With the UK exiting the European Union, Germany is jostling to become the new FinTech capital of the EU. Frankfurt has the history and established finance industry, but Berlin is more affordable, is larger, and has a more diverse population, looking at challenges from different perspectives. With at least six regular blockchain and cryptocurrency related meetups, founding members of Ethereum and Monax present in the city, and countless cryptocurrency related projects, analysts are beginning to call Berlin “the blockchain capital of the world.” As this year’s FinTech Safary threw the doors of organization and co-working spaces open, I met with a small selection of people involved in the scene to see how true this claim is.
From Microsoft to IBM, large, established corporations around the world are creating and looking for projects involving private and public blockchains. Some of these have emerged from corporate accelerator and incubator partnerships, such as those run by the Axel Springer Plug & Play Accelerator, and Deutsche Bank. In addition to funding opportunities, both programs help startups navigate regulatory and bureaucratic processes and provide access to their extensive customer bases.
Two success stories from the programs are N26, a new startup bank that aims to disrupt the European banking industry (I’m a customer), and SatoshiPay. SatoshiPay is an incredible idea that allows content creators to request micropayments (in equivalent cent values) for certain content items. It’s like a pay wall, but control is more granular. Users can currently top up their balance for contributions with cryptocurrencies, but PayPal and credit card options are coming soon, making SatoshiPay a true mainstream option.
A Place to Work
Next on my itinerary was Transistor, a co-working space specifically for FinTech startups, unsurprisingly including a strong contingent of blockchain related projects.
Bitwala is a currency transfer service using blockchain to transfer foreign currencies faster and cheaper than other competitors. A Bitwala account also includes a Visa card that you can use to pay for items with your Bitcoin balance. Bitwala’s CEO, Jörg von Minckwitz mentioned that even though financial regulation in Germany is a long and complex process, Berlin is home, and he wanted Bitwala to be a German business. On the plus side, once you have regulatory approval in one EU country, you have access to the whole union, which is a big positive in comparison to the US which is a state by state process.
Vaultoro was an idea with an intriguing mix of old world and new world. Historically, money was backed by gold, meaning that a physical, valuable product directly related to the ethereal money you used on a daily basis. This hasn’t been the case for many years, theoretically meaning that cryptocurrencies are more tied to a valuable asset than ‘real’ money. Whether for conceptual reasons or pure financial gain, Vaultoro lets you use Bitcoin to buy quantities of gold in vaults around the world. When the modern financial markets are looking rocky, you can invest in one of the longest traded commodities in history.
The Right Place and Time
This was a small selection of blockchain related projects bubbling in Berlin that continue to grow. Even in the past six months, I would say that interest and activity has more than doubled and will continue to do so. The population diversity and (once you’re over the initial hurdles), cultural adversity to the establishment, and access to the EU make it an ideal place for those looking to get involved with the present and future of money.