New York City only thought it was the crossroads of the world. But all this time, it was lacking one very important thing: An official blockchain hub.
That missing piece was resolved in January of 2019 when the NYC Blockchain Center officially opened its doors. Based out of a sun-filled space in Manhattan’s famed Flatiron District, the Center has been true to its mission since Day One: to provide a robust HQ to connect all NYC-area denizens who are active or interested in blockchain.
The NYC Blockchain Center is led by Executive Director Kimberly L. Quinones and Analyst Jordan Collins. An experienced executive in the finance, government and non-profit sectors, Quinones’ background provided an optimum fit for leading the Center, one of just a few official civic facilities that have been founded worldwide to advance distributed ledger technology.
In this interview with BlockSocial, Quinones provided insights about her unique job, and the equally distinctive opportunities a blockchain center provides for a city and its people.
What is the NYC Blockchain Center? Why was it established, and what is its purpose?
We are a public-private partnership. It’s a joint venture between the Global Blockchain Business Council, GBBC, and Future Perfect Ventures, where Jalak Jobanputra is the managing partner. They came together and won a contract from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to be the operator of the center, on their behalf.
The purpose of the NYC Blockchain Center is threefold. One is to create a place where entrepreneurs can meet the corporations, the consultants, and potentially the clients who can help them grow their businesses here in New York City.
Another purpose is to promote an understanding of regulations in blockchain, by creating a two-way conversation between regulators and entrepreneurs. Again, all with the idea of fostering employment in this sector in New York.
Thirdly, and part and parcel of all this, is we’re a place where everyday New Yorkers can also come to learn about blockchain, so it’s not just businesses. And it’s been an incredible variety of people who have come through our door, over 1800 people by now. A key focus is on diversity in blockchain, making sure that people from diverse backgrounds are included in the community and also geographic diversity–part of our mandate is to cultivate, not just here at the center in Manhattan, but in the other four boroughs. We make sure that we get all around the city to talk about blockchain, reaching those who want to learn but might not have access to the programs. So truly it’s a mission to be inclusive.
Why was it important to your partners, the GBBC and Future Perfect Ventures, as well as the NYCEDC, that NYC have an official blockchain center?
They wanted to ensure that there was an energy focus among the business community in one place, and ultimately a learning focus also. They also believe very strongly that having a place where international entrepreneurs–people visiting from other countries who are interested in blockchain–could come and learn about what’s going on in blockchain in New York City.
As well, a place that is platform agnostic. We’re not in the business of picking a platform or opining on cryptocurrencies, good or bad. We are about an exchange of information and a place to establish contact for people wanting to do business in the blockchain space, across whole industry sectors because you’ve got groups in real estate, entertainment, media, finance and more who are interested in blockchain. Our job is to go across all the different sectors and serve everyone.
A Personal Commitment
Kimberly, what was exciting to you about the opportunity to be involved in the NYC Blockchain Center? Why was this something that you wanted to help launch and grow?
Over the last three years, as I was looking into blockchain, I saw that every major financial services corporation was examining how it would apply in their business. Most major businesses across all different sectors were looking at how it was going to apply. I saw the emerging consulting business, among the KPMGs, the Deloittes of the world–and not to mention, the Bain Capitals, the Boston Consultings and the McKinseys–all looking at how blockchain technology, distributed ledger technology could be applied, not just talking about cryptocurrencies, but to solve real-world problems within their business.
Blockchain is not for everyone. It’s not a panacea. It doesn’t solve every problem. But it became very clear to me that it was going to have a place within a variety of different businesses. And that meant that what jobs looked like were going to change.
In my past life, I’ve done a lot of financing for state and local governments, and you care about the health of the local economies. So it was pretty obvious to me that this change could have a profound effect. It is often said that blockchain is 20% technology implementation and 80% business process change.
What broader implications does that finding hold?
Just think about that: Jobs are going to change. Workforce readiness for blockchain implementation means that people will need to be trained differently. So it was very obvious to me that this is important, that it was going to have a wide impact, and that both the private sector and the public sector needed to understand it better. And what I have always done throughout my career–because I’ve been in both the private and the public sector–I’m passionate about bridging the divide between the two. Getting them to work together effectively and enjoy a free exchange of information.
What are the common questions you found that the average person has about blockchain when they first come to the Center? And what are the techniques you’ve honed to help make blockchain easier to understand?
