Civic Engagement Program of the Year: Austin Blockchain Collective
The group hopes their work to increase Austin's blockchain exposure will boost business by drumming up greater funding and business opportunities for blockchain-centric companies and projects in the city.
While the concept of blockchain is not new to those firmly ensconced in the space, the innovation's recognition and use has exploded in the public eye in 2018. And of all the cities embracing this explosion, Austin, TX has been the most creative.
"I’ve been in the blockchain space here in Austin doing different things for four years," Pete Harris, executive director of the Austin Blockchain Collective, told Smart Cities Dive. In November 2017, he was talking with a fellow blockchain innovator and "we lamented that not much was happening [with blockchain] in Austin up until that time. But in November, it looked like some things were beginning to happen."
Thus was born the idea for the Austin Blockchain Collective, a group with the stated mission of advocating for and showcasing blockchain-based companies, projects and innovations in Austin. The group hopes their work to increase Austin's blockchain exposure will boost business by drumming up greater funding and business opportunities for blockchain-centric companies and projects in the city.
"We wanted to put Austin on the global blockchain map," Harris said. People tend to associate blockchain with "cities and areas like Silicon Valley, New York, Toronto, Dubai and Singapore. We think there's quite a lot happening in Austin, so let's create some noise about it, get people working together and create some visibility."
Before launching, "we thought there might be a dozen or so companies or projects" that would participate in the collaboration, Harris said. By the time the collective officially launched at South by Southwest (SXSW) in March 2018, "there were quite a few more companies than we originally thought… around 40 companies and projects," Harris said.
The collective organizes monthly meetups and various town hall events, and it informs members of other blockchain-centric events taking place weekly in Austin. Meetup attendance is open to everyone, including those who are not active collective members but who might be interested in learning more about blockchain or becoming more involved in Austin’s blockchain movement.
The collective has formed working groups that are beginning to meet on specialized topics within the blockchain realm, including health care. The group also offers educational resources — both in person and online — for entrepreneurs and members of the public who hold varying levels of understanding about blockchain.
Austin Blockchain Collective member companies run the gamut from globally recognized names like IBM to local startups still trying to get established. Although most of the members are for-profit companies, the collective welcomes participation from nonprofit organizations and public entities.
In fact, it has partnered with the City of Austin in several areas, such as the smart mobility unit within the city’s Department of Transportation, with a concentration on blockchain solutions for autonomous vehicles (AVs).
"We think there's quite a lot happening in Austin, so let's create some noise about it, get people working together and create some visibility."
Executive director, Austin Blockchain Collective
"They are very interested in the aspects of artificial intelligence that underpin AVs and really ensuring that the data sets they use to drive the AI decisions are authentic. That's what made them think of blockchain," Harris said. “It's a genuine area where I think blockchain can help in development. That's of huge interest, obviously to Austin, but really anyplace with smart vehicles."
The collective specifically focuses on boosting Austin’s blockchain scene, but at some point the group might be open to collaborations with other cities. For the time being, it's working to expand its reach locally.
“I think we've got a good start. It's good to see city officials like the mayor” becoming involved in blockchain-centric events like hackathons, Harris said. “We’re certainly looking ... to push in a number of directions to get Austin well known in the blockchain area.”
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