During my Melbourne coworking tour I took a look at Blockchain Centre, Melbournes first coworking space focused on blockchain technology developers, entrepreneurs, and enthusiasts.
There’s a pretty unique feeling you’ll get entering the Blockchain Centre for the first time. This is partly due to the slightly underground aesthetic of street art on the walls, vibrant lighting throughout and an 8 meter long print of Satoshi Nakamoto’s seminal bitcoin thesis. But it’s mainly due to the fact that the Blockchain Centre is a cutting edge blockchain and cryptocurrency knowledge hub, a crucial area of technology that's yet to attain widespread understanding.
Blockchain Global founded the Blockchain Centre in response to the growing need for both a work and education space for emerging bitcoin and blockchain technology companies in Melbourne. It’s an intriguing, visionary and niche, not-for-profit coworking hub and incubator that's precisely the kind of place that creates the opportunity for this emerging community to flourish. Since being founded in 2014, it’s very much become the focal point for the wider community of people passionate about cryptocurrencies in Melbourne and now boasts one of the largest blockchain meetups in the world.
The Blockchain Centre team are involved in bitcoin mining, and run the largest bitcoin exchange in Australia by volume and liquidity. Everyone on the team is passionate about driving forward bitcoin and blockchain technology, as they see how decentralized applications will benefit businesses, governments, and the general public. As Community Manager, Martin Davidson says,
After a successful investment agreement, Blockchain moved into a 600m2 space with the intention of using it as a coworking office. The space includes hot-desk and permanent coworking desks, fixed offices, breakout areas, a podcast studio, a barbeque and bar event space. To complete the unique nature of the hub, there's blockchain inspired street art throughout. It also boasts “the only coworking space in Australia with a full-sized American pool table in bitcoin orange.”
The companies and individuals at Blockchain are as diverse as they are interesting. There are cryptocurrency exchanges, educational foundations, corporate consultants, industry journals, API and Trading Tool developers, think tanks, a digital stock exchange, and carbon tracking companies.
Addressing the Knowledge Gap
Although the team saw the growing community around cryptocurrency, they also saw a big educational gap. When visiting the space, members shared some of their experience in the industry. One member, a bitcoin consultant, spoke about receiving a lot of interest and having early-stage conversations but had difficulty turning that interest into paid follow-up work. With bitcoin being an emerging and seemingly complex industry to those outside of it, businesses need to know a lot about bitcoin before they decide whether they can bring cryptocurrencies into the heart of their business. For consultants, that means that there’s a hefty upfront educational role and a potentially long runway for converting clients.
Martin notes that in this cultural shift, the Blockchain Centre is stepping up to position itself as a national and potentially global leader;
Blockchain Centre does corporate and government consulting, as well as plenty of community outreach. As part of this educational effort, the Blockchain Centre hosts the world’s only bitcoin mining museum, which exhibits the evolution of bitcoin mining technology.
Becoming an Educational Hub
There’s also a keen focus on students as the next generation of innovators. These efforts extend from both the space and from the members themselves. The Blockchain Centre provides programs to primary and secondary schools as well as internship programs with the major universities in Melbourne.
The ethos of knowledge sharing is also apparent with some members volunteering with Coder Dojo to teach children how to code. As Martin points out “one member has recently introducing blockchain learning modules into their curriculum, and they’ve just become the world’s first primary school to accept bitcoin donations.”
It’s a place of research, too. Martin says;
“People come from around the world and base themselves at the space researching and working with the companies here. For example, an emerging research group is currently setting up the Distributed Technologies Institute.”
The space’s team offers programs suited to the particular needs of the members. “It’s so important for us to provide a space to help people who want to start up their own business in this ecosystem." An internal support and mentor system for younger start-ups is developing organically and with additional support from staff.
Last year, the space hosted a Startup Bootcamp demo day, and this year they’re rolling out a business incubator program.
Some programming comes from the membership itself. The Founders Institute is based there and runs a 12-week program to help people iterate, test and develop their business ideas. Taylor Tran, founder of Innovation Melbourne and a leading coworking influencer, regularly works out of the Blockchain Centre and is working alongside Martin to establish a blockchain hackathon.
When speaking about partnerships, Martin notes, “we really have become a business center, which all coworking spaces need to be.” And by business center, we’re talking about creating a fully charged ecosystem. For example, they’ve organized accountants to do pro bono work for members and established network partnerships with Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM who all offer excellent benefits to the startups in the space.
Martin also highlighted some of the other partnership efforts. “Agreements to work on various projects are falling into place. Most recently with Blockchain Global which is the overarching sponsor of the enterprise here.”
Blockchain center is building a potent network of affiliations with every bitcoin and blockchain company across the country, as well as by building close relations with the most successful companies internationally.
While it’s not always easy, Martin shares his enthusiasm for being on the cutting-edge. He notes that the space is “a building of pioneers." He continues;
And without a doubt, if I were based in Melbourne I’d be taking advantage of their generous free Monday’s coworking offer. It’s a great space to work. But even more than that, it’s a chance to build relationships with the open, warm and pioneering community that make the Blockchain Centre the exciting hub it is.
Co-founder, designer, reader, philosopher & plant whisperer. He plays dad, husband & attacking midfield.