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Black entrepreneurs show the new opportunities in blockchain

By Matthew McCarty 

It’s often said crypto will play a big role if a generational wealth transfer is to ever occur. Some say it’s already happening. Now, many may think that affluent Silicon Valley types would be the main beneficiaries. However, this technology’s relative infancy has allowed those without the same access to other opportunities of the past to thrive in the world of blockchain. 

For others, it has been a way to seize on opportunity at the beginning after years of entering markets saturated with competition.  

Recently, Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) have exploded, with many being sold for millions. While some liken this to “digital stamp collecting”, others see a much bigger market emerging.  

I spoke with Andrew Pierskalla, co-founder of Script3, a company that builds decentralized finance protocols. He sees NFTs as being potentially huge for industries like file sharing and recordkeeping in need of indexing all file types. 

His company is developing a lending app that they see as having the potential to help millions. Since DeFi is anonymous, it removes the bias that exists in lending from traditional institutions. When asked exactly how this fits in, he said, 

“We see a lot of potential here, especially on Stellar. Stellar’s focused heavily on economically underserved populations which typically don’t have good access to traditional lending platforms.” 

They have been approached by startups in Cuba and Argentina, which could be used as a blueprint in the future for partnerships locally as well. 

So, it’s clear how this can help those in developing markets, but the question made often by friends of mine is always, “How does this affect anyone in America outside of Silicon Valley?” 

I first tried to reach out to those that have made millions investing and trading. Unsurprisingly, people that are successful at trading tend to not attract attention to themselves. I didn’t feel anonymous quotes would really help bring an answer to this question. To help answer that I decided to profile three young, black American entrepreneurs using blockchain technology. 

Sam Conner, founder of Stellar Global 

Sam is primarily an entrepreneur. He’s been involved in real estate investing and sales for 16 years. He also has experience in serving on boards for both nonprofit and businesses. To this he credits his fascination with finance, geopolitics, and business. These traits are also shared by his cousin and business partner. 

This fascination led to trying to be on the forefront for anything they did. For example, their real estate was always bought in areas before any boom. When they became exposed to Bitcoin, they immediately deep dived into blockchain’s potential. 

Like most successful people, they became addicted to information, spending most days interacting on crypto forums and reading articles and whitepapers at length.  

Eventually, this led to Sam becoming what many consider the leading advocate of Stellar. Launching Stellar Global and creating his podcast has allowed him access to many of the leading minds in the crypto space.  

In his words, “the true opportunity with Stellar is its ability to create new economic models at a low barrier cost of entry.”  

He recognizes many Americans have lost faith in its current structure. However, he likens crypto to bridge the transfer of value in the same way that the internet bridged the gap of information. 

Additionally, Connor feels that Stellar’s ease of use, combined with the work the Stellar Development Foundation has done to ensure compatibility with legal off/on ramps to traditional real-world assets, opens unique blockchain opportunities 

He created Stellar Global to champion this. The global community is multicultural, multiethnic, and multinational. People are where he sees the most undervalued asset in this space. 

Creating an inclusive community requires open communication, sharing, and learning from one another. Getting caught up in identity politics and ‘us versus them’ doesn’t progress anything. A developer in Nigeria might find help from a Stellar family member in Morocco. An entrepreneur in East St Louis may find the answers needed to launch their business from someone in Venezuela. 

When other’s success helps your success, people work together instead of against each other. It’s the type of thing that would be difficult to find opposition from any hardline leftist or capitalist.  

Stellar Global was founded independently with a vision of becoming a 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to educate, connect, and advocate for millions of people. It’s their belief that Stellar could create equitable access for those previously excluded to the global financial landscape. 

When asked if there was one thing he wishes to convey to anyone listening, he shared the following, 

“Take advantage of this moment in time. At this point, those of us that have been here to see the space evolve have an understanding far greater than the general population then we realize. Use this time beyond just “hodling” to position yourself in this new economy; teach, build, create. You’ll find those long-lasting benefits will far out reach anything you can gain temporarily.” 

Aaron Bivins, founder of HipHopShot.NFT 

Aaron is what many would describe as a crypto fanatic. He’s often the first person to visit to learn the where, why, and how’s of investing. Growing up just outside Pittsburgh, he’s always had a “grind first mentality.” 

You put the work in, and the success will follow. 

Aaron’s interest in crypto was first peaked through his father’s work at Carnegie Mellon University’s computer lab. His father was tasked with preventing Bitcoin mining from happening on the school’s computer systems. Aaron knew that usually rules were there for a reason, and if someone is trying to skirt them, there’s probably money to be made.  

His interest in being on the forefront of things began when watching an episode of Xplay (a video game review show). At the end, host Adam Sessler recommended buying Google. Aaron was still in high school, and it wasn’t easy for someone with no knowledge to buy stock. 

Since then, he lamented how that $1,000 investment could’ve paid for college and a house in cash. From then on, his eyes remained open to the next big opportunity. 

