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Bernie Moreno sold seven car dealership franchises last week, reinforcing his commitment to make Cleveland a central hub for blockchain technology.

“I started the process of selling my car dealerships three years ago and this was basically the last chunk,” Moreno said. “It leaves me with one dealership in Cleveland and one in Miami. I still have a connection to the car business, but it’s a small fraction of my life now.”

Moreno purchased his first dealership in 2005 and eventually had 25 dealerships as part of Collection Auto Group. About three years ago, however, his youngest son approached him and indicated he wanted to one day follow in Moreno’s footsteps.

“I never really thought my business had that long of a runway,” Moreno says. “What kind of business would it be for him in 20 to 25 years? I made a decision that there was more risk in the model of a car dealership for him than there was for me.”

Moreno proceeded methodically on the sale of his dealership empire, taking steps to ensure that each transaction made sense for the buyer, his clients and his team.

Now it’s all about Ownum and blockchain.

Just the beginning

Ownum’s mission is to incubate technology companies and dramatically improve their efficiency, Moreno says.

“Right now it’s the early days and we have our own development team,” Moreno says. “One thing I’m committed to is building this thing in Cleveland and we’re swimming against the stream in that regard. The fortunate part is I don’t have to worry about funding, which takes a big worry off the table. I’m not seeking investors.”

Blockchain is most known as the means by which cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin can function. It’s a digital, decentralized and public ledger for recording transactions. It’s also very secure, giving it countless potential applications beyond just bitcoin. Moreno’s goal is to create a technology and innovation ecosystem that would be for blockchain what places like Silicon Valley, Seattle, Boston and Austin, Texas, were for internet and digital technology — hubs that enjoy significant investment, thousands of new jobs and an influx of new residents.

“We can save hundreds of millions of dollars on something as unsexy as car titles,” Moreno says.

Indeed, Ownum recently launched CHAMPtitles to optimize the vehicle title management process.

“Right now, every state issues a piece of paper to prove you own an asset” he says. “So you have a piece of paper that says you own this car. That process of producing this piece of paper goes back hundreds of years. Once you digitize that title, it saves every entity in the system dramatic amounts of money.”

Small victories

Moreno hopes to finalize plans soon for CityBlock, a downtown campus which would serve as an innovation hub for blockchain startups. If all goes well, CityBlock will open its doors by the end of the year and serve as the headquarters for Ownum. Plans are also underway for the second Blockland conference, scheduled for Dec. 7-10.

“Our own tech team has hit a few walls because a lot of the technology is so new,” Moreno says. “But we’ve made a lot of incredible strides. There is a reward for being early, but it’s not easy.”

As he focuses on Ownum and the team he has built, Moreno is taking a patient approach to gaining more blockchain believers and celebrating the victories that have already been achieved.

“AT&T is looking at putting 5G in Cleveland,” he says. “That probably wouldn’t have happened without the Blockland effort and the people who were involved. CSU, Tri-C and Case are working together in ways they never have before. There are people looking at how we handle education from K to 12 and how we infuse more technology in that. There are people looking at building shared workspaces. If the net result of all this is technology awareness is elevated, that’s a win. We just all have to keep at it.”