendary bankster who did the merger between Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. One day, at the end of a group video conference call, he opened it up to q&a for all the young people. I racked my brain for a good question and remembered bitcoin. I asked him what he thought about bitcoin and he and all the rest of the people in the room laughed. Later that day, I went back down the rabbit hole.
What’s a day in the life of Eryka Gemma look like?
Since I’m stuck in quarantine it isn’t glamorous at all. Get up, do my morning routine which includes stretching because that is so important to our bodies then I usually get on my computer and start off reading the news. A lot of computer and phone time right now, trying to run Blockchain Center virtually and host a lot of webcam live events. I am stuck in Seattle, my home town because I’m pretty sure I have coronavirus and don’t want to get people in Miami sick.
Can you give us a behind the scenes of how the blockchain center came to be?
While working full time in the aircraft trading and leasing space, I built a small community of people who wanted to learn how to buy bitcoin.
From there, I started hosting meetups in my spare time just to see what kind of community was around Miami. I started Crypto Mondays Miami and the response was really positive, had on average 80-100 people in 2017/2018. Getting the building was just the next logical step as we had been hosting at random locations throughout the city.
Who are the biggest parties involved?
Nick Spanos who started the original Bitcoin Center in NYC and a connection from my Ron Paul days showed interest in making a Miami branch. His connections in Miami including Moishe Mana, a real estate mogul one of Miami’s largest real estate developers were very instrumental in the opening of the building.
Moishe Mana owns many buildings in Miami’s downtown area and, with the tech arm of his company Mana Tech, he has a vision to revamp downtown into a millennial tech hub, and we are a part of that vision. What better way to do that then have a blockchain center attracting young talent?
Scott Spiegel a long time bitcoin fanatic and follower of the Mises Institute has also played a major role.
Miami is the silicon valley of Latin America, most major tech companies have their LatAm HQ in South Florida. Blockchain is a global technology, it only makes sense to make a hub for the Americas in a central location.
I like unsaturated markets, Miami is like a big city small town. If you work hard, it is easier to get recognized here for your work and get the right support behind you.
The local government is so supportive. The Mayor of Miami came to the opening of the center and did a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Miami Blockchain Center. The Downtown Development Authority and Beacon Council are especially interesting in seeing us succeed.
In terms of banking, Miami has the second most international banks in the US. Florida also has no state income tax. Many cities across the globe are vying to be the next tech hub, as taxes and living conditions in NYC and SF worsen, Florida and specifically Miami is welcoming this talent.
Moishe Mana has helped create an opportunity for Miami that many cities have not seen before. His team is very forward-thinking and is providing opportunities for companies and startups to move to Miami from around the globe.
Miami has the benefit of an incredibly diverse population and it’s seen as a crossroads doing business in South America and the Caribbean. But, an argument can be made that this quality has often stigmatized Miami’s entrepreneurial landscape – that other than appealing to South America, a startup would be better off in another startup hub like NYC, SF, Austin, Boston, etc. Do you think this argument is valid?
Like all things, it depends on the situation and the needs of the startup in question. Do they want to touch a Latin American audience? Do they value keeping their tax dollars? Do they value a better quality of life? A few things are for sure, Miami’s startup scene is still growing, which makes it easier to be recognized. Less expensive tech talent from South America is more accessible and there is a lot of wealth here looking to diversify into assets other than real estate. There are benefits and challenges to Miami but it is very fun here for sure.
The city of Miami has embraced blockchain and cryptocurrency. Why do you think that is?
Mayor Francis Suarez is a forward-thinking man who agrees downtown should be a technology hub. He understands our city has a major opportunity to use blockchain for the supply chain as we have an international airport and one of the major seaports for the country.
As the first Miami born mayor, he cares about the city and advocates for young talent and startups to move here and improve the quality of businesses that Miami natives can be hired into. Suarez is also a partner at Greenspoon Marder, a law firm that represents projects in multiple blockchain use cases. He understands from a business perspective the projected exponential growth of the blockchain industry and wants to ensure our city doesn’t miss out.
Moishe Mana’s vision of making downtown a millennial tech hub can really only be fulfilled by filling blockchain jobs. This industry is projected to grow quickly and attract young tech talent.
Where do you see the role of governments as blockchain gains more widespread adoption?
In terms of bitcoin, the role of governments would hopefully become more honest financially seeing that the people want a transparent financial system.
There are more people now than ever before aware that the Federal Reserve excessively prints money, this knowledge turning people onto alternative currencies, sound money and the blockchain.
What’s your vision for the future of Miami?
