The Florida Bitcoin & Blockchain Summit kicked off Thursday, bringing dozens of industry leaders and hundreds of stakeholders together as they seek to make Florida a leader in blockchain and financial technology.
Thursday was the opening day of the two-day event, and the excitement exuding from both attendees and industry leaders was palpable. Amalie Arena, home to the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning, is hosting the summit. Business mogul Jeff Vinik owns both the arena and the Lightning and will receive the Innovation Catalyst Award to close out the event today.
Vinik spearheaded the Embarc Collective – a nonprofit startup hub focused on technology and innovation. Embarc companies have raised over $107 million in venture capital in just over 2.5 years. Both Embarc and one of its biggest success stories – Blockspaces – are integral partners of the Florida Bitcoin & Blockchain Summit (FBBS) and its founder, Chis Krimitsos.
“Jeff Vinik is building the physical infrastructure that is allowing us to connect internally to build the virtual infrastructure of the future,” said Krimitsos.
The expansive event covers the fourth level at Amalie Arena, featuring booths from industry leaders such as the aforementioned Blockspaces, Celsius Network, Synapse, among many others. One booth held an online non-fungible token auction (NFT) for Tiny Planet Photography and art.
In addition to the FBBS, Krimitsos is also the founder of Podfest, one of the world’s largest podcasting conferences. Launched in Tampa, Podfest is holding its Origins conference in conjunction with the FBBS, and podcasters were ubiquitously conducting interviews with fintech leaders throughout the day.
St. Pete Catalyst publisher Joe Hamilton is also showcasing Catalyst Metacities, which has placed first and second in its first two startup competitions. Hamilton, in addition to serving as Head of Network for Metacity, is also the St. Petersburg Community Leader for the Florida Blockchain Business Association (FBBA). Hamilton will present Vinik with the Innovation Catalyst Award on behalf of the FBBA and the FBBS Friday afternoon.
There are two presentation areas at the summit, the Celsius Main Stage in the Firestick Lounge, and the University of South Florida room. Both featured a myriad of industry leaders from the day’s beginning at 10 a.m. Thursday, until its end at 5 p.m. A highlight of Thursday’s presentations was the opening keynote with Carl Hua, Chief Architect for Celsius.
Celsius could be described as a blockchain-based bank, although its motto is “unbank yourself.” Through Celsius, consumers can earn, borrow and pay on the blockchain, all via a mobile app. Membership provides access to curated financial services not available through traditional financial institutions, and cryptocurrency holders can earn interest by transferring their coins to their Celsius Wallet. Members can also borrow U.S. dollars against their crypto collateral at interest rates as low as 4.95%.
Hua decried the lack of interoperability between blockchain networks such as Bitcoin and Ethereum before making an announcement that could completely alter the blockchain landscape.
Hua compared the lack of interoperability in blockchain to a cellphone that can only make calls to people on its respective network. “That also shows how early this industry and this field is,” he said. Hua noted some primitive infrastructure for the synergy is currently in place, “but no institutions will ever adopt them.”
With that, Hua announced a new decentralized finance (DeFi) arm of the Celsius Network – Celsius X.
“We have been incubating a very special team at Celsius to build the infrastructure for tomorrow’s world,” he explained.
Hua said the goal is to reduce the friction between using separate blockchain networks by building a bridge between centralized finance (CeFi) and Defi. An ambitious effort, as Hua mentioned before, that has not been perfected.
CeFi exchanges or platforms are owned by a single entity or corporation – such as the popular crypto exchange Coinbase. These institutions offer many services to make crypto more accessible to customers while also controlling every aspect of the operation. DeFi aims to decentralize ownership and become community-owned. With DeFi, all users have a say in how the application should function. The community also runs and maintains the platform’s code. Instead of relying on a centralized financial intermediary to help provide services, DeFi utilizes smart contracts on blockchains to process contracts, without the need for a third party.
Hua stated that Celsius will not charge fees for this bridge, and merging the two systems will also provide more transparency, liquidity and privacy. He also announced Celsius is working on a stablecoin – a class of cryptocurrency that offers price stability and is backed by a reserve asset, similar to how dollars were once backed by gold.
Hua told the enthusiastic crowd the stablecoin is in the very early stages of development, and Celsius would provide more details in the future.
Day two of the FBBS promises to bring even more excitement and features a bevy of highly-anticipated speakers. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor will deliver the welcoming address, and Nuke Goldstein, Co-Founder of Celsius, is the opening keynote. Following a steady procession of area blockchain and fintech leaders throughout the day, ARK Investment’s Cathie Wood will deliver the final keynote.
Alongside Wood for the closing fireside chat will be Embarc Collective CEO Lakshmi Shenoy and ARK Investment Cryptoasset Analyst Yassine Elmandjra. Hamilton will then end the two-day summit by presenting Vinik with the Innovation Catalyst Award.
For more information on the Florida Bitcoin & Blockchain Summit, visit its website here.