Bitcoin’s Big Break

Bitcoin | BCBusiness
It doesn’t stop at Bitcoin: digital currencies such as Peercoin, Dogecoin and Mooncoin have all seen a spike in interest.

Local businesses, charities and universities are in the forefront of efforts to give the digital currency a foothold

Canada’s open-mindedness toward technology and its enviable history of stable banking practices make our country one of the world’s prime locations to work with bitcoins, and Vancouver has proven an enthusiastic early adopter.

Certain countries, such as China and India, have been wary of the virtual “crypto-currency” since the beginning; China’s central bank banned financial institutions from transactions involving bitcoins in December, while the Reserve Bank of India issued a public warning against the bitcoin later that month. Elsewhere, such as Thailand, buying or selling a bitcoin is straight-up illegal.

But in nations such as Australia, the U.S. and Canada, governments have essentially left the bitcoin alone. Consequently, the digital currency is thriving in Canada, particularly in B.C. For example, Vancouver is proudly home to the world’s first bitcoin automated teller machine, which opened last October (Toronto followed suit, opening one in January). Jointly operated by Vancouver-based Bitcoiniacs and U.S.-based Robocoin, the Vancouver ATM converts bitcoins to Canadian dollars and vice versa. It’s located inside a Waves Coffee House downtown.

That same Waves outlet hosted Coinfest 2014 in February, a meet-up for what organizers refer to as the local “bitcoin community,” where entrepreneurs demonstrated the latest in hardware and software aimed at enabling the virtual currency.

Several local companies have been receptive to the digital currency. In January Vancouver’s Clearly Contacts Ltd. announced plans to accept bitcoins for purchases. As the world’s largest online eyewear retailer, Clearly Contacts is setting a precedent for widespread acceptance of the bitcoin. “As an e-commerce company, we’re excited to see digital currency gaining momentum,” founder and CEO Roger Hardy said at the time of the announcement.

Even non-profits are getting involved: in December, The Last Door Recovery Society became the first charity in B.C. to accept donations in bitcoins and also to sell services in exchange for bitcoins. The New Westminster-based charity had received two donations in the digital currency as of January. Matt Kalenuik, who spearheaded the initiative, said earlier this year that the move was designed to reduce barriers and make it as simple as possible for supporters to back Last Door. He is optimistic about the bitcoin’s future: unless donors require the currency to be converted to cash to get a tax receipt, Kalenuik says, he plans to hold onto the bitcoins, believing they will increase in value.

And schools aren’t missing out, either. Burnaby’s SFU launched a Bitcoin Club last June, which hosts workshops teaching students the ins and outs of bitcoins. It also works to help local merchants adopt the digital currency.

The Bitcoin Co-op, headquartered in Vancouver, aims to “increase bitcoin adoption by educating people about the technology, facilitating in-person, peer-to-peer exchange, and working with merchants to help them accept bitcoin payments,” the co-op states on its home page.

In fact, there’s even an official conference for bitcoins in the city. Bitcoin Days Vancouver organizer Jesse Heaslip describes the event as “a next-generation conference focusing on the future disruption of the global economy from financial markets to local communities and government policy.” Slated for April 8 and 9, the event includes speakers such as David Johnston, the founder of Bitangels, an angel group that has so far invested $7 million across 12 bitcoin startups since launching in 2013.

The bitcoin and its hundreds of competitors remain a niche market, but these digital currencies are cultivating an exciting new ecosystem of technology startups and waking up sleepy investors. When a digital currency truly takes off, I’m confident that B.C. will be on the bleeding edge of capitalizing on the opportunity. After all, the bitcoin is already making waves—and I believe this is just the beginning.

Robert Lewis is president of TechVibes Media Inc. and editor-in-chief of