Detractors are suspicious of the anonymity that comes with blockchain technology. Supporters say it's exactly the point. Photo via David McBee/Pexels

Interest in cryptocurrencies reignited during the pandemic, driven in part by trillions of dollars in stimulus money that left many investors with “free money” to put to work. And while bitcoin recently tumbled nearly 55 percent from its peak, it remains the most valuable crypto asset in the world, with a market capitalization of around $589 billion. Its investors argue that it’s still a safer bet than stocks during this period of economic upheaval.

A renewed interest in cryptocurrencies — digital currencies that rely on blockchain technology, in which transactions are verified and records maintained by a decentralized system that uses cryptography — is widespread. Large corporations like Tesla, Mass Mutual and KPMG Canada have announced plans to hold cryptocurrency assets in treasury or accept them as payment. Meanwhile, major financial institutions are offering customers more digital asset investment options. Twelve years after bitcoin’s birth, mainstream investors are honing in on the currency, too.

In the midst of this market fascination, a fundamental question still remains. What exactly is cryptocurrency, and why should we care? And what about other industry buzzwords, like blockchain, decentralized exchanges or non-fungible tokens (NFTs)? Are they all just fads that will fade away?

Some have called cryptocurrency a Ponzi scheme, a tool for illicit activities, or a short-term fascination that will be irrelevant in a few years. It’s an understandable mindset, since there’s no intrinsic value in cryptocurrencies — not unlike the U.S. dollar after it stopped being backed by gold in the 1970s. But it’s also a shortsighted one. Blockchain technology, which allows users to exchange information on a secure digital ledger, is extremely useful because it automates contractual arrangements through computer programming.

I’m a firm believer that cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology that underpins them are here to stay, and understanding how this technology has transformed our environment, and how it will continue to evolve, is critical to succeeding in business.

First steps

Bitcoin took the first major steps towards a truly electronic cash system in 2008, in the midst of one of the worst financial collapses of all time. Governments worldwide were bailing out financial institutions that had been deemed “too big to fail.” Perceptions of economic inequality spurred movements such as Occupy Wall Street, which was fueled by a distrust in banks.

Bitcoin, on the other hand, wasn’t created by a trusted source — in fact, no one knows exactly who invented it. In a 2008 white paper, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System,” Satoshi Nakamoto — the pseudonymous individual presumed to have developed bitcoin — described the currency as a way to securely facilitate financial transactions between parties without having to involve a central intermediary. No longer would people have to put their trust in the large financial institutions that failed them during the financial crisis.

Detractors find the lack of a central authority with blockchain worrisome, but proponents say it’s exactly the point: You no longer have to trust the person or institution you’re dealing with. You only have to trust the algorithms that run the program — and presumably an algorithm will never run off with your money.

Instead, blockchain enables a cooperative of members to run the shared network ledger required to keep track of a currency’s credits and debits. No one can shut down the system so long as a group of computers anywhere in the world is able to connect to the internet and run bitcoin’s software.

Because of bitcoin, today we can uniquely own digital assets and transfer them with the certainty that people can’t spend the same cryptocurrency twice. The transactions that bitcoin-like applications make possible are registered in permanent and immutable digital records for all to see in a common ledger.

By enabling fast and easily verifiable transactions, blockchain technology is also streamlining business operations in banking, supply chains, sustainability, healthcare and even voting. Development in these sectors and others is continuing at an intense pace. Annual global funding of blockchain projects now runs in the billions of dollars. From 2020 to 2021 alone, it jumped from several billion to nearly $30 billion.

Second generation

Since bitcoin’s arrival, we’ve seen a second, more sophisticated generation of cryptocurrencies evolve, with Ethereum as their flagship. Ethereum has its own programming language, enabling users to write and automate self-executing smart contracts, allowing for the creation of tokens for a specific use. For example, imagine that when Uber was founded, it had created an Uber token, and only people who owned Uber tokens could use the rideshare service. Tokens currently power thousands of decentralized applications that give people more privacy and control in a variety of areas, such as internet browsing, financial services, gaming and data storage, among others.