It’s realizing that everything’s not just Bitcoin and crypto, that there are regular business applications. Then their eyes open wide, and when you tell them about different ways that you can apply it, like tracking supply chains, potentially tracking ownership of real estate and a wide variety of assets. Everyone gets excited and sees that it’s something that can potentially affect their everyday life beyond just cryptocurrency.
There really aren’t any techniques that we’re employing–we’re just trying to put together programming that shows the use of blockchain across a wide variety of sectors. We’re trying to get people to understand the many dimensions of it. We have informal meetups with a lot of different affinity groups, like Latinx in Blockchain, and Women in Blockchain. That’s a lower-key place where people can discuss developments in smaller groups and engage in debates on a different level. .
We also have these bigger programs that range from Blockchain 101 and Blockchain 101 en Espanol to incredibly detailed discussions about regulation. Or the series targeted towards developers.
We also have our regular open community breakfasts where we get all sorts of people, although there tends to be more people who are in the blockchain space and just coming to learn about the center. That might include people who are already working in the blockchain space or moving from another city, worked in blockchain in another city.
So we’re also a place where you get to make connections and networking, and potentially find employment too. Or get together or create projects together, that kind of intersection. I had one speaker stand up at a presentation and say, “Let me make it clear right now: I’m hiring developers. If your cousin is a developer, if your cousin’s cousin is a developer, come see me!” And there was a big line afterward.
Also, what are the biggest misperceptions you find that people have about blockchain and crypto, and again how do you address those?
One thing is that you don’t need it for every problem. Blockchain is not a one-size-fits-all solution, it’s not universally applicable, and there are some problems that are more efficiently solved in other ways. But when it does make sense, it’s an elegant solution.
Kimberly, how have you seen the Center’s role evolving since you launched earlier this year?
We’re doing a lot of connecting, and frankly, in the second half of 2019, you’re going to see a lot more. We’re going to be having some demo days here at the Center for some of our members to show their projects, which will involve both peer review and inviting potential investors also. We’re hoping to have more events around the boroughs–there’s some that are going to be announced in the fall.
So far, it’s been pretty successful, and we’re going to do more of the same. We’ve had over 95 events since we opened in January 2019, with over 1800 people attending our events. Along with drop-ins almost 2000 people have passed through the Center.
Are there any specific examples you can point to where you’ve already seen the Center foster positive impact, like making a job connection or people that met there, started a company, or anything?
We actually met Klee Walsh of the blockchain education provider Blockchain Educators at the launch party, and he’s become a partner. They graciously agreed to teach one of the Blockchain 101 classes, and from that, they started getting tons of invitations from our network to teach these classes at more locations and through the NYC BigApps program. From there they decided to expand their company to provide much more rigorous certification in blockchain classes, and they’ve been using our space. The idea literally was born here at the New York City Blockchain Center.
Coming to A City Near You
Shifting gears, why do you think it’s important for cities to have a blockchain center? How do these help to foster understanding and then adoption?
A blockchain center affects businesses in terms of how they’re structuring themselves. You want to have a place where businesses can interact within their sector, and with businesses in other sectors and basically compare notes on what’s working and what’s not.
Another reason is because of the effect on jobs and workforce readiness–so many governments care about and have a lot of effort surrounding workforce readiness. You have young people who are coming out of college and also people who might be mid-career looking at changing careers or staying relevant.
It all bolsters employment, and if blockchain is going to happen in a place like New York City, where financial services is such a huge part of our employment base, health care’s another huge part of the employment base, real estate, fashion, media …Well, guess what? Those are all areas where people expect blockchain to have a solid use case.
Here’s my last question: If people are reading this and there isn’t a blockchain center in their city, how could you suggest they go about helping to get one started?
You can go to your local government, and their economic development group and say, “This is an area that is important to us. This is a sector. This is why it matters to the businesses here.” Or you can go to any of the large business groups to coalesce around this mission, and to find people who are knowledgeable in this sector and connecting with each other.
This has been extremely informative, Kimberly. Is there anything else you want to add?
Only the fact I’m having a great time. It’s been really fun. You know personally for me; this is different. I’m new to blockchain. I spent thirty years on Wall Street, and I was in government. I’m not a tech person, but I saw this interaction between what was going on in the business sector, and this technology, and how it would affect the nature of so many businesses here in New York City. Now I’m glad to be on this journey, trying to help people get involved with blockchain.