Crypto City: The ultimate guide to Miami
Miami is fast becoming one of the major hubs in the crypto world with more and more blockchain companies moving to the city each year.
Miami famously plays host to the Bitcoin Conference each year, and digital assets have been embraced by the mayor and the wider population. Here’s your ultimate guide to the crypto city of Miami.
Country: United States
Population: 6.17 million (Metropolitan Area)
Languages: English (official), Spanish (~60% of residents), Haitian Creole (widespread)
“Party in the city where the heat is on,
all night, on the beach till the break of dawn.
Welcome to Miami,
bienvenido a Miami!” — Will Smith
Just over a century ago, Julia Tuttle, an American businesswoman and wealthy widow from Ohio, purchased a 640-acre estate located on the Miami River that would set the foundation for the modern-day city. In 1894–1895, Florida was hit by a blizzard that devastated the crops and vegetation within the state, but miraculously, Tuttle’s estate was left unscathed from the freeze. Immediately recognizing the area’s economic value, Tuttle asked American industrialist Henry Flagler to construct a railway that would pass through what was then the Village of Miami. Flagler agreed. Within one year, economic development, primarily in real-estate interest, encouraged local residents to incorporate the City of Miami.
The first wave of immigration into the area started as part of the Florida Real Estate boom in the 1920s, and Miami quickly became one of the state’s premier tourist destinations. During the 1950s to the 1970s, a combination of the Cuban Revolution, the civil war in Nicaragua, and the oppressive policies of Haitian dictator François Duvalier saw many emigrate to Miami in search of a better life.
Known for its all-year tropical climate, low taxes, sound infrastructure, entertainment venues and diverse population, Florida is one of only nine states that does not levy a state tax on ordinary personal income.
The Sunshine State has also become a premier destination for an exodus of Americans from high-tax states such as New York and California, attracted by low goods and services tax and property taxes. The city also serves as a major transportation gateway to access many of the Caribbean Islands’ offshore banking services nearby.
The recent wave of “tech émigrés” has seen it become one of the most blockchain-friendly cities in the United States, leading the advancement of the crypto and Web3 realm.
“Miami is going to hack our way to the top in order to compete with the world.”
What an honor to be joined by visionaries like @DavidSacks @shervin @jdanjohnson and @jefffluhr for “Not Another Fireside Chat” on the future of Miami Tech at Miami Hack Week! pic.twitter.com/WWJHsUmg6W
— Mayor Francis Suarez (@FrancisSuarez) April 20, 2022
Crypto culture and cityscape
Thanks in part to the leadership of Mayor Francis Suarez, Miami is leading the way in municipal crypto adoption. Suarez has personally set an example of taking his salary and portion of his 401(k) retirement savings account in Bitcoin. In August 2021, the City of Miami partnered with CityCoins to launch a municipal digital currency, dubbed (unsurprisingly) “MiamiCoin,” to fund local projects by generating yield. The project initially raised $23 million, but like everything, it was hit hard by the crypto bear market, and the token has lost nearly 90% of its value, while Bitcoin’s price has fallen around 70% since Mayor Suarez first announced he was taking his paycheck in Bitcoin.
Nevertheless, Miami is unique insofar as it has the Miami-Dade County Cryptocurrency Task Force, comprising municipal stakeholders, designed to research and enact crypto legislation to benefit local residents. Elijah Bowdre, chairman of the Cryptocurrency Task Force, says:
“Crypto is on fire. And Miami-Dade County is poised to pierce the veil for municipalities and crypto. And I’m leading that charge. It’s an honor. I am very humbled by it. But it’s also very exciting.”
A plan is also in motion to enable residents in all of Miami-Dade county to officially pay with crypto for things such as driver’s license renewals, registration fees, water bills, and county bills, among many others. In addition, municipal employees will be able to receive a portion of all of their paychecks in crypto. Moreover, they can have a percentage of their salary put away toward a crypto retirement fund.
Each year, the North American Bitcoin Conference takes place in Miami. It was here in 2014 that a young Russian-Canadian called Vitalik Buterin first unveiled his idea for a decentralized, programmable smart contract blockchain dubbed Ethereum.
This year’s event was held from Jan. 17 to 19 and attracted over 4,000 participants, including notable attendees such as billionaire investor Mark Cuban. He returned in the first week of April for Miami NFT Week, an event that saw 250+ speakers and sponsors showcasing the latest innovations in the NFT space. Miami Tech Week also took place around the same time, consisting of prominent venture capitalists, tech executives and co-founders, such as Blockchain.com CEO Peter Smith, MoonPay CEO Ivan Soto-Wright and Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse.
Projects and companies
When it comes to Miami’s presence in Web3, the No. 1 position undoubtedly goes to Yuga Labs. The firm currently owns two of the world’s most popular NFT collections: Bored Ape Yacht Club and CryptoPunks. Together, they have surpassed close to 1.6 million ETH in cumulative trading volume on NFT marketplace OpenSea. In Q1, Yuga Labs attracted $450 million out of $1 billion in venture investments in tech firms within Miami-Dade county via its Andreessen Horowitz seed round.
