CoinFest 2015 connects Bitcoin community in Vancouver to the world

Digital Finance Institute and Taurus exchange join local cryptocurrency scene

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      Bitcoin advocate Andrew Wagner insists he isn’t in charge of CoinFest, the decentralized cryptocurrency convention he founded in 2013.

      Indeed, anyone is allowed to organize a CoinFest event in their city, the 25-year-old East Vancouver resident told the Georgia Straight. There are just three guidelines: CoinFest events must be free to attend, nonprofit, and held at venues that accept payment in Bitcoin, the peer-to-peer digital currency that turned six years old in January.

      “Many Bitcoin conferences end up being kind of an elitist thing,” Wagner, a director of the Bitcoin Co-op—a local group that promotes the use of Bitcoin—said during an interview at the Decentral Vancouver incubator (436 West Pender Street). “They charge hundreds of dollars to attend.”

      Between February 20 and 22, the fourth edition of CoinFest will come to two dozen cities around the world, up from three cities in 2014. Wagner expects at least a couple thousand people to attend worldwide.

      In Vancouver, a cryptocurrency conference will take place at the Sandman Hotel Vancouver City Centre (180 West Georgia Street) on February 22. Speakers and panel discussions will cover topics that are standard fare for Bitcoin conferences, such as new projects, technological developments, and price. (One bitcoin was valued at around US$220 as of February 10.) On February 20, Decentral will present an Intro to Bitcoin event.

      Decentral Vancouver is one of CoinFest 2015's venues.
      Stephen Hui

      The lion’s share of Vancouver’s events are scheduled for February 21. Float House (70 West Cordova Street), a spa with sensory-deprivation tanks, will host a hardware demonstration being organized by Bryan Hellard, founder of the BCIT Bitcoins club. Cryptocurrency-mining rigs, a Trezor hardware wallet, and Lamassu and Skyhook ATMs, which allow people to buy bitcoins with Canadian dollars, will be displayed.

      A Bitcoin-themed art show will be held at the Fall tattoo parlour (644 Seymour Street), and a networking event will take place at Francesco’s Italian restaurant (860 Burrard Street). The game room at India Gate restaurant (616 Robson Street) will offer freeroll poker, blackjack, and roulette, with chips redeemable for millibits. (One bitcoin equals 1,000 millibits.)

      Wagner said a value exchange at an as-yet-undetermined venue will allow attendees to trade cryptocurrencies, precious metals, and “anything intended for the storage or transaction of value”. Decentral will participate in a virtual hangout featuring online panel discussions connecting Bitcoin enthusiasts from all over the world.

      “The events are thematically organized at different venues around the downtown core,” Wagner said. “They form a path—kind of a squiggly line—such that you could walk along it and visit each one.”

      In Canada, CoinFest 2015 events are also planned in Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal. Internationally, events are being organized in places such as Denver, Colorado; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Rome, Italy; Kumasi, Ghana; Hyderabad, India; and five cities in Russia.

      Wagner noted the Russian government has taken a hard line against Bitcoin. Therefore, CoinFest venues in that country do not have to accept the cryptocurrency.

      “The idea of it being simultaneous worldwide is beautiful, because it makes us a cohesive community of highly individualistic people,” Wagner said of CoinFest. “Only a decentralized autonomous network could unify such an individualistic culture.”

      CoinFest 2015's hardware demonstration will feature cryptocurrency-mining rigs.
      Stephen Hui

      Yuri Yerofeyev, a Bitcoin Co-op director who owns the Lamassu ATM at Steamrollers (1195 Robson Street), is supporting CoinFest by giving a Skyhook ATM to the event’s organizers in Gaborone, Botswana. He’s the founder and CEO of Taurus Crypto Services, which is planning to launch an online Bitcoin exchange in the next few weeks.

      Yerofeyev told the Straight the Taurus exchange will allow users to trade Canadian dollars for bitcoins and vice versa, and it will stand out in the market by focusing on customer service and charging lower fees than its competitors. Taurus will store most of its users’ bitcoins in multisignature wallets—which require the authorization of multiple parties to spend their funds—for greater security.

      “That’s an advantage because of the hacks—multiple hacks of different exchanges,” Yerofeyev said by phone from downtown Vancouver. “A multisignature wallet is virtually impossible to hack, unless you can hack several parties at the same time.”

      In December 2014, Manie Eagar addressed the standing Senate committee on banking, trade, and commerce as part of its study of the use of digital currency. At CoinFest’s conference in Vancouver, the cofounder and chair of the Digital Finance Institute will speak about the regulation of Bitcoin.

      “People on the street’s first question to me is always, ‘Is it legal?’” Eagar told the Straight at a West Side café. “Yes, it is legal. But, obviously, if you’re going to take cash and buy drugs with it, that’s not legal. So don’t kid yourself: the fact that it’s digital and so easy to transfer doesn’t mean that you can do illegal things. The same rules apply.”

      Launched in November 2014, the Digital Finance Institute is a Vancouver-based nonprofit think tank focusing on innovation, transparency, and inclusion in financial technology. One of its forthcoming projects aims to increase the participation of women in this industry.

      “We want to promote that, especially from a Vancouver and Canada bias, to look at how we can create more awareness and role models for girls and women in this space, with support mechanisms, mentorship, and potentially funding,” Eagar said.

      Eagar is also a director of the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada. He said the Toronto-based organization is planning to hold its next Bitcoin expo in Vancouver this fall.

      CoinFest 2015 will take place February 20 to 22 at various venues in Vancouver.