The University of Newcastle, Australia

Blocksmart

If you see 22-year-old Chris Baker (centre) skateboarding around Newcastle, you might not immediately presume that he’s an accountant working with a team of three other twenty-somethings, set out to revolutionise the way Australians comprehend crypto assets and crypto currency.

“I was studying accounting at the University of Newcastle and working in accounting. Before I completed the degree, I discovered blockchain and cryptocurrency,” Chris says. “My colleagues Josh Fellowes (right) and Charlie Hoswell (left) and I found that there were no formal learning services about this sector.”

He said all crypto assets are a new way to store and utilise data, running on a system known as blockchain.

He shared an example of one kind of crypto asset. Facebook currently harvests a lot of personal data which they can go on to sell. Crypto assets put the individual in control of their personal data, rather than a third party like Facebook.

“There’s a world of cryptocurrencies out there - we’d prefer to call them crypto-assets because they’re not restricted as just alternatives for traditional currencies like the Australian or US dollar. These crypto assets are relevant to any industry and can be used in a variety of ways, not just online transactions.”

When he was learning about this, he had hoped to find professionals who could help him with the topic, but he realised that most people knew less than he did. He saw a unique opportunity to share knowledge.

“We were going to accountants to find out more about blockchain asset management, and there was nobody that could help us. We found ourselves becoming among the most knowledgeable in the space. We could understand both blockchain and cryptocurrencies and finance accounting,” he says.

With his business, BlockSmart, Baker and his team teach people how to control their own valuable data and educate financial professionals on this increasingly prevalent class of currencies. Their lessons will be accredited, and businesses will be able to provide new valuable expertise to their customers after they pass the module.

Their business plans moved quickly once they participated in Slingshot’s ICON Accelerator program, hosted by the University of Newcastle’s Integrated Innovation Network (I2N).

“Our cofounder Richard Berry is heavily involved in all matters entrepreneurship and innovation in the local region. So we had an encyclopedia of upcoming events and people we needed to meet,” Chris says, explaining how they first got involved.

In September of 2018, they pitched their business alongside dozens of aspiring startups and were one of the seven selected to receive seed funding and participate in the ICON Accelerator.

“The team at ICON recognised how much growth potential there is in this space,” Chris says. “Cryptocurrencies are a booming industry, over the last ten years it's grown faster than any other industry.”

The accelerator allowed them to operate at no cost from I2N Hub Hunter Street and they have continued to operate BlockSmart from the space. They found I2N was a watering hole for other entrepreneurs and startups. A lead from one person would continue to develop into another, simply because they were in the right place.

They met regularly with their mentor Ed Andrew, who was able to assist them with challenging business decisions. At the workshops, experts provided tools to properly and professionally build the foundations of their startup, from branding to marketing, financial assistance and capital raising.

“One workshop that stood out to us, (predominantly because of our lack of experience in the space) was digital marketing. We had a professional from the local region come in and provide us with tips, strategies and demonstrations around how to market ourselves digitally,” Chris says.

Thanks to that workshop, they understand how to effectively use social media to advertise their module. They’re launching their first module this month via a financial advisor membership platform called XY Advisor. From there they will launch across other platforms. The online module is very interactive with videos and quizzes.

“We’ve placed ourselves in what we believe will be a booming industry over the next decade, and we expect to grow with the success of that industry,” Chris says.

They might be young, but don’t let the skateboard mislead you. They are one of many local startups redefining industry and innovation in Newcastle. BlockSmart is equipped with the knowledge, network, and skills to modernise the way everyone uses and understands crypto assets.