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Steven Lupien, director of the University of Wyoming Center for Blockchain and Digital Innovation, noted the Wyoming Legislature has passed more than two dozen bills involving blockchain and cryptocurrency that have positioned the state to be a major player in the digital economy. Patrick Wolfinbarger photo

Efforts to advance Wyoming as the leader in cryptocurrency, smart contracts, digital assets and the blockchain technology behind them received a boost in late July with a $300,000 commitment to the University of Wyoming by Kraken, the world’s largest global digital asset exchange.

Partnerships with companies like Kraken are an important component to the University of Wyoming’s goal of preparing students for the burgeoning digital economy in the 21st century, said Steve Lupien, director of the UW Center for Blockchain and Digital Innovation.

Lupien noted the Wyoming Legislature has passed more than two dozen bills involving blockchain and cryptocurrency that have positioned the state to be a major player in the digital economy.

For example, Wyoming’s Decentralized Autonomous Organization is the latest law that went into effect July 1. The law is the first of its kind in the nation that allows for the use of smart contracts, built through blockchain technology, to govern how unincorporated groups govern themselves. A DAO is also a Limited Liability Corporation under Wyoming law if it meets the required registration rules.

“You can have blockchain without cryptocurrency, but you can’t have cryptocurrency without blockchain,” Lupien said. “That is true of smart contracts and digital assets like Non-fungible Tokens.”

(A blockchain is essentially a digital ledger of transactions that is duplicated and distributed across the entire network of computer systems on the blockchain.)

Lupien said blockchain by itself won’t replace coal as a generator of revenues for the state.

“No one thing will,” Lupien said. “But blockchain, I think, is going to be a very, very important part of our new economy moving forward.”

He said the university is integrating cryptocurrency and other blockchain subjects into academic, research and outreach areas, including a new minor in blockchain offered through the UW Department of Accounting and Finance to any UW undergraduate. The CBDI itself is an interdisciplinary effort involving the College of Business, the College of Engineering and Applied Science, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the College of Law, the School of Energy Resources and the state’s community colleges.

Kraken CEO Jesse Powell said that over the next three years, Kraken is committing up to $300,000 toward UW’s efforts to promote a pathway for students who wish to pursue a career in crypto, one of the world’s fastest-growing industries.

“We hope the program will capture imaginations and contribute to a better financial future for Wyoming and for the world,” Powell said.

The gift was made as part of the San Francisco-based company’s 10th anniversary celebration and represents its largest-ever commitment to furthering the study of Bitcoin and digital asset technologies. It also represents a deepening of the company’s presence in Wyoming following the 2020 launch of Kraken Bank, a regulated Wyoming-based financial services firm for those with digital assets.

Kraken will offer scholarship support to Ph.D. students at UW, collaborate with university educators to offer free learning opportunities for K-12 students and develop paid professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers.

“This gift from Kraken enables us to recruit and retain a high-caliber researcher who will work in an interdisciplinary space with other researchers from both the Wyoming Advanced Blockchain Laboratory and the Cybersecurity Education and Research Center,” said Mike Borowczak, UW assistant professor of computer science.

The Wyoming Advanced Blockchain Laboratory is the result of a February 2020 gift of $500,000 in Ada cryptocurrency from IO Global (IOG, formerly IOHK), a leading international technology company. That gift was doubled to $1 million by state matching funds. The donation, among the largest cryptocurrency gifts to a public university, helped establish the blockchain lab in the UW College of Engineering and Applied Science. It works in cooperation with corporate partners and provides real-world experience to computer science and business students, Lupien said.

According to a UW news release, WABL has minted its 121 blocks on Cardano network as of June 15, ramping up its services as Cardano stake pool operators. Launched in 2017, Cardano is portrayed as a third generation blockchain (following Bitcoin and Ethereum as the first and second generations, respectively).

“This is a great educational and research operation made possible by our academic research collaboration with IOG and their other research groups,” said UW professor James Caldwell, WABL co-director.

