From Ghana to the Bronx, Meet the Teen Bitcoiners Building the Future

Jemima Joseph, 18, is working a summer job as a social media manager for a crypto startup after graduating from high school in the Bronx. And she learned how to make her first cryptocurrency transaction, a purchase using zcash, with the Flexa mobile app. 

It was a summer day, so hot the air outside felt like soup, when Joseph joined 10 other teenagers inside the BXL Business Incubator in a ragged neighborhood in the South Bronx. Their former high school English teacher, Carlos Acevedo, arranged for representatives from the Electric Coin Company, Messari, Gemini, Flexa and Casa to teach a two-day workshop for local students interested in cryptocurrency. 

Sitting near Joseph during the lecture is Emmanuel Ntiamoab, 18, soon to be a computer science student at the University of Buffalo. 

“We, as students in the South Bronx, don’t often get the opportunity to be a part of something bigger,” said Ntiamoab. “So if this cryptocurrency is really like the internet, I want to learn how to be a part of it. I’m interested in development.” 

Many of these students hail from immigrant communities, Ghanian, Jamaican, Nigerian, and Dominican, plus, even among the American students there are several Puerto Ricans. Most of them work after school to help support their families. They’re familiar with cross-border payments within underbanked communities. What they don’t know are the different tools available today. 

“There’s a large population of unbanked and underbanked people right here,” Acevedo told CoinDesk. “They pay predatory fees. … There are fewer bank branches in the Bronx than any other borough.”

It’s true. The streets outside are full of places to get cash loans and sell jewelry and send payments abroad, all with brightly colored signs, and their correspondingly loud fees. Electric Coin Company VP of Marketing Josh Swihart told CoinDesk each student got a small zcash allowance for completing the workshop. 

“I’d love to see this replicated in other cities,” Swihart told CoinDesk. “We’ve already been asked about Oakland.” 

Although Joseph already has a summer job in the industry, several other students were interested in finding internships or staying after for the entrepreneurship coaching by the BXL Business Incubator. 

They’ve now joined dozens of teenagers around the world who told CoinDesk about their plans to join the cryptocurrency industry, starting by using crypto assets to further their own education.

Jemima Joseph learning about zcash with friend Joswald Batista, who is new to the crypto space.

Meet the teens

That’s what Toronto-based developer Anish Agnihotri, 16, told CoinDesk keeps him engaged in open-source projects since he first learned about Bitcoin in 2015. 

“I like that anyone, anywhere, can connect with a community of builders that is so welcoming,” Agnihotri said. “I’ve worked with people from Africa, Mexico, China, through things like Gitcoin.”

Fellow Toronto-native Talha Atta, 17, told CoinDesk he was immediately inspired when he learned about Bitcoin from the news in 2017. 

“Remittances, being able to move money abroad without any fees, would really help my family in Pakistan,” Atta said. “I just want to find the right technology to solve problems and reduce inequality.” 

He’s already started experimenting with such use cases. Earlier this year, Atta won a hackathon with some friends by making an IOTA-fueled micropayments system for people who don’t have WiFi to tap into other people’s connections. 

Whether they are starting their own companies, studying computer science, doing internships, contributing to open source projects on GitHub or helping educate their peers, here are 10 more teens to watch as they rise through the crypto ecosystem:  

1. Elisha Owusu Akyaw

Few Bitcoiners hustle as hard as the 17-year-old founder of BlockXAfrica. The Ghana-based Akyaw runs educational meetups through an email newsletter and Telegram group with nearly 300 subscribers, plus 16 teen volunteers who help organize meetups.

“We are working on content in local languages and our English content is always based on local examples and things relevant to the average Ghanaian,” he said. 

Akyaw is ramping up BlockXAfrica’s programming this year, with plans for a hackathon, a developer training program, and an online course by 2020. He said the developer training will focus on apps for using cryptocurrency that leverage interfaces the local community is already familiar with. 

“People in Africa are more familiar with sending money through mobile phone numbers than email addresses,” he said. Eventually, his goal is to turn BlockXAfrica into a monetized business, with paid trainings and exclusive content. Until then, the group is focused on spreading high-quality information and combating the myth that all cryptocurrencies are “a scam,” he said. 

“Most of [the participants] are teenagers because I…

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