If ever there was a question as to whether New York City is the capital of fintech or blockchain, it was answered this week. Through a series of events from May 11 – 17, “Blockchain Week New York City,” surprised everyone in attendance with diverse panels. Conference organizers were particularly careful to put women on panels and get female attendance up. “Satoshi is female” they declared and wore T-shirts to match, referring to the still unknown identity of Satoshi Nakamoto who is credited with founding crypto and blockchain. “We think cryptocurrencies should be built with different values than Silicon Valley,” said Nyla Rodgers, the creator of the Satoshi is Female group.
The headliner and most talked about event of Blockchain Week is the 4th annual and 3 days long Consensus however, I found the most inspiring talks at the Women on the Block Diversity event on Mother’s Day. Their concept of having all women speakers was designed to highlight and recognize the contributions and innovations of woman across the blockchain industry globally. The event had over 400 registrants from all over the world, including 50 speakers from US, Canada, Japan, China, Canada, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, Australia, Lithuania, South Korea, Norway and the Cayman Islands.
The day of learning and thought leadership at Women on the Block had a goal to educate and empower women to become involved in the emerging and disruptive industry. Topics included smart contracts, raising capital, creating startups, legal and regulatory issues and use cases and the room was a sea of diversity.
The event’s sponsor Microsoft gave out a series of awards, one woman particularly deserving is Amber Baldet, Clovyr Co-Founder and CEO, the recipient of the Corporate Innovation award. Her company brings the flexibility and ease of use of modern application development to the blockchain domain. With Clovyr, people and businesses can experiment and even implement blockchain-based applications. Clovyr could also in the future easily enable merchants to accept cryptocurrencies as a form of payment as seamlessly as they accept a credit card. It’s these types of developments that will cement cryptocurrencies place in the larger scheme of the consumer based economy. Previously, Amber led the team at J.P. Morgan Chase that developed the blockchain project, Quorum.
Another woman highlighted was Ashwini Anburajan, Founding Partner of the 22X Fund. 22X is one of the firms which represent the future of the cryptocurrency market, tokenizing real world assets to spread investor returns and give entrepreneurs greater access to capital. With her fund, Ashwini is democratizing access to capital by allowing investors to buy tokens representing equity across a diverse portfolio of startups. She’s bridging the gap between ICO and venture capital and revolutionizing the way start-ups look to raise capital. Investors into the 22x Fund are offered the opportunity to support the growth of 30 participating early-stage ventures, all of which have already raised capital from VCs or other traditional modes. Ashwini’s innovative take on funding is just one of the reasons she was awarded the Innovation in Venture Fundraising award from Microsoft.
Microsoft’s Entrepreneur In Residence, Tereza Nemessanyi, was the award grantor who said “People often tell me they don’t know any women in Blockchain, which is surprising because I know so many and more getting involved every day. This week was pivotal in cementing key communities of diverse movers and shakers. It is still early enough in Blockchain to enter and shape what it will be.”
Blockchain Week was a far cry from the origin of the creation of crypto now known as the Silk Road and the Red Pill, a blockchain based crypto kicked off social media for extreme misogynistic views. What I did see were the merging of industries and the heralding of what could be the end of the era of the “blockchain bro”. The origins of blockchain and cryptocurrency are part of the reason why the industry lacks diversity. The early days of blockchain and crypto consisted mainly of hacktivists and cypherpunks. Fast forward 10 or so years, and look at the contemporary origins of blockchain and cryptocurrency: tech and finance—areas which are still struggling to become more representative of the population as a whole.
The industry of blockchain is still relatively new so we have the chance to make this segment of the tech industry better than the rest for women and people of color. With blockchain we’re building an ‘automated trust society.’ Automated trust means equality and fairness, blockchain really should be the perfect space for inclusiveness and diversity to thrive. The underlying spirit of the technology lies in opposition to rigid or standard systems put in place by conventional finance companies or the internet’s data monopolies by requiring people of any kind to collaboratively use a shared ledger. To me, what blockchain week could represent is the redemptive moment for tech and diversity outlined at the end of Emily Chang’s book Breaking Up Brotopia.
First published in Forbes, May 20, 2018