As Dubai eyes its goal of becoming the world’s first blockchain-powered city by 2020, Smart Dubai Office awarded $45,000 to the three winning products of the Global Blockchain Challenge – a competition that brought together 21 international startups. The winners will incubate their companies in the Emirati metropolis and take part in turning Dubai’s Blockchain Strategy into a reality.

This follows an announcement last October, when Smart Dubai and Dubai Future Foundation presented their ambitions before the international community to have Dubai adopt blockchain technology, crowning it as the first blockchain-powered city in the world.

Blockchain is a computerized technology that facilitates secure online transactions. A blockchain is a decentralized and distributed digital ledger that is used to record transactions across many computers so that the record cannot be changed retroactively without altering subsequent blocks and the collusion of the network. In other words, and according to Investopedia’s definition, a blockchain is the equivalent of a full history of banking transactions. Bitcoin transactions are entered chronologically into a blockchain in the same way that bank transactions are, with blocks acting like individual bank statements. The technology uses a digital ledger to efficiently share and track information related to contracts and transactions, the records of which are permanent, verifiable and secure.

Drawing from a pool of contestants from 18 cities in 15 different countries, finalists of the Blockchain Challenge flew to Dubai to participate in the two-day program, which included a pitch competition in front of an audience of investors, experts, and public and private institutions. Abraham Cambridge was awarded the first place prize of $20,000 for his project Sun Exchange – a marketplace where users can buy solar cells and then lease them to end-users in sunny locations around the world.

In second place, Mark Balovnev from Educhain won $15,000 for his company, which allows users to “issue official digital academic credentials – cryptographically signed, backed by the permanence of blockchain, without reliance on third parties.” The third place prize of $10,000 went to Scott Austin from BanQu – a project that describes itself as a “fintech company with a global cause.” The software works to connect “refugees, the displaced, and the world’s poorest to the global economy through a secure, portable digital identity that maintains transaction history through a proprietary blockchain-based platform.”

Fadwa Mohanna from miCity – a company that provides secure identity management and authentication to facilitate smart and secure interactions between citizens and their governments – and Hasan Kurtulus from copywriting service Copyrobo got special recognition for their promising ideas.

The government’s stated goal is to embed most of the city’s economy with blockchain in order to make government services more efficient, saving over 25 million productivity hours per year. The city-wide adoption of blockchain technology promises to help promote investments in Dubai, as it will – in theory – become easier to do business in the emirate.

blockchain technology

Smart Dubai.

On March 14, Smart Dubai announced a city-wide adoption of blockchain technology. Smart Dubai will design and build a shared blockchain platform, developed in partnership with IBM and ConsenSys, that both the public and private sectors can use to incubate and implement such projects.

Blockchain is still a relatively nascent technology globally and adoption of it has been slow, especially since cities, countries and businesses remain wary of it. Some have argued that the technology might have a negative impact on sharing economy businesses like Uber and Airbnb, since they have a common philosophy of turning the internet of information into an internet of value. Arcade City is a global community that had plans to experiment with blockchain technology in ride sharing; to catch a ride, the user would buy digital currency, creating an offer and committing funds for the ride. In turn, the driver would claim the offer, match the funds to signal their commitment to provide the service, and pick up the passenger. Also, as part of an EU membership platform, BECON launched an initiative, BlockchainCITIES, providing insights on blockchain methodologies and solutions for cities on the continent.