Some critiques of cryptocurrency remain. One growing concern is that cryptocurrencies require a significant amount of energy to run their networks, leading to higher transaction costs, energy waste and limited scalability. Newer cryptocurrencies are attempting to find ways to verify transactions that require less energy.

Some people also worry about ongoing volatility in cryptocurrency markets. A third generation of cryptocurrencies has emerged to address this concern: so-called “stablecoins,” which are pegged to a government-issued currency, a commodity, assets, or basket of assets. For some, stablecoins are serving as an onramp into the world of crypto from the world of traditional finance.

Before a new technology becomes part of everyday life, we often see a long period of development, improvement and consumer adoption. Cryptocurrency and blockchain markets are still in this early development stage, but they’re also moving quickly into the mainstream. The total market capitalization of cryptocurrencies late last year briefly reached the $3 trillion mark, or roughly 15 percent of the U.S. GDP, and there’s been more than $100 billion locked into decentralized finance applications.

Large companies like IBM, Amazon and Bank of America are leading the way by tapping into blockchain technology in their daily business activities. It won’t be long until this market, previously characterized by speculation and wild volatility, will be transformed into a stable infrastructure framework. But companies need to get up to speed on the industry now. Those that commit to doing so will be the ones that thrive.


------

This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and was written by Manolo Sánchez, an adjunct professor of operations management at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

Could RadioShack make a come back? Photo via Getty Images

Former Texas electronics giant RadioShack reboots as cryptocurrency company

shacking up?

Although the RadioShack electronics retail chain essentially crumbled following bankruptcy filings in 2015 and 2017, the name has survived for 100 years. In a bid to make RadioShack relevant for another 100 years, the brand’s new owner is making a play for one of the hottest, and most controversial, emerging business sectors in the world — cryptocurrency.

Seeking to capitalize on RadioShack’s global brand name, Miami-based owner Retail Ecommerce Ventures is propelling RadioShack (once based in Fort Worth) into the promising yet murky territory of cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency is digital currency built on a technology platform known as blockchain; bitcoin is perhaps the best-known type of cryptocurrency. In November, the size of the global cryptocurrency market surpassed $3 trillion.

“The need for a bridge between the CEOs who control the world’s corporations and the new world of cryptocurrencies will most likely come in the form of a well-known, century-old brand. RadioShack is perfect,” RadioShack proclaims on its website.

High-profile investors like Elon Musk have enthusiastically hopped on the cryptocurrency bandwagon. Yet other big-name investors, such as Warren Buffett, cast doubt on the viability of the scam-prone, highly volatile cryptocurrency market.

The owner of RadioShack clearly shares space on the Musk bandwagon. On its website, RadioShack — whose name still appears on hundreds of stores operated by independent dealers — recently revealed plans for a cryptocurrency platform called RadioShack DeFi (short for decentralized finance). The company touts RadioShack DeFi’s ability to profit from a 100-year-old brand name that’s recognized in more than 190 countries and once encompassed more than 8,000 stores.

The concept calls for people to freely swap existing cryptocurrency tokens for newly created RADIO cryptocurrency tokens through the RadioShack DeFi platform.

“It is our hypothesis that the best way for crypto to be more mainstream is for an established brand name in the tech space to lead the way. … Despite its pullback in the last 10 years, the brand is resolutely embedded in the global consciousness — ripe to be pivoted to lead the way for blockchain tech to mainstream adoption by other large brands,” RadioShack declares.

Retail Ecommerce Ventures bought RadioShack’s brand assets in 2020. The business also owns the ecommerce business of Pier 1, formerly based in Fort Worth, along with obsolete retail brands such as Dressbarn, Linens ’n Things, and Stein Mart.