Perhaps the most notable physical presence of any crypto company is that of centralized digital assets exchange FTX. Last April, FTX paid $135 million to rename the Miami Heat NBA Arena located on Biscayne Boulevard to FTX Arena for the next 19 years. Three-time NBA Champion and Miami Heat legend Udonis Haslem currently serves as an ambassador for the exchange’s “You In, Miami?” campaign. The two plan to work together in the future to promote crypto within Miami-Dade county, where FTX also has a corporate office in the city.
MoonPay, a cryptocurrency fintech firm that allows users to buy crypto and NFTs with a debit or credit card, is also based in Miami. Last year, the firm raised $555 million in funding for a valuation of $3.4 billion. Recently, it launched an NFT platform with Universal Pictures and Fox Corporation called HyperMint that would enable firms behind popular consumer brands to potentially mint hundreds of millions of NFTs per day.
Institutional credit protocol Maple Finance can also trace its roots back to Miami and has issued more than $1.5 billion in loans since its inception. Unfortunately, the company has become caught up in the ongoing digital assets credit crisis.
In the realm of crypto philanthropy, Miami is also the home of The Giving Block, the world’s leading digital assets on-boarding platform for donations to more than 1,000 nonprofits. Last year, the platform facilitated more than $69.6 million in crypto donations volume, a staggering increase of 1,558% from 2020. The top five most popular cryptocurrencies used for donations were Ether, Bitcoin, USD Coin, Dai and Flow. The firm has also launched a crypto fundraising campaign for Ukraine in the wake of the invasion.
As for emerging projects, in 2021, Algorand launched a bilingual 10-week accelerator program in Miami focusing on projects either built on the namesake blockchain or wishing to develop on the Algorand platform. Each of the 10 selected companies will receive $17,500 in cash from the Algorand Foundation and $17,500 in cash from Borderless Capital for a total of 3% or less of tokens and/or equity. Applications have just closed, and it is currently in the review stage.
Ibex, a Bitcoin Lightning infrastructure services company, also has an office in the city. The firm connects point-of-sale systems of businesses and merchants with Bitcoin, allowing them to accept the digital currency with very low transaction fees on the Lightning Network.
Located at the heart of the trendy community of Wynwood is BitBasel, a crypto-art and NFT tech hub for local artists and developers. Co-founded by Scarlett Arana and Jorge Cortes, BitBasel hosts everything from panel talks to workshops to hackathons for nearby crypto enthusiasts. In addition, it is also the creator of Miami DAO, an organization focused on expanding crypto education programs for residents across Miami-Dade county.
This February, Blockchain.com leased a 22,000-square-foot building in Wynwood for its employees, having stayed at a temporary office space in Brickell after moving its headquarters from New York. The firm was last valued at $5.2 billion in its recent fundraising round. Since its inception, it has processed more than $1 trillion in digital asset transactions on its exchange.
There is also the local folk hero of Miami’s Little Haiti community, Nandy Martin. He created the Little Haiti Coin, a socio-economic cryptocurrency initiative. With each token purchase, Martin and his partners will volunteer to clear one square foot of his local Little Haiti community. Eligible residents will also receive one free token, which can be tendered as payment at local businesses as well as receive discounts on Haitian imports coming to the area. Though as of late, Martin says businesses that once accepted the Little Haiti Coin as a means of payment closed down due to gentrification in the area.
Martin is currently building a blockchain game called Captain Haiti with its token built on BNB Chain. The game seeks to educate users on concepts such as play-to-earn, tokenization and nonfungible tokens and already has over 10,000 downloads. Martin is also attempting to “take back control” of his community from housing speculators via a $14-million real estate NFT sale and use the funds to halt ongoing foreclosures.
Great time with Captain Haiti and the Mayor pic.twitter.com/bpBA65Evkm
— Charles Hoskinson (@IOHK_Charles) June 2, 2021
Flying under the radar is QuickNode, a key player behind Twitter’s recent integration of NFT profile pictures for its Blue users. The blockchain infrastructure company checks NFT profile pictures on Twitter for authenticity to verify who actually owns their NFT avatar and who is simply using a downloaded image. The firm has raised $35 million in a Series A funding round led by venture capital firm Tiger Global.
Speaking of venture investments, a new blockchain firm in Miami is Security Token Group, the operator of STOmarket.com, a repository of security token trading data and news, with a live-trading data feed for over 200 security tokens currently while also tracking over 500 primary offerings. The firm closed a $3-million Series A round in May.
Where can I spend my crypto?
Thesis Hotel, a four-star resort on South Dixie Highway, claims it was the first hotel in Miami-Dade county to accept crypto as payment via BitPay. Users can book rooms and amenities with Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ether, Dogecoin or any of the popular and regulated stablecoins, including Binance USD. It is also possible to dine at restaurants within the hotel on crypto.
