Is it only Chicagoans that think Chicago is great?

Is it only Chicagoans that think Chicago is great?

image1 (4)As a hard core Chicagoan, I could never have asked the question that panelist Donnie Benjamin from ConsenSys asked on my panel at the Voice of Blockchain conference looking at why Chicago is positioned to be the Blockchain capital of the world.

“What is preventing Chicago from being a global hub?,” asked Benjamin, who moved to Chicago from New York to open the ConsenSys office here.  “Everyone in Chicago sees it but it’s not known nationally or internationally.”

Tom Alexander is the former Chief Operating Officer of 1871 and is currently managing Holistic. He at first joked that it was the weather but then had serious remarks on the types of companies growing in our city.

“While we don’t have a lot of sexy technology companies like Silicon Valley does, the Snapchats or Facebooks of the world, we are building more sustainable and powerful systems,” said Alexander.  “This hurts in a popularity contest but has its advantages in the long run.”

Chicago may not be the most popular city, but all the panelists agreed that the Second City does have it’s advantages that put it on the map.

“We are in the heartland of America and people here have strong work ethic,” said Benjamin.  “It’s also one of the only big cities where you don’t need a car and the cost of living is affordable.”

Jimmy Odom, CEO of Bit Capital Group, who was also on the panel, talked about Chicago’s school system and regulatory environment.

“The amount of universities and the proximity to talent is unique,” said Odom.  “This city sees more engineers graduate than anywhere else. It also fosters a very collaborative environment.”

Odom also touched upon Illinois’ innovative nature such as it’s efforts to propose a regulatory sandbox.  Fintech regulatory sandboxes are alternative regulatory mechanisms to facilitate the development of testing of new financial technology solutions.  Trending worldwide, the concept was first introduced in the United Kingdom in 2015. Arizona became the first U.S. state to enact a law (H.B. 2434) allowing for the establishment of a fintech regulatory sandbox program.

The Illinois General Assembly also considered a bill (H.B. 5139), endorsed by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, that would have created a similar program starting January 1, 2019.  However, due to consumer protection groups expressing concerns about light regulation leading to predatory lending practices, the bill did not pass.

“We have a more open regulatory climate,” said Odom.  “The regulatory sandbox did not pass but the openness at being one of the first states to introduce this type of legislation is promising.”

When talking about big wins for Chicago, Benjamin thought that a lot could be said around the Voice of Blockchain conference happening here.  Bringing together about 1600 professionals in the Blockchain, Cryptocurrency and ICO space; leaders from all over the world gathered to talk about how this emerging technology would revolutionize finance, trading, real estate, construction and social good.

“This is a community organized conference with the infrastructure built from the ground up,” said Alexander.

Panelist Mehdi Zhiri, CEO of Mosaique, believes that Chicago’s reputation as the Second City will change due to it’s efforts in the Blockchain space.

“Big Chicago players in the trading space have adopted cryptocurrency including Jump Trading and DRW, which has helped us get on the fast track with Blockchain technology.”

In conclusion, as moderator, I asked the panel who comes to mind when they think of leaders emerging from Chicago.

“Kanye and Chance the Rapper. Kanye was like ‘I have a voice and I have a vision and I want to be the King of the Universe,’ and he did it,” said Alexander.  “He has a very Chicago attitude which is ‘I am going to do it my way.’ Same for Chance the Rapper.  He disrupted the music industry HIS way.”

Benjamin brought up another community organizer that did it his way and became President of the United States of America.

While Chicago may not be a center for sexy technologies like the ones coming out of Silicon Valley; it does foster a collaborative environment, an openness for change and a path to shape disruptive leaders.  We may do it our way, but soon I believe everyone will recognize Chicago as a global hub for influencers.


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