Egalitarian internet innovator Rakuten, which is based in Tokyo, Japan, has just opened the Rakuten Blockchain Lab (RBL) – in Belfast, UK. Why? Stephen McNamara, chief technology offi cer, RBL, says: “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. ” Fergal Downey, vice president of engineering, RBL, adds: “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.” There’s also the practical point that both McNamara and Downey joined RBL from Bitnet Technologies, which is, like, y’know, based in Belfast. Local knowledge counts for something too. Rakuten fi rst linked up with Bitnet in April 2015 to launch a Bitcoin payment option for the Rakuten.com e-commerce marketplace, and has now bought Bitnet’s intellectual property. RBL now becomes “a dedicated research and development organization within Rakuten, focused on blockchain technology and its potential applications in the fi ntech and e-commerce sectors”. Yasufumi Hirai, head of the technology division at Rakuten, also speaks of the “deep engineering expertise of the Bitnet team”. Hirai says: “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.” According to the company’s website, Rakuten Group “has an unswerving commitment to building an egalitarian society by empowering individuals and companies to be successful in business and in life”. One to watch.