Crypto In Chicago
Samir Mayekar, Deputy Mayor of Chicago
Ben Weiss, Co-Founder and CEO of CoinFlip
Mike Peri, Managing Partner at Distributed Ventures
Gabriella Kusz, CEO of DCA
Samir Mayekar is Deputy Mayor for economic and neighborhood development in the City of Chicago. Samir is a specialist in business development & organizational growth, from negotiating complex deals with multinational companies to leading transformational change on nonprofit boards to increase capacity. Samir has a rich history in politics, most notably working as Budget Manager for Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008; furthermore, he graduated with a finance degree from Northwestern, which he went on to use as an advisor of Albright Stonebridge Group for seven years.
Ben Weiss co-founded CoinFlip in 2015 and served as the Chief Operating Officer before being appointed as Chief Executive Officer in April 2021. Since its inception, Ben has led the company’s strategy and helped CoinFlip surpass $1B in transaction volume. In addition to running a burgeoning startup, Ben spends his time working with governing bodies advising on cryptocurrency regulation. Regarded as a thought-leader in the space, he is regularly interviewed by major news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN Business, and Moneywise, and has given several keynote speeches about the future of cryptocurrency. Under his leadership, CoinFlip was named the #1 fastest-growing company in Chicago by Crain’s in 2021 and 2022. In 2022, Ben was named the Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young. He is a Trustee for the New Jersey Blockchain Coalition, and Board Member of the Blockchain Advocacy Coalition.
Mike Peri is currently a partner at Distributed Ventures, a company that invests in companies that are transforming the future of risk across Insurtech, Fintech and Health & Benefits. After college, Mike became a founding team member in product development for a year until he decided to work as a manager at Erie Family Health Center. After a few years Mike began working at Yaro and became vice President in charge of product and analytics. Mike has taken on various positions as board observer at Axio, Wellth, and Vivante Health.
Gabriella Kusz is Chief Executive Officer at Global Digital Asset and Cryptocurrency Association (GDCA), a global self-regulatory association for the digital asset & cryptocurrency industry. With 17 years in financial services, public policy, and sustainable programming innovation, Gabriella is skilled in developing organizational strategy, engaging with communities, and furthering program achievement globally and locally. Gabriella also pays it forward through her immense effort to help women in web3.
Diversity Drives Web3 in Chicago
The Chicago ecosystem is an incredibly diverse ecosystem that has a mix of technologists, law professionals, marketing experts, and pretty much any other discipline you need to draw talent from to create a large and impactful company. As a result, it is no surprise that many people are choosing to strategically locate themselves in Chicago and build their company here. The quote that stands out the most is from Ben Weiss on this subject:
“This city has all the foundation and talent pool you need to build a great company. Chicago is the most diversified economy in the entire country. Even in crypto, you need finance people, you need lawyers, you need people from marketing. We have an administration that’s done a lot of things to make companies want to be here; this city is at the front lines of engagement and outreach”
Gabriella Kusz illustrated that this diversity of talent and perspectives was an extremely foundational factor in the DCA choosing to be based out of Chicago.
“We benefit from having those types of diverse viewpoints and that diversity is really what’s beautiful about raising up an industry. From outside it was really a no brainer to be here in Chicago..There’s a lot that’s here to draw upon.”
As Samir points out, these positives are evident through Google’s recent commitment to purchase the Thompson Center for $105M and repurpose it as their regional HQ. The purchase is the largest corporate real estate purchase in the history of Chicago. He also echoed the city’s commitment to transform that stretch of corporate real estate in the Loop into a more innovative and burgeoning environment.
Values Driven Economy
In Chicago, we are driven by our values. Key among these values are inclusivity and sustainability: Chicago is the most climate resilient city in the country and maintains much more progressive ideals than the troubling and limiting legislation currently being passed in other states. As Mike Peri and Ben stated:
“What we do in this community is all about building it from the ground up and engaging with everyone regardless of their background or experience.”
“With crypto and Web3, inclusivity is at the ethos of that. Traditionally the legacy financial system wasn’t always the most inclusive thing and crypto has leveled the playing field. At our kiosk you don't even need a bank account to buy crypto. This is a city that wants to bring people up and make sure that everyone is part of this growth.”
Tackling Inclusivity in Web3
The participants also shed some light on strategies they believe will lead to more inclusive Web3 adoption, a problem that the industry is constantly under scrutiny for.
The Investment the city is making in the south and west side amounts to $2B. The focus is on really tackling inequality in these areas. FTX is launching the Chicago Future Fund’s Pilot, a large private sector UBI program that sets up 100 formerly incarcerated residents with a $500 FTX wallet and a debit card. Simultaneously, CoinFlip is launching a venture fund that seeks to focus investments on Chicago based underrepresented founders. It is truly inspirational to see how all of these companies give back and invest in the community to ensure inclusive and equitable growth for generations to come.