Interestingly, RadioShack’s cryptocurrency setup would run on a system called Atlas USV that’s owned by entrepreneurs Tai Lopez and Alex Mehr — the same guys who own Retail Ecommerce Ventures and, thus, RadioShack.

“Lopez and Mehr are clearly staking the success of the entire operation on the strength of the RadioShack brand with consumers,” PCMag.com observes.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Spencer Randall, principal and co-founder of CryptoEQ, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how his company has grown alongside the cryptocurrency industry. Photo courtesy of CryptoEQ

Houston startup shines bright as cryptocurrency's 'North Star'

Houston innovator's podcast episode 89

When Spencer Randall and his co-founders dreamt up the idea for CryptoEQ in 2018, they couldn't have even imagined how huge of a presence cryptocurrency would have in the world.

Within the past year, publicly traded companies holding Bitcoin on their balance sheet, El Salvador has announced its adopting Bitcoin as legal tender, dozens of other "altcoins" have emerged, and, as of earlier this month, thousands attended the biggest crypto event in the world.

Helping its users navigate it all is Houston-based CryptoEQ, which has, over the past 18 months, seen 10x growth in users and revenue — recently reaching the 30,000 user milestone.

"CryptoEQ is really built to be the North Star for digital asset research and information. We provide market insights for both newcomers and folks that are already well-versed in cryptocurrency and digital assets," Randall says on this week's of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The idea of the company is to help shepherd folks along and guide them on their crypto journey."

The platform, which offers both free and paid membership, has expanded to be able to offer something for everyone, despite their cryptocurrency proficiency. In fact, recently the company entered into a partnership with The Cannon, an entrepreneurial hub with locations across Houston, to provide a one-of-a-kind crypto starter pack to help onboard innovators to the cryptosphere worldwide. The new offering launches this week.

"We have a lot of roots at the Cannon — we actually started building CryptoEQ at the original location of the Cannon. So, it's really cool to come full circle and buildout a crypto starter pack with the Cannon team," Randall says.

He shares more about the state of cryptocurrency and how he's seen his company grow on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Post Oak Motor Cars now accepts Dogecoin and Bitcoin as payment. Photo courtesy of Fertitta Entertainment

Houston supercar dealer now accepting Dogecoin as payment

cryptocars

Post Oak Motor Cars is now accepting dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that recently gained new heights of popularity following support from Tesla founder Elon Musk, as a form of payment. New Bugatti, Bentley, Karma, and Rolls-Royce vehicles are sold at the boutique sales location next to Houston's only five-star hotel, The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston.

This is the second form of cryptocurrency the Houston dealership has accepted. In 2018, Post Oak Motor Cars announced that it would allow customers to pay using bitcoin after integrating cryptocurrency processor Bitpay into its payment system.

Dogecoin was created in 2013 by software engineers from IBM and Adobe. In 2014, the currency briefly passed Bitcoin and all other cryptocurrencies in trading volume. Fast forward to 2020 when a TikTok trend encouraged people to purchase dogecoin in an effort to get the value to $1. By January 2021 Musk, Gene Simmons, Snoop Dogg, and GameStop short squeeze Redditors were all in on the buying binge pushing dogecoin's value to new heights.

Buy Sport, Premium and Luxury cars with Bitcoin from Post Oak Motor Cars. www.youtube.com


In March of this year, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban announced that the team would allow the public to purchase tickets and products with the digital currency. Within two days, the Mavs had carried out over 20,000 Dogecoin transactions.

Last week, dogecoin's value was up 400 percent week-over-week, hitting an all-time high of $0.46 valuation on April 16. It is currently the fifth-highest valued cryptocurrency and its value is up 6,000 percent year-to-date. According to CNN, the total value of the dogecoins in circulation is nearly $50 billion.

Post Oak Motor Cars is owned by businessman Tilman Fertitta, CEO of Fertitta Entertainment. The billionaire is also the the chairman, CEO, and owner of Landry's, Inc. and owner of the Houston Rockets NBA team. The Rockets online shop currently allows customers to purchase items using Bitpay. Bitpay facilitates transactions for users wishing to complete a purchase using Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and other cryptocurrencies.