We want to be a millennial tech hub that rivals San Francisco but with an emphasis on decentralized technologies and a better quality of life.
I envision that downtown Miami will be the first place to have mass merchants accepting bitcoin and other digital currencies. This is a project we are working on at the Miami Blockchain Center.
Let’s do a thought experiment. How do you think the world would react to a $1,000,000 bitcoin by the end of 2020? How about a $10 Bitcoin by the end of 2020?
1 million bitcoin – Wall Street might freak out and try another attempt to lower the price (i.e. futures markets.) We already saw the CEOs of major banks shaming bitcoin when it was at 20k and we already saw the BIS rallying the government to get involved when Libra came onto the scene. With $1,000,000 bitcoin, the institutions will not be happy.
If this happens, the “wealth transfer” that so many have predicted will have happened. The impact will be most felt in poorer countries where I predict that the people will be able to overthrow corrupt governments.
A $10 bitcoin would make everyone tell me that I’m a scammer. But it’s okay because the fundamentals are still in place and It would be a great opportunity to buy more of this asset that is outside of the control of governments.
Are there any features that you think most blockchain projects lack? Generally, how can most projects improve?
If we are talking about the cryptocurrency use case of blockchain, those companies lack marketing teams. Of which, I am glad because most cryptocurrencies are not decentralized and should not be adopted because few hold control.
If we are talking about blockchain use case projects, they lack companies that are willing to change the status quo and front the cost to adopt something new that is, in the eyes of many, untested and unproven. Blockchain use case projects usually increase interoperability between companies, getting all companies within one industry to adopt one project will be proven to be an issue.
Overall, it is education that is lacking. A lack that can be seen across the board in almost every single facet of life.
Are there any projects in the space that serve as shining examples of cryptocurrency and blockchain entrepreneurship?
I am excited about Bitcoin and lightning network projects. The facet of blockchain that is most exciting is the decentralized aspects and the involvement of game theory. When these two aspects are not included in a project, I tend to not care about it as much unless it is addressing a specific industry problem.
I am also excited about Ravencoin and whichever STO project succeeds, even though I lost a lot of it in Cryptopia’s hack. I think that the tokenization of “securities” will be a huge upgrade to financial markets that are in need of an upgrade.
How do blockchain and cryptocurrency stand to change day-to-day life?
Regarding cryptocurrency, for the average person, it really depends on which country you live in. In places like Venezuela, Argentina and Zimbabwe, it is extremely life-changing because you have a currency that is more stable than your national currency. In places like the United States, cryptocurrency allows young knowledgeable people to diversify and not feel like they are tied to a sinking ship.
Regarding blockchain, it will not change day to day life for the average person until 5G and IoT are widely distributed.
What is your personal favorite story or most memorable breaking news story that you’ve come across in the Miami Blockchain Center?
My personal favorite story is regarding paying people who have freelanced work for us at the blockchain center. Right now, the maximum remittance fee is 56% for someone that sends money from the US to Venezuela. One of our contractors had a child and I wanted to send him a gift… if I were to send fiat, it would take at least 3 days and between both governments, 56% of it would not make it to the child who needed it the most!!! I sent bitcoin, he got it within ten minutes and a struggling family wasn’t subject to further oppression by a thieving government.
What are some ways in which someone who is reading this and is inspired and wants to help out, how can they get involved?
Tell people about Bitcoin and that it was created in response to the 2008 financial crisis’ crisis crony capitalism. Tell them that the consequence of the Federal Reserve printing more money means that the purchasing power of our dollar decreases.
Educating your friends and family about the importance of blockchain for security and financial autonomy.
At the blockchain center, we are always looking for people who want to contribute and share with the community. We have resources if individuals are interested in teaching others about bitcoin and resources for individuals who want to learn at home, especially while everyone is stuck at home. You can go to blockchaincenter.com or email [email protected]
Another good option is to move to Miami and experience the blockchain center and the great quality of life for yourself. If you’re a remote worker, come here for a few months and join our community!
Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
In light of the times, don’t be afraid of the Coronavirus. It is good to be prepared, it is good to take precautions but don’t let fear overtake you. There are so many people I have lost respect for because they are pushing for the government to take away everyone else’s constitutional rights because they are personally afraid.
Times are changing, Bitcoin is the exodus for many, and we are going to have to choose between defying social norms or begging the government for a false sense of security. Choose freedom, choose liberty, and know that America is one of the few countries in the world built on a constitution that gives rights to the individual. Those who are pushing for totalitarian regimes would do well to move to a country that is not the United States.
Thanks for talking about the Miami Blockchain Center, Eryka!
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