The upcoming London Blockchain Conference is set to become an annual event. So what is it about London that makes it the perfect city to play host? CoinGeek spoke to James Marchant, executive chairman of startup incubator Block Dojo, who shares his insights.
London has a long history as a hub for business and commerce, and for good reason. Marchant observes that Bitcoin SV (BSV) and the wider blockchain industry have evolved over the years to become a far more serious industry that works within existing structures and seeks to solve specific, real-world problems.
Block Dojo is in the enviable position of hearing the latest pitches and deciding which ones have the most merit. With their and BSV research and development team nChain‘s head offices both based in London, they’re also in a place where people and ideas will travel worldwide to discuss their plans.
Everyone is invited to do the same at the end of May 2023, as blockchain entrepreneurs gather for the first of many future London Blockchain conference events. Read on for more detail from Marchant about London’s unique qualities of the past, and programs for the future, that will see the industry evolve even further.
I remember London was a popular Bitcoin event spot in the very early days, and it feels like it’s making a comeback recently. Is there a reason for this… or did it never really go away?
I would describe it more so as an evolution and one where BSV, in particular, is pulling away from the pack. The early days of the blockchain narrative were simply about being the ‘cool’ rebellious technology of the ‘cypherpunks’ wanting to be resistant to governments, and all the rest of it has fallen away – or perhaps it was simply overtaken by the much stronger and truer revelation amongst the business community: that Bitcoin is a truly enabling technology that can be used in serious business from startups to enterprise-level applications. That’s certainly how I see it.
By extension, and certainly a positive in my eyes, is that people are talking about using Bitcoin to solve specific problems and to deliver a positive impact rather than, as was the case historically, building a novel Bitcoin use case or application that later struggles to gain traction. This is something we at Block Dojo are very passionate about—using blockchain to solve real-world problems, deliver value, and have a positive social and environmental impact.
Does London, in particular, have special qualities that would make it a center for blockchain development?
For me, blockchain and business go hand in hand. The Dojo specializes in building businesses. London is one of the best cities in the world to do business, to recruit talent, to raise investment, etc., and therefore by extension, is one of the best locations in the world to be building a business that leverages the power of the blockchain.
It is not an accident that the first Block Dojo was launched in London. There is certainly a growing ecosystem of Bitcoin startups, as well as a growing number of more mature business undertaking a Web2 to Web3 strategy, and I know nChain CEO Christen Ager-Hanssen has some very exciting plans to consolidate the ecosystem by way of a Bitcoin/blockchain hub in London where the ecosystem can leverage each other and grow together.
What areas of growth (or at least, sub-fields within blockchain) have you noticed personally over the past year or two?
Generally, we are seeing blockchain become used more so as an enabling technology and a much wider range of startups applying to the Dojo in terms of diversity across business sectors. When we first started over 18 months ago some, if not many, of the applications and potential blockchain use case ideas we received were outright whacky.
Since then, and as core blockchain technology such as BSV continues to distance itself from the ‘cryptocurrency’ label, the associated world of speculative gambling on token pricing, and the zealots, we are seeing a much more level-headed approach to applications we receive into the Dojo. Instead, now we see founders and entrepreneurs seeking to use blockchain to tackle real-world problems.
In some cases, the reality is that some of these businesses could exist with or without blockchain, however, by using blockchain in some form or another, it enables these businesses to provide additional value to the end user. Again, I see this as a positive route forward as it leads to the Dojo building businesses that can compete across all sectors, and we are building companies that can distinguish themselves in big markets. Solely seeking to build startups that could only ever exist thanks to blockchain, in my eyes, is not a scalable way forward and is a classic example of focussing on the solution long before identifying the problem. In most cases, this is one of the key drivers leading to startup failure.
What is Block Dojo doing to expand that even further?
Quite a lot, actually. Since the inception of the Dojo, we have run many different initiatives aimed at educating, informing, and inspiring entrepreneurs to build on Bitcoin. We have hosted talks and education sessions at hundreds of U.K. universities. We have hosted hundreds of executives from corporates both in the U.K. and Europe, running masterclasses, discussion groups, and boot camps. We are now rolling these campaigns out internationally, especially as we begin to build Dojos in the Philippines and Japan over the coming months.
Do you work closely with other groups in Bitcoin/BSV/blockchain?
We have always had excellent relationships within the Bitcoin ecosystem and find everyone supportive of what we are doing at the Dojo. If I were to make a couple of shoutouts, then it would have to be the Bitcoin Association, who have always supported the aforementioned initiatives – and of course, CoinGeek, who have more and more work on their hands as the ecosystem grows rapidly.
More recently, our partnership with nChain has been a real step forward for the Dojo. To be backed by such a powerhouse of I.P., expertise, and resources has been a dream so far. CEO Christen Ager-Hanssen and Executive Chairman Stefan Matthews, who have both become Block Dojo Directors, have been incredibly supportive. This has allowed the Dojo team to focus on what we do best: supporting founders, building startups, and growing the ecosystem from the grassroots up.
Have you seen many people moving from other parts of Europe or the wider world to London to work in the blockchain industry?
Yes, approximately a third of the founders that have made it into the Dojo have come to London from Europe and beyond to begin their startup journey.
From an investment perspective, the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) is a huge attraction. This scheme allows U.K. investors to reclaim 50% of investments they make into qualifying startups. The limits were recently increased, meaning qualifying startups can raise up to £250,000 under this scheme. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest attractions for anyone considering building a startup in the U.K.
The plan is to hold the annual Blockchain Conference in London permanently from now on. Do you think that’s a good idea?
Definitely. As much as I enjoyed the conference hosted in Dubai, it adds an unnecessary barrier to entry to most speakers, exhibitors, and attendees who are not based there, and so have to travel. London is an epicenter of business and of travel and so makes perfect sense. Add in Block Dojo and nChain’s presence in the city, and I am confident it will be a very successful conference.
Naturally, as nation hosts, the Dojo will be running a number of side events, both private and public. On behalf of the Dojo and in partnership with nChain and the Bitcoin Association, we would like to invite the CoinGeek readership to join us for a pre-conference drinks and networking session on Tuesday, May 30, at 8 pm at Drake & Morgan, Kings Cross. Attendees must register for the event here: https://lu.ma/ezwrgzqn
We look forward to welcoming you to London!
Watch the New Block Dojo entrepreneurs: NFTs, music & CBDCs
New to Bitcoin? Check out CoinGeek’s Bitcoin for Beginners section, the ultimate resource guide to learn more about Bitcoin—as originally envisioned by Satoshi Nakamoto—and blockchain.