Apr 6, 2021 - News
Tampa Bay leads the way on blockchain
Illustration of a block-shaped sun over the water.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Whether you understand the world of cryptocurrency and are already using it — or you’ve been living under a rock and trying to avoid it (like us) — there’s one thing you need to know: Tampa Bay is where its future is being built.

What's happening: Like the garage Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built the first Apple computers in, Tampa has become the hub for startups centered around blockchain.

  • Blockchain is a ledger of verified transactions of digital assets that catalogs those transactions publicly. It’s how cryptocurrency works without needing to go through a third party, like a bank.

The state of play: Embarc Collective CEO Lakshmi Shenoy tells Axios that Tampa Bay startups are expanding the tech to be used in everyday life.

  • It’s being engineered for government, retail, medical records, school transcripts, insurance, agriculture and real estate — eliminating the clunky, time-consuming way we verify documents during transactions.

A list of Tampa Bay blockchain startups and what they do:

  • RB Technologies establishes transparency and trust in the dietary supplement and food industries through proprietary blockchain technology.
  • Real Random makes software for secure authentication to manage and renew public key certificates.
  • ProCredEx creates a digital marketplace for exchanging verified professional credentials.
  • TrustLayer moved from San Fransisco to Tampa to automate insurance verification for business coverage.
  • SkuX accelerates revenue growth, data visibility, and ROI for brands and retailers through smart, secure digital offers and payments.
  • eNotaryLog allows users anywhere in the world to notarize HIPAA compliant forms.

The backdrop: Just about all of these companies and more came out of Blockspaces, a startup led by Tampa blockchain OGs Gabe Higgins and Rosa Shores.

  • Blockspaces opened officially in 2017. Shores calls it "a place that had air conditioning where people could get together and talk about these projects."
  • It has raised $1.2 million to let small and mid-sized businesses start using the blockchain for their supply chains, track-and-trace technologies and other applications.
  • "Having that support network has made people brave and created a big light of talent. It really is this massive community that’s sort of pushing the fold here. ... I haven’t experienced anything like it anywhere else in the country," Shores said.

The big picture: Shores is also the VP of the Florida Blockchain Business Association, which focuses on regulation around crypto and blockchain in Tallahassee.

  • She’s pushing for legislation this session that she says will continue to make Florida friendlier for these startups.

What to watch ... Shores, Higgins and Shenoy all agree: The most exciting Tampa blockchain startup is Pocket Network.

  • The platform allows developers to connect any app, on any blockchain, to any device with a single line of code.

The bottom line: Pocket Network founder Michael O'Rourke calls Tampa "the blockchain capital you haven't heard of yet."

"I traveled around the world a bunch of times over the last few years. Comparing it with larger cities, I can 100% tell you that the kind of soul here in Tampa is very different and very unique. When people come and visit and experience it, they’re like, 'Holy s--t, this is really cool.'"

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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