Is Malta The Blockchain Island?

Since passing crypto related legislation in the summer of 2018, the EU’s smallest member state Malta has been actively promoting itself as “The Blockchain Island”. Is this real, or just hype?

After some significant research it seems that for now at least, the reality is somewhere in the middle. Malta is growing into it.

Delta Summit vs Malta Blockchain Summit 2018

In October 2018 Malta hosted Delta Summit and then in November 2018 the Malta Blockchain Summit. Slightly oddly for two conferences so close together in the calendar, they both used the same hotel as their venue. Both conferences had a wide mix of businesses displaying, though the MBS seemed to have an edge in terms of the overall quality of these companies. It felt as though they mostly had exchanges with stands, but at this stage in the development of the crypto world, exchanges are probably the right companies to have. However, in their defence, the Delta Summit had Binance and Roger Ver in attendance, so you can’t fault their ability to attract the best.

There are more and more companies investigating Malta as the location for their start-up or ICO and there is enthusiasm in the air. Corporate services firms, accountants, auditors, real estate agencies recruitment agents and hoteliers would seem to be the early beneficiaries of this enthusiasm as more and more founders visit Malta to look around and understand what is possible. For now, the local companies are talking a good game, but the ability of Malta to deliver in such a fast moving space is likely to be a real constraint in time.

This screenshot taken from a Maltese facebook group demonstrates the kinds of problems that people in the blockchain space are currently experiencing. While Malta is blowing it’s trumpet loudly, the reality is that it is not easy to integrate something so new into an existing economy. For political reasons, the Maltese banking system is already under pressure and bringing crypto projects and the potential risks they bring to Malta will not be easy.

The igaming sector, which is one of the biggest pillars of the Maltese economy has had it’s own growing pains and similar issues, yet is much more established locally. If igaming still has banking and licensing issues, how easy will it be for blockchain businesses to establish themselves?

iGaming Jobs vs Blockchain Jobs In Malta

The complexity of blockchain projects does not help this situation either. There is an incredible required learning curve in the crypto space and having spoken to a number of people at both events, it is clear that most of the professionals in Malta do not understand the subject well. This will hopefully improve in time, but time is the one thing that blockchain projects do not have much of.

The Competition For Real Estate In Malta

Another potential problem is that while igaming has created it’s own ecosystem in towns like St Julians, Sliema, Msida and Gzira, to be able to survive and recruit, the blockchain businesses will need to do the same. There is already an incredible shortage of commercial and residential real estate to rent, with prices rising quickly each year, plus a never ending difficulty to recruit and retain skilled, competent and experienced staff. The arrival of blockchain will only add more pressure to these problems.

Overall, it is easy to imagine that several years from now Malta will be a warm, welcoming and hospitable location for blockchain and cryptocurrency projects. Malta certainly wants to be that. Between now and then, there will need to be a lot of work done by a lot of people to develop the skills and knowledge needed to make it a reality. Let’s hope they can do it.

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Malta Blockchain Summit 2018

1st and 2nd November 2018 were the dates of the first Malta Blockchain Summit, hosted in St Julians Malta. As Malta pushes hard in 2018 to live up to it’s self-appointed moniker of “The Blockchain Island”, events such as this are a must have.

I personally enjoyed large parts of the event, met and chatted with a number of interesting and experienced people and sat in to watch a few panel events. The Intercontinental Hotel was a good location, though on day one it really was busy, suggesting the level of interest in the space is very high.

Several of the event keynote speeches were from leading Maltese politicians, including the Prime Minister. Each was essentially giving a pitch as to why Malta is a “successful and vibrant economy that is open for business”. They know their lines and stuck to them.

In terms of stands, there were a lot of cryptocurrency exchanges present. The expansion of the exchange market provides greater liquidity and decentralisation – two things that crypto really needs. There were also a lot – perhaps eight – businesses that are offering blockchain solutions to the identification and KYC parts of the sector. Not long ago CIVIC launched to great fanfare into the ID space but it seems to be becoming a crowded market already. It is difficult to imagine that all of these projects can survive.

As is now de rigeur for these events, Malta Blockchain Summit hosted both an ICO pitch competition and a hackathon. Does anything ever really come from these things…?

The downside of an event like this is that there are a lot of attendees and businesses being represented that have no real place there. For example, there were a number of Maltese real estate agencies with stands. I understand why they would want to be there, touting for business from businesses that might need office space, but really, who cares…? We all know how to locate a real estate agent. Do we need them at a specialised event like this? In the same vein, there were many Maltese law firms and corporate services companies in attendance. I spoke with several people and only one of them had any actual experience in company formation for a crypto venture. Once again, I realise why they would want to attend and to try and find some new customers, but if they don’t yet know what they are doing, they ought not to be attending in my view.

All in all, the event was well located, hosted, organised and lays down a marker for the blockchain space that Malta wants to be a real player and build a real ecosystem. Time will tell how the market reacts.

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