Buyers are currently able to buy a Tesla using Bitcoin, but despite Musk's appreciation for the brand faced by a Shiba Inu, dogecoin is not currently accepted as a form of payment.

------

This article was originally run on AutomotiveMap.

Cryptocurrency doesn't have to be a big, confusing risk with this Houston startup's technology. Courtesy of CryptoEQ

Entrepreneur feels called to demystify cryptocurrency with his Houston startup

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 16

Spencer Randall, an engineer by trade, developed a fascination with cryptocurrency, and he wasn't able to shake it.

"Once I understood the technology, it wasn't really a choice. I felt compelled and driven to learn as much as I possibly could," he says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I'd say it was more of a calling."

His interest lead him to frequent cryptocurrency and blockchain meetups, and, when those started to feel all over the place, he started to host his own meetups, focused on key issues within the technology.

It was through these meetups that Randall met who would meet Brooks Vaughan, Norman Hamilton, Michael Thoma, and Joseph Romero, who would then become the co-founders of CryptoEQ.

"There really wasn't a go-to resource (for cryptocurrency," Randall says. "What we wanted to do and what our mission today is to be the most trusted and intuitive analysis for cryptocurrencies."

So, the group of entrepreneurs created CryptoEQ, which gives cryptocurrency investors a community to interact with and learn from. The company, which works out of The Cannon, launched its version 2 for the site this month and saw a 500 percent growth among users. CryptoEQ is also planning to grow its site and resources and is hiring a new full-time employee this year.

Randall discusses trends he's seen in the industry, plans for 2020, and more in the podcast episode. Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Cryptocurrency doesn't have to be a big, confusing risk with this Houston startup's technology. David McBee/Pexels

Houston startup that simplifies way to analyze cryptocurrency trends plans expansion

equipped for crypto

A new Houston startup is changing the way traders and investors analyze trending cryptocurrency.

Spencer Randall, CryptoEQ's principal and co-founder, says the mission of the company is to simplify ratings and analysis in cryptocurrency. With the company's beta now live, Randall hopes that those not familiar with cryptocurrency will be able to use the platform as a learning tool. The platform takes information on trending cryptocurrency and boils it down into three columns -- rating, technical analysis and trend analysis -- in order for users to know when to buy or sell.

"(It) is very complex," Randall says. "We see the utility and digital assets helping the common person so that they can try and boil down the information."

Randall, whose interest in investing and trading in cryptocurrency began a couple of years ago, became a frequent attendee of Bitcoin meetups in Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. There, he met his co-founders, lead designer Brooks Vaughan, program manager Norman Hamilton, lead analyst Michael Thoma, and lead marketer Joseph Romero.

The co-founders all recognized a need for reliable and trustworthy information in the cryptocurrency space and decided that creating CryptoEQ was the answer. The company hopes to expand its platform by the end of the third quarter this year.

"We really wanted to start building a platform that we would want to use as people organically enthusiastic about the (cryptocurrency) space," Randall says. "We built the platform for use at those meetups. It has a landing page where you can just jump on and get a feel in a matter of seconds of how the market is doing. This beta is intended to be a place where you can come throughout the day to check in on the market and check in on how things are going and learn about where'd you like to go next with crypto."

And while Houston is still an expanding technology hub, Randall thinks the city is an undervalued place to grow a small company like CryptoEQ. He credits innovation hubs like the Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, also known as Lilie, for creating the opportunity for Houstonians to thrive in the startup field.

"Houston is a place where entrepreneurs can actually thrive," Randall said. "You see a lot of people go to Austin because that's where the startup culture is in Texas. As Houston catches up, I think you'll see less of the talent leave."

CryptoEQ offices out of The Cannon, which is opening its 120,000-square-foot entrepreneurial campus this summer.