Another venue taking crypto payments is Shelborne South Beach Hotel on Miami Beach, known for hosting weddings and upscale catering services. One can pay with BitPay at checkout. The hotel is owned by Menin Hospitality, where cryptocurrencies are accepted at all of its restaurants and hotels under its collection.
For catering, consider paying with crypto at Chotto Matte, a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine. In April, Chotto Matte debuted a $1-million NFT collectible whose owner is entitled to perks such as VIP invitations to all future restaurant openings. For those staying at Thesis hotel, Mamey Miami contains a mix of Asian and Polynesian influences, and one can again pay with crypto for meals thanks to BitPay. The menu is designed by award-winning chef Niven Patel, who also cooks at the Orno Miami restaurant (located in Thesis, too) — this time with a New American-style menu. And again, crypto is accepted.
As it turns out, there is an entire suburb in the Miami Metropolitan area, called Miami-Lakes, where residents can use crypto to pay all municipal fees. Implemented via PayPal last March, users can tender digital assets for items such as permits, business licenses and facility rentals.
And if you want to party into the early hours while spending all your BTC, there is a popular nightclub located just six blocks from FTX Arena in the heart of downtown Miami that accepts digital currency. Dubbed E11EVEN, one can book a table at the venue, order bottle service and more with Bitcoin. The venue has hosted celebrities such as Cardi B, Wyclef Jean, Post Malone, Nicki Minaj and Drake.
Per Coin ATM Radar, there are over 850 ATMs in and around the Miami area acting as a gateway between fiat and digital currencies. Aside from being found on the street, they are also common among many of the city’s gas stations and vape shops.
Education and community
In 2018, digital assets instructor George Levy founded the Blockchain Institute of Technology, or BIT, in the Wynwood district. BIT offers reasonably priced courses about cryptocurrencies and NFTs. On top of that, the institute provides the Certified Blockchain Professional Curriculum with a unique blockchain-verified, credentialed third-party proof of expertise to add to one’s resume. The Institute has provided cryptocurrency training programs to entities such as the Mexican Ministry of Economy, the Central Bank of Curaçao and Sint Maarten, as well as accounting firm Ernst & Young. Of course, you can pay tuition fees with crypto.
There is a less formal initiative dubbed “Bitcoin Brunch.” Every week, members of the tight-knit blockchain community in Miami gather in the palm tree glades of Naomi’s Garden Restaurant and Lounge for hearty Haitian food (deep-fried turkey, beans and rice, collard greens) and talk about emerging crypto technologies over glasses of rum punch. According to Prem Lee Barbosa, a crypto Miami native and the event’s host:
“Bitcoin Brunch attempts as an aspiration of helping reshape this world with the creative potential unleashed by the digital currency. It enables the masses to organize themselves deterministically, free of the influence of centralized administrators.”
Barbosa elaborated that “our get-rich-as-quickly-as-possible-and-at-all-costs mentality enslaves us to the dollar and makes us complicit in all of its pitfalls.” He then praised Bitcoin’s decentralized nature as a means of restoring dignity to the exchange of value. If you are a fan of the group’s blockchain philosophy, Bitcoin Brunch takes place every Sunday from 10 am to 3 pm at Haitian-inspired Naomi’s Garden Restaurant and Lounge at 650 NW 71st St., Miami.
Controversies and collapses
Being one of the more affluent states in the U.S., Florida has attracted its fair share of genuine crypto projects and con artists alike. Recently, Luiz Capuci, CEO of Mining Capital Coin and resident of Port St. Lucie, Florida, was indicted for his role in an alleged $62-million cryptocurrency fraud scheme. A few months prior, Florida resident David Pike pled guilty over his role in defrauding investors of OneCoin, one of the most notorious Ponzi schemes in cryptocurrency history, where victims lost anywhere between $4.4 billion and $19.4 billion.
Many early investors of now defunct Bitconnect were Florida residents, and they have just seen their class-action lawsuit against the perpetrators of the Ponzi scheme proceed after nearly five years.
Like the namesake song from Will Smith, “I only came for two days of playing. But every time I come, I always wind up staying.” People come and go to Miami for business and holidays as they please, blurring the line between full-time residents and visitors.
Suarez; Bowdre; Smith; Arana; Cortes; Barbosa; Levy; Soto-Wright; Martin; Peter Thiel, billionaire entrepreneur; Sydney Powell, co-founder and CEO of Maple Finance; Alex Wilson, CEO of The Giving Block; Anthony Elia, co-founder of TokenBot; Nic Carter, founding partner of Castle Island Ventures; Auston Bunsen, co-founder of Quick Node; Ornella Hernández, cryptocurrency journalist and former Cointelegraph reporter, now at BlockWorks; and Tatiana Moroz, American folk singer and blockchain personality.
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