Life support

Without Bernie Moreno, Blockland Cleveland is on intensive care

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  • Courtesy: Blockland Cleveland

For much of 2018, “Blockland Cleveland” was the talk of the town. Auto dealer-turned-tech evangelist Bernie Moreno launched the initiative with the goal of making northeast Ohio “the epicenter of all things blockchain.” Whether it was his private jet chartered to Toronto, his willingness to devote personal resources to the cause, or his relentless advocacy on social media, he managed to mobilize what appeared to be the entirety of public leadership. and Cleveland Private to promote blockchain as a viable economic renaissance. strategy.

The momentum was not entirely a mirage either. The Blockland group, with its constituent “nodes”, at one point consisted of over 1,500 members, many of whom attended regular planning meetings and nodular brainstorms and so on. There were two iterations of a “Solutions” conference in downtown Huntington Convention Center, which aimed to explore real-world Blockchain applications and make Cleveland a destination for tech companies. These have been generally well received.

But after more than a year of Covid, the abandonment of blockchain technology by prominent local start-ups and Moreno’s new political adventure, the larger movement is all but dead. Moreno has officially launched his campaign for the United States Senate in recent weeks and has delegated to another participant the administration of the Blockland Facebook group, where volunteers and tech-savvy Clevelanders still share events and news adjacent to the blockchain.

Moreno told Scene he made the decision to pass the Blockland torch for the same reasons he stepped down from his MetroHealth and Greater Cleveland Partnership board seats: to focus on his campaign and save. to organizations the splash associated with Republican 2022. Primary bloodbath. In a statement to the Blockland Group, he said the decision was about politics.

“Given my decision to go into public service,” he wrote, “I don’t want to let our BlockLand community be tarnished by the division and the vitriol that permeates our current political environment.”

But without Moreno’s influence, the online group Blockland quickly lost focus and fell into petty quarrels. It didn’t help new director JT Thomas change the group’s name from “Blockland Cleveland” to “Blockland TV Cleveland” soon after taking the reigns, a move few understood or approved of.

“Please share what television represents in this context,” wrote one user. “Business vision / technological technology? ”

To the dismay of many, television simply meant television – television. Thomas indicated that Blockland Cleveland will expand, among other things, into television production. He envisioned local technology-driven television programming. (Thomas declined to comment for this article, but said he might have information to share on the direction of the group in the near future.) Understandably, a number of active participants in the group were alarmed.

Steven Santamaria, a tech executive in the region who co-chaired Blockland’s original ‘thought leadership’ node, wrote in a comment in one of the many arguments that followed that he believed the vision of Blockland as it existed in its early days was now dead.

“Yes, there are crypto companies, blockchain-based companies, and bitcoin users. But a northeastern Ohio effort to create an economy, to attract blockchain companies to set up shop here, to reorganize education … the environment to finance entrepreneurs, etc., is pretty much done. ”

At a Blockland meeting in 2o18, Santamaria was quoted in that post as saying that in 10 years “everything is going to be blockchain”. And on Facebook, he said he was always bullish on the technology and hoped there would be individual successes in Ohio, “but create a regional center of excellence that exports blockchain solutions to the instead of consuming them is unfortunately unrealistic. The momentum has been lost. Opportunity passed. ”

Blockland had already contracted considerably from its original 10-knot structure. In 2019, Moreno made a presentation to Cuyahoga County Council in which he unveiled “Blockland 2.0”. The group ceded much of its organizational capacity to a new innovation coalition, the Cleveland Innovation Project, which included the Cleveland Foundation, the Fund for our Economic Future, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, Team NEO and JumpStart. To avoid redundancies, Blockland would now focus on just three things: Tower City’s “City Block” redesign, the annual Solutions conference, and “engagement,” which Moreno interpreted as community building via the Facebook page. and events.

At the time, the City Block project was seen as a done deal. It would open, Moreno told Cuyahoga County Council, as early as 2020.

But when Scene spoke to Moreno last week, the plan now appears to be a lot less stable. It depends on Bedrock Real Estate.

“It’s always something that I would love to see happen,” said Moreno. “But Bedrock is a big organization with a new CEO. I feel like they buy into the vision – a center for entrepreneurship in Grand Central Station in Cleveland, for lack of a better analogy, where entrepreneurs minority have an equal chance – but they are asking, is Tower City the best place for this vision? Obviously I think so, but I don’t own it, I don’t control it. I’m just trying to get them. convince them and show them that the community is behind this. ”

As for the Solutions conference, Moreno admitted that Covid killed the momentum.

“I hope someone will take care of it,” he said.

Destination Cleveland, the area’s tourism and visitors bureau, did much of the preparatory work for the first conference. At the time, the organization’s president, David Gilbert, was co-chair of the Blockland Thought Leadership Node, alongside Steven Santamaria.

But Destination Cleveland told Scene they had not been involved with Blockland since before the pandemic began, and Gilbert is no longer a co-chair of the node.

“We cannot talk about future iterations of the Solutions conference as our efforts have been heavily focused on the first year event,” wrote Emily Lauer, Director of Communications for Destination Cleveland, in an email. “The future of the conference and that of the effort as a whole are best questions to ask of those who have taken the leadership of the effort with Bernie’s footsteps.”

As for community involvement, the jury is still out. The Facebook group has always been somewhat divided between those who worked in the tech space and those who just thought Blockland was a good idea, and it’s not clear whether the group’s more active participants will still be interested in s ‘organize for future technology-related efforts and promotions. .

Moreno said the Facebook group was a challenge to moderate as the conversation was often filtered through so many voices and perspectives. But he said he hopes that soon the band members can meet in person to discuss his future.

“It’s easy to throw stones,” Moreno said. “It’s much more difficult to be constructive and to find solutions. What I’ve always wanted is for Blockland to be a grassroots organization that offers solutions.”

The elements of the original vision that transferred to the Cleveland Innovation Project in 2019 have changed dramatically. At the annual meeting of the Greater Cleveland Partnership last year, the Project unveiled its vision. It would focus on advocacy for universal broadband access and investment in technology and talent in smart manufacturing, health innovation and water technology.

Elsewhere, civic leaders and the media are gushing about the radical region-defining potential of quantum computing. No less than the Editorial Board and the Plain Dealer said the quantum computer announced by IBM would put Cleveland “on the map” in big data and bioscience research.

Here in Blockland, it seems, the blockchain is already forgotten.

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