William Phelps is a proven Investment Manager and blockchain enthusiast with an interest in Africa. Within a short time, he has been able to stamp his signature on the shores of the African blockchain space.
In an interview with Technext, the Cambridge graduate shares his views on regulation, decentralisation and Adaverse vision in Africa.
According to him, he was relatively late to the blockchain scene, he first became familiar with the technology and its applicabilities whilst studying at Cambridge in late 2019. At that time, he was working on a number of media projects in South Sudan and he became acutely aware of the pain points associated with traditional finance in underserved parts of the world.
“Whilst researching methods in which cross-border flows of capital could be made more efficient and less costly, I discovered the applicability of blockchain as a method of the decentralised exchange. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate its utility both in Africa and across the developing world as an alternative method of financial accessibility with use cases transcending a number of important (and yet fully researched) verticals.”- William Phelps
William Phelps on Blockchain and regulation in Africa
Commenting on why he was interested in the African blockchain space despite having a European background, he says the strength of blockchain lies in its ability to provide real solutions to real problems and that is what makes it relevant to Africa.
“It is a technology with a myriad of use cases that are still being explored. This is what makes it so applicable to Africa. As a continent that is simultaneously excluded from many of the world’s traditional financial channels despite being so rich in people, knowledge and resources, Africa offers an ideal sandbox for the development of the blockchain as a revolutionary technology.”
“I believe we have barely scratched the surface of what blockchain can offer Africa, and as a technology that is inherent ‘grassroots’ focused we are for the first time seeing local projects deliver local solutions”, he adds.
On the issue of regulation and how African authorities have treated the technology, William Phelps says Africa has proved itself to be one of the most progressive regions of the world with respect to blockchain regulation and legislation.
He, however, thinks that a lot of work remains to be done. According to him, regulators across the continent have shown a remarkable level of interest and openness to the solutions offered by blockchain technology.
“Nigeria’s recent SEC guidelines, for example, or Kenya’s Central Bank discussion paper demonstrate a willingness to engage with the wider ecosystem: even if nothing is concrete yet. Blockchain technology is not going away and I believe it’s a matter of time before regulators are forced to confront it as a meaningful part of their respective markets.”
“In doing so, it’s important that there is communication between stakeholders and policymakers and that the rights of consumers are considered alongside those of the wider ecosystem. Most recently, we’ve seen the progress of Nigeria’s Startup Bill, which represents a tangible step in this direction. I hope other governments across the continent can follow”, he explains.
Regulation and policing of the blockchain industry is one of the grey areas yet to be fully addressed in Africa. Authorities are bent on putting in place structures to checkmate the technology due to fears of it being used for criminal activities. However, proponents maintain that any form of regulation is in contrast with the underlying principle of blockchain technology which is decentralisation.
William Phelps states that the “false dichotomy” between regulation and decentralisation is an unfortunate part of the discourse around blockchain. And, this has only made it more difficult for policymakers and traditional finance to meaningfully engage with it.
“I say ‘false dichotomy’ because decentralisation does not imply deregulation, absolutely. To say otherwise ignores the wide variety of use cases in which blockchain technology has been successfully integrated into pre-existing legacy systems to improve efficiency, reduce costs and increase transparency. Furthermore, there is no requirement for blockchain technology to be deployed in ways that are outside the scope of regulators. If anything, I believe it has a lot to offer policymakers in questions of transparency, trust and security.”
“Whilst there always will be a segment of the ecosystem that prioritises radical decentralisation, this represents a minority that often ignores the need for productive dialogue between blockchain and the authorities seeking to regulate it”, he adds.
Adaverse in Africa
William Phelps is an Investment Manager at Adaverse, an early-stage investor and accelerator of African blockchain projects.
“We consider any pre-Series A blockchain projects developed in Africa, or with applicability to Africa. As an accelerator, we typically look for products that have an MVP and some initial traction. We pride ourselves on our flexibility of approach and investment strategy, but we specialise in token investment and development.”
“We look out for projects that have a definite token angle and, ideally, are willing to work with us to release their tokens on Cardano. Following the investment, we bring our portfolio companies into our accelerator program. This involves working closely with them over a 3 month period across a number of areas including fundraising, tokenisation, regulatory compliance and marketing with a view to developing them for further funding in future.”
He explains further: “uniquely, our close relationship with Cardano also allows us access to an impressive range of mentors and advisors, thereby ensuring we can partner our portfolio companies with strategic partners for a series of 1-to-1 meetings over the 3-month process“.
William reiterates that Adaverse prides itself on investing in projects that have a clear vision in both technical and developmental terms.
“All of our projects are pushing the boundaries of blockchain in Africa: introducing new use cases and services that match the needs of a rapidly developing market. Since we were founded last year we’ve been fortunate to ride the wave of rapid crypto adoption in Africa, and through our investments in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe we have sat at the forefront of that adoption.”
Adaverse is an initiative backed by the Cardano blockchain which is regarded in some quarters as an ecosystem that over-promises and under-delivers. On that assertion, William Phelps says:
“Considering our work in Africa, it’s fair to say that Cardano is one of the most active blockchains when it comes to development and implementation. Through the work of EMURGO, Adaverse and IOHK, substantial progress is being made to engage with local stakeholders in delivering projects that solve real issues in the market, whilst also engaging with stakeholders and policymakers to promote blockchain technology at a higher level.”
William told me that in more general technical terms, the ongoing Vasil hard fork is hugely exciting. According to him, it brings big progress in terms of EVM compatibility and Dapp support and represents a bright future for Cardano as the most scalable and secure Layer 1 protocol.
“Since its inception, Cardano has set out to challenge the assumptions of existing blockchain technology, and through meaningful change and development such as this we are seeing such continue”, he adds.
In view of the inherent lapses in Cardano, William Phelps says steady and meaningful progress is fundamental. He also thinks it’s important to keep Cardano’s fundamental goals of scalability, interoperability, and sustainability in mind as the blockchain continues to develop.
“This is the ultimate end goal, it’s now just a question of innovation and implementation.”
Africa has been playing a significant role in the blockchain space, with Nigeria at the forefront. William Phelps believes that Africa represents the future of blockchain and crypto.
“In many respects, blockchain needs Africa and not vice-versa. With a young, technically engaged population, tangible use cases and a continent-wide knack for innovation, Africa has ideal conditions to see blockchain technology evolve into a socially and economically transformative force. In terms of crypto specifically, we can already see the evolution of technology in systems such as P2P trading and yield farming across Africa, both of which have specific and tangible use cases in light of obstacles such as inflation and capital controls.”
“In my view, this epitomises the relevance of Africa to blockchain’s selling point: real solutions to real problems, and I think this will drive Web3 innovation across the continent in years to come”, he adds.
William Phelps, Adaverse and Cardano will continue to build and extend the frontiers of crypto adoption in Africa. William particularly hopes to meet more founders and build on his little grasp of the Yoruba language.
“In the spirit of the blockchain community: to keep building! From Adaverse’s perspective, we look forward to continuing to work with founders across Africa to develop and enrich the Web3 ecosystem and Cardano’s role in it. As one of the few investors who are active on the ground all year round, we feel privileged to be able to tap into the unique opportunities presented by African innovation and look forward to growing with the industry over the coming months.”
“From a personal perspective, I look forward to meeting with more inspiring founders and deepening my understanding of the wider African tech space. Nigeria has served me well over the past months, though my Yoruba language could certainly do with some work!”, he concludes.
Get the best of Africa’s daily tech to your inbox – first thing every morning.
Join the community now!