They say the third time’s the charm — and this was certainly true for Penrose Partners as they returned to Bermuda once again to host their biggest and best conference on the island, yet: The 2021 International Technology Summit. Building off of the success of last year’s Canadian Technology Summit in the winter and the Bermuda Blockchain & Sustainability Symposium in the fall, this year’s third iteration laid the foundation for what will continue to be an annual conference, and one that Penrose hopes to grow to a global scale.
Led by Bermuda-born Sean Stapley and Canadian Kerem Kolcuoglu, Penrose Partners teamed up with the Government of Bermuda to host a week-long summit full of speaker panels, workshops, incubator launches, networking events and more. More than 250 attendees participated in the full-day virtual conference, and over 50 professionals from Bermuda’s public and private sectors elevated their knowledge of blockchain through intensive, multi-day workshops all delivered virtually from Hamilton, Bermuda.
Arriving on the Island
Quarantine, test, travel, and repeat. In these uncertain times, the first priority is always the well-being of our communities and local economies. After seeing many examples of scattered and haphazard international safety guidelines around the world, it’s impressive how Bermuda has emerged as a shining example of proper health protocol design and implementation. By the time the Penrose team left the island, Bermuda had not experienced a new COVID case in over seven days and in-person meetings were back to almost normal.
The delegation took all protocols seriously and arrived in mid January to ensure they had plenty of time to complete what seemed like a never-ending series of COVID-19 swab tests to ensure safe execution of the Summit. But after more than five years in the Blockchain industry, the team at Penrose are accustomed to making things work when the odds are stacked against them.
Some may simply just call it the Bermuda “Rum”mit
Hosted on the online platform Hopin, the virtual conference had a diverse set of more than two dozen industry-leading speakers. The full day event began with opening remarks between Penrose Partners’ own Sean Stapley and Marcus Wade of the Premier’s Office of FinTech, as they discussed the growth and future potential of Bermuda’s Blockchain and FinTech ecosystem. Following this was an invigorating fireside chat between the Hon. David Burt, Premier of Bermuda, and Khawar Nasim, Acting Consul General from the Canadian Consulate in New York. Moderated by Kerem Kolcuoglu, the discussion featured two leaders sharing their visions for blockchain adoption, regulation, and cooperation in their respective countries.
The panels discussed wide-ranging topics including Bermuda’s FinTech regulatory framework, institutional investment & adoption of digital assets, DeFi & the future of cryptocurrencies, and sustainable solutions using blockchain technology. Notable speakers included Fred Pye, President and CEO of 3iQ, Ethan Buchman, Co-founder of the Cosmos Network, Katherine Foster, Strategy Executive from the Open Earth Foundation, and more. You can see the full list of speakers here.
One big announcement was the exciting launch of the new i3 Incubator Program, founded by Innofund as Bermuda’s first internationally-focused technology and innovation incubator. Aaron Smith and Gayle Gorman of InnoFund outlined the exciting opportunities that will soon be available to blockchain startups looking to come to Bermuda, which include an ocean view office in downtown Hamilton, and complete support services needed for market entry and explosive startup growth.
The event was capped off with a riveting crypto market analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence’s Mike McGlone who highlighted the trajectory of Bitcoin and other digital assets into 2021 and beyond. Without putting words in his mouth, the conclusion was obvious: to the moon!
A Revolutionary Case Study: Bermuda’s Oldest Business, Gosling’s Rum Company Pilots Blockchain Payments
Another major and very on-theme breakthrough during the “Rum”mit was the successful completion of a feasibility study between Bidali, and one of Bermuda’s oldest and most recognizable brands, Gosling’s Rum Company. To celebrate the opening of their renovated flagship retail location on the corner of Front and Queen Street, Gosling’s entered into a pilot project to accept digital payments through Bidali’s Stellar blockchain-based application. The flagship location now has an existing merchant account — a tablet that host’s Bidali’s software and enables seamless payments using this novel technology. The story was further featured in an article on Coindesk.
In parallel the team the Penrose team was delivering a series of Fintech Workshops presenting the potential of blockchain technologies in many industries and providing insight on how Bermuda’s Digital Currency Standard could succeed. The workshop series concluded with an opportunity for participants to apply their knowledge in the field to see the value of blockchain-based payments. With smartphones in hand, they could now redeem their Bidali Dollars at Gosling’s for a custom gift bag that included a bottle of Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and Ginger Beer, the quintessential ingredients to make the world-famous Dark ’n’ Stormy.
Participants drew similarities between the pilot’s example and the process of redeeming a gift card, with the added benefits of a touchless in-person payments experience that also lowers the cost for merchants. Initial feedback from the pilot was extremely positive and participants were keen to provide their insights to encourage further progress on this project, which could expand to other merchants and sectors in the near future.
The Big Picture: Innovation Island
Bermuda has positioned itself for the unique opportunity to repeat what was successfully done with their prolific insurance and reinsurance markets. Through a combination of strong regulatory guidance, core foundational businesses and the ability to attract and nurture local expertise, Bermuda has established itself as the reinsurance capital of the world.
With Premier Burt’s vision, Bermuda plans to take on a similar approach to the digital asset and blockchain industry. As a small island with a population of 65,000 people, Bermuda has been left out of the existing digital financial market by businesses like Stripe, PayPal, Venmo and many others. After many years of dealing with high payment fees, blockchain technology presents Bermuda with the opportunity to leapfrog existing financial infrastructure and even surpass developments like Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs).
Bermuda has moved swiftly, with the Bermuda Monetary Authority’s 2018 Digital Asset Business Act (DABA) proving to be the first step in attracting some of the top blockchain talent in the world through a strict, yet clear regulatory framework. With the regulatory guidance of DABA in place and the first foundational companies getting settled in Bermuda, the next key aspect is to develop local expertise in this emerging technology industry.
Penrose has put their focus on the third key element of educating and cultivating local expertise. The Fintech Workshop Series uncovered everything from the breakthroughs of Bitcoin to the key opportunities for enterprise and government adoption of blockchain technologies. The sessions told an engaging narrative beginning with history of money and monetary policies tying in the technical aspects of bitcoin and stablecoins. The workshops brought together regulators, government leaders and technologists from the industry to discuss the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for Bermuda in becoming a leader in the world of digital assets.
What Comes Next?
When the dust settled after the high-speed week of events and workshops, the Penrose Partners sought to enjoy Bermuda the way they usually do: with a few drinks of Gosling’s rum. The conversation with several partners and friends over drinks made one thing clear: everyone felt that Bermuda was on the cusp of a major technological revolution. There was consensus that all the pieces were in place to accomplish big things. With the fortune to be at the epicenter of these conversations, Penrose Partners will continue to drive ecosystem building and collaboration between industry leaders, policymakers, and technologists.
Penrose and their close network of partners understand that their work isn’t close to being done. There are many integral pieces that still need to come together to ensure that the Bermudian technology sector can develop in a way that increases economic activity and creates the jobs that the local community now expects. At the centre of all upcoming efforts will continue to be a strong focus on technology education and overall community development.
The team at Penrose looks forward to bringing more educational curriculums and ecosystem developing initiatives over the course of 2021. With another series of blockchain and digital asset workshops on the way and the launch of the new InnoFund Innovation Incubator Program many more breakthroughs are sure to be announced from what could soon be known as Innovation Island.