Japanese Company Rakuten to Open Blockchain Lab in Belfast

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Rakuten today announced the opening of the Rakuten Blockchain Lab (RBL) in Belfast, UK, planned for August 22, 2016.

RBL will be a dedicated research and development organization within Rakuten, focused on Blockchain technology and its potential applications in the fintech and e-commerce sectors.

The establishment of RBL follows the acquisition by Rakuten of IP assets from Bitnet Technologies Ltd., operators of a digital payments platform powered by Blockchain. R.B.L. day-to-day operations will be headed up by Chief Technology Officer Stephen McNamara and Vice President of Engineering Fergal Downey, both of whom will join from Bitnet. The Lab will be part of Rakuten’s Ecosystem Services organization under its Technology Division, which is led by Fernando Paulo, Executive Officer, Rakuten, Inc.

Rakuten first flagged its interest in blockchain back in 2014, when it invested in Bitnet Technologies, operators of a digital payments platform powered by blockchain. On August 22, Rakuten takes that interest to the next level when it opens the Rakuten Blockchain Lab, in Belfast, UK.

The Lab’s function will be specifically to explore applications for blockchain in e-commerce and fintech, and it will be headed up by Chief Technology Officer Stephen McNamara and Vice President of Engineering Fergal Downey, both of whom will join Rakuten from Bitnet.

McNamara is clearly excited about synergy between blockchain research and Rakuten’s many existing fintech interests.

“Given Rakuten’s reach into banking, payments and insurance, as well as a host of digital services, no one can doubt Rakuten’s position as a fintech leader. We’re looking forward to exploring and creating many new interesting applications of blockchain technology for Rakuten and their customers,” he said.

Meanwhile, Downey hailed the significance of Rakuten’s decision to open the Lab in Belfast.

“There is a very strong engineering community here in Belfast and the lab will contribute to and benefit from the ferment of creative energy that exists here,” he said.

Rakuten’s enthusiasm for the new technology is also beyond doubt.

“It’s quite possible that in the near future blockchain will revolutionize the way that financial and e-commerce transactions are conducted,” commented Yasufumi Hirai, Group Executive Vice President, CIO, CISO and head of the Technology Division, Rakuten, Inc. “We want to not only prepare for that change, but take a leading role in making it happen.”

Just where that role will take the company is yet to be seen.

Fernando Paulo, Executive Officer, Rakuten, Inc., who leads the Ecosystem Services Group and is responsible for the Lab’s launch, explains that no specific applications are planned yet.

“The idea is to use the lab to experiment, and see what is possible,” he explained.

The establishment of the new Lab followed Rakuten’s acquisition of IP assets from Bitnet. Oskar Miel, Managing Partner of Rakuten Fintech Fund, who led Rakuten’s initial minority investment in Bitnet in 2014, commented that

“…Rakuten is already known for its leadership position in fintech in Japan and the launch of the new Rakuten Blockchain Lab represents a fantastic opportunity for us to quickly grow our in-house blockchain capabilities.”

Yasufumi Hirai, Group Executive Vice President, CIO, CISO and head of the Technology Division, Rakuten, Inc., commented:

“Drawing on the significant IP assets and deep engineering expertise of the Bitnet team and combining that with Rakuten’s leadership in fintech and support of innovative solutions, the new Rakuten Blockchain Lab will be our first step toward unlocking Blockchain’s potential to revolutionize the way that financial and e-commerce transactions are conducted.”

“We are delighted that Rakuten have chosen to open their new Blockchain Lab here in Belfast.  There are so many great opportunities for Blockchain technologies inside Rakuten and the newly created lab will be instrumental in delivering new and innovative solutions” said Fergal Downey, VP of Engineering of the new Rakuten Blockchain Lab.

Rakuten is committed to leading global innovation in fintech and providing world-class solutions to our customers.

About Richard Kastelein

Founder of industry publication Blockchain News, partner at ICO services collective CryptoAsset Design Group (helped raise over $200m+), director of education company Blockchain Partners (Oracle Partner) and ICO event organiser at leading industry event  CryptoFinancing (first ICO event in Europe) - Richard Kastelein is an award-winning publisher, innovation executive and entrepreneur. He sits on the advisory boards of half a dozen Blockchain startups and has written over 1200 articles on Blockchain technology and startups at Blockchain News and has also published pioneering articles on ICOs in Harvard Business Review and Venturebeat.
 
Kastelein has spoken (keynotes & panels) on Blockchain technology in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona, Beijing, Brussels, Bucharest, Dubai, Eindhoven, Gdansk, Groningen, the Hague, Helsinki, London, Manchester, Minsk, Nairobi, Nanchang, San Mateo, Shanghai,Tel Aviv and Venice. His network is global and extensive.
 
He is a Canadian (Dutch/Irish/English/Métis) whose writing career has ranged from the Canadian Native Press (Arctic) to the Caribbean & Europe. He's written occasionally for Harvard Business Review, Wired, Venturebeat, The Guardian and Virgin.com and his work and ideas have been translated into Dutch, Greek, Polish, German and French.
 
A journalist by trade, an entrepreneur and adventurer at heart, Kastelein's professional career has ranged from political publishing to TV technology, boatbuilding to judging startups, skippering yachts to marketing and more as he's travelled for nearly 30 years as a Canadian expatriate living around the world.
 
In his 20s, he sailed around the world on small yachts and wrote a series of travel articles called, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Seas' travelling by hitching rides on yachts (1989) in major travel and yachting publications. He currently lives in Groningen, Netherlands where he's raising three teenage daughters with his wife and sailing partner, Wieke Beenen.

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