After 20 years in banking, and shortly after he turned 40, Daniel Gasteiger began to wonder what's next. The Switzerland native thought about doing something as an entrepreneur, but didn't quite know what and where. It was during what he describes as a study trip to California in 2015 that Gasteiger realized blockchain was the answer he was looking for.
With the help of a book and a couple of associates who pointed him in the right direction, it wasn't long before he resigned from his position as the managing director of the chairman's office at Swiss investment giant UBS, and set up his first blockchain-related startup. He followed the establishment of nexussquared, a business platform based in Zurich, aimed at enhancing the attractiveness of the location for international blockchain startups, with the creation of Procivis in October 2016. Procivis develops e-government service solutions backed by blockchain and raised around $11M in an initial coin offering at the beginning of 2018.
All of this led Gasteiger, together with four partners, to the idea of setting up Trust Square, with the goal of turning it into Switzerland's pre-eminent blockchain startup and research hub. Within a few months, Trust Square has far exceeded expectations, becoming the world's largest blockchain hub. Its Bahnhofstrasse complex is set to expand to cover more than 3,000 square meters and offer over 300 workstations to startups and researchers by the end of 2018.
"We want to transport a message of quality to the world," Gasteiger recently told BLOCKTV. "There were a lot of dubious things that happened in the crypto space across the world last year, so we want to be part of a quality thing. Switzerland's qualities that are known to the world are trust, sustainability, and longevity. We want to build on that and we see ourselves as a place to come for serious projects, not the ones that have an urgent need for a quick thing. For Switzerland, it is not a question of the next six months but what we want to build in the next five years. Make Switzerland the Silicon Valley of blockchain."
"The blockchain movement is not sorted or a finished thing yet. Nevertheless, clearly everything is going in the right direction and eventually it will win." Daniel Gasteiger, co-founder of Trust Square
Gasteiger, a member of the board of directors of the Global Blockchain Business Council and a member of Switzerland's national blockchain taskforce, admitted he was surprised by the speed with which Trust Square took off.
"We put some money forward so that we would be able to survive at least the first six months, but then we had the luck of one big corporate startup which came to us with 50 desks," Gasteiger explained, with the hub to add over 100 desks by the end of the year. "We were full from the beginning and since then we have had numerous requests from companies to come. It is cool that we can claim to be the biggest startup hub for blockchain in the world."
Blockchain project NEO and crypto finance company Circle are two of the latest high-profile names to recently join the list of residents, which already includes the likes of Bitmain and Consensys.
Trust Square holds many events that are open to the public in order to educate the masses on blockchain. (Courtesy)
"I think there are many co-working spaces in Zurich, but what is unique is the combination of startups focused on blockchain and startups physically being there," he noted. "The second pillar is academic research. We are partners with a few universities so we have PhD students, Masters students, and professors coming here. We have a lot of collaborations between startups and universities and that makes a big difference."
Gasteiger says Trust Square is very particular about who it sublets its space to. "We are definitely not interested in hyped things, ICOs that are only interested in big money. The whole concept is very much focused around sustainability," he added. "What we are doing now for the next few months is establishing a business case to copy what we have done with Trust Square and exporting it to different countries. We want to make this a quality product, not a quantity product, so we have no plans to expand in Zurich."
Gasteiger, who estimates that blockchain won't make a mass global impact on a government or financial services level for another 10 to 20 years, claimed that had he been in it for the money, he would have worked on optimizing cryptotrading. But he was never interested in that, believing distributed ledger technology holds far greater significance.
"I was interested in the philosophy behind the decentralized world," he noted, crediting the book "The Age of Cryptocurrency," written by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey, for inspiring him. "You need to understand the philosophy behind it to understand what people like me are doing. I'm working in e-government and working on digital identity e-voting not for the reason of speculating, but for the reason of helping society become more democratic. The blockchain movement is not sorted or a finished thing yet. Nevertheless, clearly everything is going in the right direction and eventually it will win. But it takes time."