The CryptoEQ founders met at various Texas Bitcoin meetups. Courtesy of CryptoEQ

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston doctors recognized among top creative leaders in business

winners

This week, Fast Company announced its 14th annual list of Most Creative People in Business — and two notable Houstonians made the cut.

Dr. Peter Hotez and his fellow dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, were named among the list for “open sourcing a COVID-19 Vaccine for the rest of the world.” The list, which recognizes individuals making a cultural impact via bold achievements in their field, is made up of influential leaders in business.

Hotez and Bottazzi are also co-directors for the Texas Children's Hospital's Center for Vaccine Development -one of the most cutting-edge vaccine development centers in the world. For the past two decades it has acquired an international reputation as a non-profit Product Development Partnership (PDP), advancing vaccines for poverty-related neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and emerging infectious diseases of pandemic importance. One of their most notable achievements is the development of a vaccine technology leading to CORBEVAX, a traditional, recombinant protein-based COVID-19 vaccine.

"It's an honor to be recognized not only for our team's scientific efforts to develop and test low cost-effective vaccines for global health, but also for innovation in sustainable financing that goes beyond the traditional pharma business model," says Hotez in a statement.

The technology was created and engineered by Texas Children's Center for Vaccine Development specifically to combat the worldwide problem of vaccine access and availability. Biological E Limited (BE) developed, produced and tested CORBEVAX in India where over 60 million children have been vaccinated so far.

Earlier this year, the doctors were nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for their research and vaccine development of the vaccine. Its low cost, ease of production and distribution, safety, and acceptance make it well suited for addressing global vaccine inequity.

"We appreciate the recognition of our efforts to begin the long road to 'decolonize' the vaccine development ecosystem and make it more equitable. We hope that CORBEVAX becomes one of a pipeline of new vaccines developed against many neglected and emerging infections that adversely affect global public health," says Bottazzi in the news release from Texas Children's.

Fast Company editors and writers research candidates for the list throughout the year, scouting every business sector, including technology, medicine, engineering, marketing, entertainment, design, and social good. You can see the complete list here

.

Samsung sets sights on nearly $200 billion expansion in Texas

chipping in

As it builds a $17 billion chipmaking factory in Taylor, tech giant Samsung is eyeing a long-term strategy in the Texas area that could lead to a potential investment of close to $200 billion.

Samsung’s plans, first reported by the Austin Business Journal, call for an additional $192.1 billion investment in the Austin area over several decades that would create at least 10,000 new jobs at 11 new chipmaking plants. These facilities would be at the new Taylor site and the company’s existing site in Northeast Austin.

The first of the 11 new plants wouldn’t be completed until 2034, according to the Business Journal.

“Samsung has a history already in the Austin market as an employer of choice, providing high wages, great benefits, and a great working environment. All of this will be on steroids in the not-too-distant future, creating a historic boost to the already booming Austin economy,” John Boyd Jr., a corporate site selection consultant, tells CultureMap.

Samsung’s preliminary plans were revealed in filings with the State of Texas seeking possible financial incentives for the more than $190 billion expansion. The South Korean conglomerate says the filings are part of the company’s long-range planning for U.S. chipmaking facilities.

Given that Samsung’s 11 new plants would be decades in the making, there’s no certainty at this point that any part of the potential $192.1 billion expansion will ever be built.

Last November, Samsung announced it would build a $17 billion chipmaking factory in Taylor to complete its semiconductor operations in Northeast Austin. Construction is underway, with completion set for 2024. Boyd proclaimed last year that the Taylor project will trigger an “economic tsunami” in the quiet Williamson County suburb.

The Taylor facility, which is expected to employ more than 2,000 people, ranks among the largest foreign economic development projects in U.S. history. The impact of a nearly $200 billion cluster of 11 new chipmaking plants would far eclipse the Taylor project.

The Taylor factory will produce advanced chips that power mobile and 5G capabilities, high-performance computing, and artificial intelligence.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.