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CRYPTO VALLEY

A small town in Switzerland has become the hub for startups in digital currency

BITCOIN

IN ZUG, a tiny Swiss town 20 miles south of Zürich with million-dollar Alpine views, a small machine is doing big things. One of the 10 bitcoin ATMs installed across Switzerland by Zug-based Bitcoin Suisse, the machine accepts Swiss francs and euros in exchange for a slip of paper with a code that represents the equivalent amount in bitcoin. Scan the code with your smartphone, and the currency is yours.

The ATM isn’t really necessary. Bitcoin has no physical form. Instead, it is made up of lines of computer code conceived in 2009 by a coder working under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. For those who wish to purchase the digital currency but find the prospect of the transaction difficult to conceptualize without physical proof, the ATM provides a helpful bridge.

A bitcoin ATM might seem unconventional, but it makes sense in Zug. The town of 30,000 has persistently attracted entrepreneurs who specialize in digital currency, and by 2014 it became known in the financial world as Crypto Valley. One of the first to arrive was South African Johann Gevers, who came in 2012. His business, Monetas, offers a digital system through which any currency, including bitcoin, can be transferred worldwide at very low cost. Monetas was soon joined by other cryptocurrency startups, which now number around 20, including Ethereum, minter of a bitcoin rival currency called ether.

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