CLEVELAND, Ohio — Blockland Cleveland delivered what its organizers promised: a sold-out crowd, hundreds of developers learning new skills and highly-lauded technology CEOs explaining why blockchain matters and why Cleveland might have a shot at leading the way.
What the conference didn’t do was lay out a step-by-step route to Cleveland’s success as a hub for blockchain, a technology still in the research-and-development stage at major companies like IBM and Accenture. Cleveland’s Blockland initiative aims to work on different fronts simultaneously, pushing blockchain forward in areas like policy creation, education and philanthropy.
And what organizers hope the conference did was convince attendees that blockchain is the next phase of the Internet — and inspire action. Organize preach that the technology is not just for major companies; it matters to local manufacturing businesses, entrepreneurs and technology consultants, too.
Jim Cirillo, a management consultant from the Cleveland area, came to the conference to figure out whether big companies are really dedicating resources to blockchain and whether the technology would affect businesses. After the event’s keynote speakers, he bought in.
“It’s clearly possible (to make Cleveland a leader in blockchain),” he said. “There’s no need to go anywhere else … It’s an issue of widening your vision.”
Cirillo pointed to Ohio state government accepting cryptocurrency for business taxes.
“That’s telling everyone, ‘We’re open.'”
Bernie Moreno, a local car mogul who is spearheading the Blockland initiative, said he thought John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications, put it best when he said that moving forward requires persistence and collaboration. Blockland Solutions 2, the second annual Cleveland conference, set date for next year. After a short rest, the volunteer group will meet in January.
“We all all have to keep each other accountable,” he said.
So what’s coming? A downtown technology hub, to be announced in February or March. A new think tank dedicated to blockchain, technology adoption and research. A slew of universities trying to incorporate blockchain into the curriculum, with schools like Baldwin Wallace University already offering certificates.
The goal, Cleveland State University president Harlan Sands said in Tuesday morning remarks, is to create a pipeline. Cleveland will have to educate coders, whether through degrees or in career development. Coders will need to know traditional coding skills, as well as how to work with different blockchain systems. Some applications run on private blockchains; some on public.
Then Cleveland has to make sure that there are jobs for these coders when they finish training. JumpStart and FlashStarts announced Sunday millions of dollars will become available to Ohio blockchain start-ups in their early stages.
“The more success stories that can come out of Cleveland about real solutions to real business problems started by entrepreneurs like us — I think that’s the impetus we need,” said Votem CEO Pete Martin.
Votem, a Cleveland-based mobile-voting program, is used as a prime example of blockchain in the real world. In interview with cleveland.com, Martin said there’s a real opportunity with small businesses and entrepreneurs.
“This is a real thing. It’s not going away. Over time, we won’t be talking about blockchain as much — like the way we don’t talk about the internet — we’ll be talking about the things we do with blockchain.”
Working in this space isn’t new for Adam Gall, a Cleveland native and entrepreneur who presented at the conference. Gall has worked in blockchain technology for years and founded Crypto Cleveland, an ever-growing cryptocurrency MeetUp group. He is working on a new product, Topaz, that will help businesses use public blockchain to confirm parts of their processes, like verifying information through automatically-generated and inalterable timestamps.
Civic leaders and advocates can support blockchain and technology development in Cleveland simply by asking what small businesses and entrepreneurs what they need, Gall said. For those who want to be involved, talking with the tech community or coming to a Crypto Cleveland meet up is a good first step.
“The only reason I’m sitting here today is because I started doing things,” Gall said in a interview with cleveland.com. “Let’s talk about how we can build things together.”
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