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By 5 February 2018 | Categories: news

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You would be hard pressed to turn around without being exposed to some mention of cryptocurrencies at the moment. It is fortuitous for the viability of blockchain, which is a software platform for digital assets, therefore, that Cape Town recently hosted the continent’s largest blockchain hackathon, as well as the city’s first ever Blockchain Symposium.

The event saw more than 80 participants from around the world converge at Absa’s Rise Innovation Hub in Cape Town last week to compete in the Unlock The Block hackathon, which was hosted by Linum Labs and AIFMRM.

Bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies counted among the topics covered by experts at the symposium. Speakers included Professor G-J van Rooyen from Custos Media, James Kilroe from Newton Partners, and Monica Singer from ConsenSys. The latter is one of Africa's most dynamic blockchain startups.

Hit the ground running

The Symposium occurred on the final day of the Unlock the Block blockchain hackathon, which was a 10 day-long event during which participants learned how to develop blockchain applications in minimum time. The hackathon initially kicked off with a five day digital bootcamp, during which participants were trained in overarching fintech trends, as well as the blockchain tools required to develop decentralised applications and protocols.

Embracing change

“Distributed ledger technologies (DLT) such as blockchain have the potential to change financial services as profoundly as the internet changed media and entertainment,” noted Andy Baker, joint acting chief information officer for the Barclays Africa Group, which owns Absa.

“They represent an entirely new paradigm for how we handle data, deal with clients, design our solutions and upskill our people, and we see huge potential for financial institutions in Africa to use these technologies to empower individuals and improve the lives of their customers,” he added.

Local solutions for global problems

The event culminated in a 72-hour hackathon during which participants built a prototype blockchain app. The winning team was revealed at the Blockchain Symposium, with two teams - WhenMoon? and Yuna – sharing the spoils by achieving a joint first place.

Team members of WhenMoon?, Brandon Kenley Verkerk, Christopher Maree, Iordan Tchaparov and Kavilan Nair created blockchain-based app called blockPoll. This pseudo-anonymous, online, blockchain-based voting tool, can be used to facilitate organisational-based proxy voting and polling mechanisms.

The team members of Yuna, consisting of Kungela Mzuku, Kyle Roos and Una Singo, created the Proof of Steak application. This is a peer-to-peer lending network that uses non-interchangeable tokens, backed by physical assets, as collateral.

“The event has shown us two things, firstly that the applications of blockchain technology in improving people's lives in Africa are immense and second, it is much easier to build those applications than many people think - we just need to work together,” concluded Paul Kohlhaas, founder of Linum Labs.

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