The Middle East isn’t typically considered a hotbed for bitcoin, but that hasn’t stopped entrepreneur Ola Doudin from generating local interest.
The founder of bitcoin wallet and exchange BitOasis, Doudin graced the cover of Forbes Middle East in January in an issue where the startup was ranked 19th on a list of the most promising UAE-based startups.
Doudin was lauded alongside co-founder Daniel Robenek for the firm’s dedication to spreading awareness of the emerging technology in the market. Since then, BitOasis has released a steady stream of updates to its service, offering the ability for users to withdraw bitcoin to bank accounts and launching iPhone and iPad wallets.
However, BitOasis perhaps made its biggest splash internationally last month when it revealed it had completed a proof-of-concept with commodity marketplace tech provider Dubai Multi Commodities Center (DMCC) in what might be the first test of the technology by a major regional financial institution.
The announcement came as part of the unveiling of the Global Blockchain Council (GBC), a 32-member working group of UAE government bodies, international tech firms and blockchain startups led by a government innovation effort called Museum of the Future.
Doudin, whose startup is also a member, described the group as part of a broader initiative by local government officials to better understand the emerging technology.
She told CoinDesk:
"The whole idea of creating the GBC was to create the umbrella under which regulatory discussions occur to become a bridge or cross-link between the private and public sector that legitimizes the space as a whole. It gives us serious backing and emphasizes that UAE or Dubai regulators need to look at it, that banks need to seriously observe the space."
Doudin said that local blockchain companies are now benefiting from an initiative called Dubai 2021, a government effort to create a vision for how government services can be better automated in the future.
"A lot of the public services are automated or self-service, but now they’re trying to integrate all they have in digitizing payments and creating smart payment tools. They have been looking into the blockchain," she said.
As for BitOasis’s work with the DMCC, Doudin said the project was part of a bid by the firm to improve onboarding to its trading system.
Based in the JLT Free Zone, a special economic zone offering tax and customs benefits to businesses, DMCC is described as the only international commodity center in the region. Its main commodity groups including precious metals, diamonds, pearls and tea.
Doudin said that when BitOasis looked at DMCC’s internal processes to find applications for the technology, the firms decided on a trial for how the commodities firm could issue blockchain-based identities to customers.
The trial envisioned that companies could onboard to the DMCC and be issued a digital ID for verification as part of its Flexi Desk offering. Flexi Desk, according to the DMCC, provides businesses with communications services, but Doudin said other opportunities have been discussed.
"We've also been looking and exploring ways to potentially streamline collection of payments for DMCC and their companies by using the public blockchain," Doudin explained.
Doudin added that BitOasis remains focused on its consumer-facing bitcoin services, suggesting that it doesn't see the effort as part of a change in strategy.
BitOasis has five employees, but hopes to grow to as many as eight by the end of the year, she said.
Despite the interest from agencies within the Dubai government, Doudin said that the local startup community remains small.
There are just a few notable blockchain startups, a group which includes BitOasis, YellowPay and Umbrellab, all of whom are involved in the Global Blockchain Council. Doudin is also co-founder and former adviser to bitcoin payment service YellowPay, though she says she is now focused on BitOasis.
"There are a few people here and there trying to set up stuff, but nothing yet is growing at the same pace," she said.
Still, she said user adoption is happening, both in the UAE and in Egypt, where she said local meetups in the country’s capital and largest city are growing.
Doudin herself was instrumental in the formation of the Jordan Bitcoin Group in 2014, a meetup group designed to raise awareness of digital currency in the country.
Now, she said investors are waking up to the opportunity, and that the technology is beginning to lose the stigma of its past association with cybercrime.
"The interest and awareness of local investors is happening faster than I thought. Investors want to help build a regional strong player, so you can see the awareness."
Disclaimer: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in BitOasis.
Image via Forbes Middle East