The UW Department of Accounting and Finance is a partner in the project. While the lab established the Cardano staking node, the College of Business portfolio management class provided the initial pledge of capital and will use analytics on the stake pool parameters to try to optimize returns.

Lupien said Ada is a proof-of-stake cryptocurrency, as opposed to Bitcoin, which is proof-of-work. Cryptocurrency that is “mined” by proof-of-work needs ever-larger and ever-faster computers in a race to solve very large problems. The first to solve it wins some cryptocurrency for the services it provides.

“Proof-of-work is a much more energy intensive process, compared to proof-of-stake,” Lupien said.

Proof-of-stake cryptocurrency, like Ada, is “staked” with a stake pool, and the rewards for the work of transactions are awarded to stake pool operators and delegators based on a number of criteria. The more funds in the node’s pool, the more likely it is to mint a block, up to a certain cap.

The beginnings of the cryptocurrency and blockchain revolution in Wyoming involved the university when, in 2017, Caitlin Long, a UW alum, tried to donate Bitcoin to the institution. Wyoming law prohibited such transactions, which spurred Long, with longtime expertise in finance and cryptocurrency, to work with legislators and others interested in updating Wyoming law to boost cryptocurrency and other blockchain prospects in the state.

Philip Treick, chief investment officer for the UW Foundation, credits Long’s support of UW with helping create new opportunities for gift giving to the university using cryptocurrency or digital assets.

“It opens up areas to us that otherwise we might not have had before,” Treick said. “And I'll give you a couple of reasons for that. I’m guessing that the average donor of cryptocurrency to the university will likely be younger than our typical donor. So that's the first thing. The second thing is that there are a couple of events that kind of drive the donation activity of digital assets. The biggest one, obviously, is going to be the Wyohackathon, where lots of people come to campus who are involved in the industry.”

The Wyohackathon, now part of the week-long Wyoming Blockchain Stampede, is an opportunity for Foundation staff to learn the latest about cryptocurrency, digital assets and their users. That event is followed by the Foundation’s involvement in National Giving Day in October, which provides an opportunity to follow up with the connections UW has made.

“Hopefully, we're putting (blockchain-related) programs in place that people can get excited about and feel excited about,” Treick said of donors.

The fourth annual Wyoming Blockchain Stampede featuring the Wyohackathon will be held Sept. 21-26. Main speakers are Caitlin Long, CEO of Avanti Bank in Cheyenne; U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.; Charles Hoskinson, founder of Cardano; and Stani Kulechov, founder and CEO of Aave.

Events include:

  • Sept. 21 – The Startup Stampede, highlighting the companies of the future with presentations by those who founded them.
  • Sept. 21-22 – The Wyoming Governor’s newly appointed permanent Select Committee on Blockchain, Financial Technology and Digital Innovation will hold a public meeting to draft legislation and take stakeholder input.
  • Sept. 22 – The Sandcastle Invitational, a competition for “the best and most promising blockchain, AI and other technology startups,” with cash prizes awarded.
  • Sept. 22 – The Stampede Finance Conference, offering a deep dive into the evolving world of finance, how blockchain technology is pushing decentralized finance and what impact that will have.
  • Sept. 22-23 – The Stampede Business Conference, with a day of speakers and workshops to help attendees understand the Wyoming legislative environment, use cases, practical application and business opportunities presented by digital technologies like blockchain.
  • Sept. 23 – The Stampede Law Conference, “Prevailing Impact – Digital Technologies,” examining the new laws in Wyoming that impact blockchain and crypto businesses and help form the ecosystem.
  • Sept. 24 – DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) Day, with speakers and workshops helping attendees understand what DAOs are and why DAOs could change the way companies, communities and other groups are fundamentally organized.
  • Sept. 24-26 – The Wyohackathon, a competition involving various challenges surrounding the area of blockchain technologies.

For more information, and to register for the Wyoming Blockchain Stampede, visit wyohackathon.io.

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