Like most people, Aaron started out with bitcoin, but quickly began researching altcoins and how they worked. What started as a vehicle to invest his little bit of extra cash as a student at the University of Pittsburgh became something much more. 

Through access to CMU labs, he learned how to program on Crypto Zombies, building games on Ethereum. That, along with mastering Adobe After Effects has given him the tools to create his own project, HipHopShot.NFT

He got the idea for HipHopShot.NFT from the popular NBA Top Shot, where clips and highlights are sold as digital trading cards. Being an 80s baby, he had many collectibles from Garbage Pail Kids to Marvel collectibles. In particular, the KAWS augmented Companion project influenced him to create his own NFTs.  

Being involved in art was also something he saw in his future from a young age. Growing up in Pittsburgh, looking at the graffiti down the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway inspired him to explore deeper. 

Having personal friends in the hip hop industry, from artists like PK Poo to Executive VP at RCA Geo Bivins, Aaron knew he had the resources to achieve something big. 

For now, the project is in its infancy stage as Aaron nails down the coding (as the only programmer on the project). In his mind, Hip-Hop is in constant evolution. From 2 turntables sampling music and using live breaks, to putting it on wax, then CDs, he sees NFTs as the next natural step for music ownership. His model will allow the NFTs, built on Ethereum, to allow people to invest directly into their favorite artists, which will receive rewards in ETH.  

The chief idea is to bring back the exclusive feel to the music listener by offering NFTs of behind-the-scenes recordings, unreleased material, and whatever comes to fruition.  

Staying true to being 100% decentralized, Aaron has decided to only have a Blockchain Domain. Internet domains must be rented annually while he owns the blockchain domain forever. He truly sees blockchain’s takeover as inevitable and is steering his ship to be off the tracks first. 

For those seeking information by traditional means, the project’s Discord Channel will be the hub for questions, innovation and involvement. 

Like many in the industry, he still maintains a full-time job working in Aquatic Therapy at the School for Blind Children. He sees blockchain as shaping the future in health care as well by resolving issues in clinical trials, data protection, and allowing interoperability between legacy systems. 

Don’t be surprised if you see Aaron involved in something in this realm in the future. 

Guy Pirelli, founder of Shrine House 

Those deep in the Minneapolis hip hop scene know Guy Pirelli as a hustling young artist with a hunger for exposure. Outside of Rhymesayers, there was little room for young artists to latch onto locally for a meaningful path to success. 

This is where Guy sees his project, Shrine House, creating the path for artists like himself and his peers. 

Like many, Guy got his first taste playing around with Bitcoin, mostly using it to trade. He quickly realized the technology was much more than just a pseudo-anonymous currency or just a tool for investment. 

Having experience as an independent artist, the lack of resources from traditional paths is what ultimately led him to develop his own blockchain. He realized the music industry remains largely untouched by the power of Web3

In addition, his knowledge from research on cryptocurrencies as well as a background in music led him to creating a list of shortfalls in the industry that can be solved from blockchain technology. The entire project has been thought out methodically, and can be currently fleshed out from top to bottom in the project’s Whitepaper.  

The Whitepaper outlines the entire ecosystem, where it operates as a completely decentralized record label. Artists reap rewards from investment directly, where performances and streams become assets in their digital wallets. They can also collateralize loans with $SHRI (the project’s token) and $ETH for $LUNA, which in turn can be used like fiat money for studio time and other investments.  

Shrine House aims to fit every level of engagement needed for success. For music fans, this is a way to directly invest in their favorite artists. For pure speculators and investors, it’s a way to capitalize on up-and-coming artists. For artists, it’s a vehicle for access to funds, compensation for work, exposure through marketing and sponsored events, and a vessel to reinvest their work.  

Since it’s fully decentralized, artists have the freedom to create what they want. They’re in charge of their own success. The failure of any singular artist doesn’t affect others as each artist has their own liquidity pool that can be used as they see fit. 

That doesn’t mean protocols don’t exist to prevent one from promising music and using the money to buy jet skis. Shrine House utilizes a Proof of Progress protocol that validates the loans.  

The protocol captures real time data from social media and streaming accounts to establish the artists’ performance. From there, the protocol can separate bad actors using bots to boost numbers, providing an unbiased result for each request. 

Guy sees his project as fitting into a larger picture. He views blockchain as having the power to ensure every person of every population can have a bank account, a means to transfer funds for any business they wish to start.  

Like others mentioned, Guy focuses on putting in the work and letting that take care of the rest. He’s often told he works too hard, but the early successes of his project proved to him that everything you put in will come back in multiples. Guy believes the current world is one where you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it. 

In his own words, he called blockchain as “the last bastion of the American Dream”.  

If you look at all three of these gentlemen, the one common denominator is that each values learning everything they can, commits to putting in the work required to learn, and takes initiative to do something. 

You can have the best idea in the world, but without a foundation of knowledge and the guts and ethic to pursue it, they will always remain ideas. 

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Matthew McCarty

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