A new nonprofit founded by three Tampa Bay professionals is gaining traction by fostering community engagement and education in the cryptocurrency realm.
Bitcoin Bay started with local Bitcoin developers simply getting together to host cryptocurrency meetups. Bitcoin is a digital currency that is not tied to a bank or government and allows users to spend money anonymously. The digital coins can also be bought and sold in exchanges with U.S. dollars and other currencies. In hosting their weekly meetups, Bitcoin Bay president Wesley Schlemmer said he and his co-founders realized they needed to broaden their scope to reach a larger audience.
“Nobody knows anything about it,” Schlemmer said lightheartedly. “If you ask 10 people, ‘What is money?,’ you will have 10 different answers. So we really don’t even talk about Bitcoin all that much at first because we’re building context. What is money? Where did it come from? Why was Bitcoin created? What problems is it solving?”
At the heart of Bitcoin Bay’s mission is its commitment to providing a platform for individuals from all walks of life to come together and exchange ideas about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general. The free weekly gatherings provide opportunities for newcomers and seasoned “Bitdevs” to network, share insights and stay tuned into the latest developments in the ever-evolving crypto landscape with workshops and expert presentations.
“Most of our members are normal individuals who work jobs and have kids and haven’t considered this stuff before,” Schlemmer said. “Everyone is friendly and very open to helping the newcomers make sense of what the heck we’re saying at the front of the room sometimes.”
The Bitcoin Bay founders have been working with the Bitcoin Club at the University of Tampa to provide guest lectures and internship opportunities. This summer, they plan to host financial education camps for middle and high schoolers, giving young people a crash course in money and Bitcoin. The nonprofit will also provide workshops to show business owners and area entrepreneurs the tools available to them to transact and operate on Bitcoin.
Schlemmer said the goal is to create a circular economy around Bitcoin while also positioning the Tampa Bay area as the go-to vacation destination for visitors to pay for their next getaway using cryptocurrency.
“We want to create an area where there’s actual business adoption; you can travel here, stay here, eat here, be entertained here, all on a Bitcoin standard. You have places like Austin, which is where the developers are, and places like Nashville, which is all the media is, but you don’t really have a place that’s focused on local adoption. We want to be the vacation spot for Bitcoiners and for the coin actually to stay in the community and be used here.”
While the weekly Bitcoin meetups have been taking place informally for a few years, Schlemmer and his co-founders decided last spring that “This can’t just be a couple of guys hanging out anymore. We need to organize.” The founders completed the process of creating their 501(c)(3) nonprofit in November, and they’re hosting their first fundraising gala for Bitcoin Bay Saturday night from 6 to 10 p.m. at The Vault in Tampa. Schlemmer said the event is still open to join, and proceeds will help Bitcoin Bay grow into new partnerships, continue to host free workshops and coordinate community service projects, many focused on food security and accessibility.
“Bitcoin is really the least important aspect of this. Our mantra is community, prosperity and resilience, so we just see Bitcoin as the tool for that. Not the end; it’s just the means.”