The NFT “paradise” and hidden blockchain hub in Europe

Austria has quietly become a blockchain and NFT hub – Photo: Shutterstock

Vienna may have been a mystery to the 80s pop group Ultravox but the global blockchain and crypto sectors will soon become familiar with its burgeoning startup scene.

Crypto exchange Bitpanda has established itself as Austria’s first blockchain-based unicorn by trading a range of digital tokens from big hitters like BTC to lesser-known coins like HBAR, but Robby Schwertner, AKA Crypto Robby, says this company is just the tip of the iceberg of a start-up in the Alpine State.

Schwertner runs a consultancy providing blockchain advice to companies and start-ups and says that although Austria is the least known country internationally in the DACH region, (Germany (D), Austria (A ) and Switzerland (CH)) it punches well above its weight when it comes to blockchain and crypto businesses.

Bitcoin to Euro (BTC/EUR)

“Let’s talk numbers, there are around 200 blockchain organizations and start-ups in the Austrian country. In comparison, we recently surveyed Germany and found that there were between 350 and 400 similar companies active there and not a single single unicorn.

“This is despite the fact that Germany’s population of 80 million is ten times larger than Austria’s. We already have Bitpanda and there are strong rumors that Binance is looking to move to Austria.

Binance has yet to respond to Capital.com’s request for comment on the matter.

The Crypto Valley Challenge

Switzerland has a more active blockchain scene than Austria, with its crypto valley, centered in the city of Zug, home to 14 companies with a valuation of at least $1 billion. Most importantly, says Schwertner, he is outside the European Union, which means he cannot access the so-called financial services passport system.

Basically, the EU passport system means that financial products authorized in one member state can be sold in any of the other 26 countries in the trading bloc, giving access to a market of almost 450 million people with relative ease.

“Switzerland has a long tradition of being the top player in the fintech industry and it has a greater number of blockchain companies and a more advanced legal framework for the sector than Austria. But Switzerland has the problem of not being part of the euro zone.

“So the lack of a passport makes Switzerland a good hub for saving taxes, but a bad hub for building blockchain companies,” says Schwertner.

Austria, an NFT “paradise”

One aspect of Austria’s EU membership is the primacy of financial regulation from the union, but individual countries retain their grip on tax matters and the Alpine state has introduced a crypto- 27.5% tax effective March 1 of this year.

This tax regime does not apply to non-fungible tokens (NFTs), however.

Earlier this year, Austria’s famed Belvedere Gallery sold NFTs linked to Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting Kiss, and Schwertner suggests the exclusion of NFTs from the tax framework may not have been an oversight.

“The Gustav Klimt NFT was a big hit and interestingly, as far as the art scene is concerned, there are no NFT taxes yet. One might wonder why that is? Maybe the government wants to ’embrace’ the arts community,” says Schwertner.

“At the moment Austria is an NFT haven, you could even say an NFT tax haven,” he adds.

A cultural DeFi community

NFT of Gustav Klimt's iconic painting KissNFT of Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting Kiss – Photo: Belvedere Museum

Austria’s tax regime can be helpful in establishing an NFT sector, but Patrick Tomelitsch, who runs the Vienna-based digital company Cultural placeswhich calls itself “the first DeFi (decentralized finance) cultural community” in the world, says Austria’s cultural riches are a unique asset in themselves.

“People know Austria because of the culture. In Asia, for example, everyone knows Beethoven and Klimt, and there are already huge fan bases for their work. And when people come to Austria, they visit St. Stephen’s Cathedralthey go to Belvedere Museum.”

Cultural Places takes a multi-pronged approach to digitizing Austrian culture. First, there is a ticketing mechanism, which prevents fraud and manages the secondary market, a major issue given that its estimated 90% of recycled tickets are sold by professional resellers.

Tomelitsch’s initiative also engages NFTs, provides crowdfunding opportunities for art projects, and develops metaverse-based projects that allow people around the world to get an up-close view of Austria’s cultural riches.

“By combining NFTs for culture with decentralized rewards and better ticketing options while helping cultural institutions better fund themselves. Well, for now, it’s still unique.

Adding layers

Cultural Places is in the process of launching a digital token that will be based on the Polygon (MATIC) blockchain. Tomelitsch says he’s a big fan of layer two protocols (secondary frameworks that are built on top of an existing blockchain), and that Polygon has multiple advantages over its rivals.

“Polygon makes a lot of sense not only because of its speed, but also its low gas costs and massive adoption,” he says.

MATIC to USD chart (MATIC/USD)

Tomelitsch is also optimistic about DeFi’s potential to disrupt traditional heavyweights in the tech sector and financial companies.

“DeFi is definitely a threat to long-term established businesses. Because we don’t really need centralized exchanges anymore.

“Giving power back to the community and the people is a very important thing. And that’s what DeFi is doing because it’s removing these big companies that are currently taking all of your data. Here, I’m talking specifically about Silicon Valley. DeFi is a big threat to these businesses.

Austrian banks are eyeing DeFi

Threats, as the saying goes, are also opportunities and even here traditional Austrian businesses are looking to the potential of blockchain and DeFi.

The country’s largest lender, Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI) has set up a elevator hub which is investigating a range of blockchain and crypto projects.

In an interview with Capital.com, RBI’s Gernot Prettenthaler, senior partnerships and ecosystem manager at the bank, pointed out that the company is really in the research stage when it comes to its blockchain projects.

But he was confident that centralized entities like RBI could harness the power of DeFi in a way acceptable to consumers, once EU-wide regulations such as the crypto asset market (MICA) the legislation is entered in the collection of European laws.

MICA may be important for established entities, but the Vienna-based start-up Financial Broker is already launching a service that intends to bring DeFi to the masses.

Bringing DeFi to the masses

Web3 is easy to say but more complex to use, with multiple steps required between depositing your fiat currency on a centralized exchange and ultimately deploying it on decentralized protocols.

Lukas Götz, co-founder of Brokkr, which went live in April, says the company aims to streamline this process and bring the benefits of crypto and DeFi to users who previously could not. access the sector due to its complexity. .

“Some users are put off by DeFi at the moment because it’s too complicated, it’s a scam and it takes time. Brokkr automates all these steps and offers investment strategies based on smart contracts.

On the ground

“So for the user, it’s quite simple and quite straightforward. You only need to send the funds to one address. And from there, the smart contract takes over and does all the necessary steps,” he says.

Brokkr’s product grew out of Götz’s experiences with his previous start-up Block 42 which was a mix of venture capital and crypto and blockchain consulting and integrated tightly with the Blockchain Terra (LUNA) and the Fantom ecosystem (FTM).

“We are closely connected to these two networks and we will build our product based on the communities that follow these ecosystems. Brokkr will definitely expand in the future, possibly also to Ethereum (ETH) or Solana (SOL),” he says.

Brokkr may have its roots in Vienna, but Götz says the nature of DeFi means the project itself is supranational and therefore not tied to any specific location.

DeFi is supranational

Austria may be home to a disproportionate number of blockchain start-ups, but the nature of DeFi means that ultimately they can be located anywhere.

“The teams working on Brokkr are made up of people from all over the world. And the value captured on the protocol is transferred to the participants by the token. So everything sticks to this decentralized ecosystem.

“So if a country regulates too much, compared to other countries, it will simply lose talent and innovation.

“Because it’s super easy for me to sit here in Austria and open a business anywhere in the world.”

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