The University of Wyoming hosted during the weekend the state’s first WyoHackathon, which was billed by blockchain entrepreneurs as a “thank-you” to the state for the five blockchain-related bills the Wyoming Legislature passed in March to spur a new software sector in the state.
During the weekend, several blockchain companies pledged various commitments to the state.
Robert MacInnis, founder of blockchain company ActiveAether, announced that he and the bulk of his New York-based company would be relocating to Jackson. MacInnis also said the company would donate $20,000 worth of computing power to UW’s computer science department.
In a surprise announcement that even took WyoHackathon’s organizer off-guard, Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne said his company plans to open a development office in the state.
Caitlin Long, co-founder of the Wyoming Blockchain Coalition, organized the event after the passage of legislation that deregulated the state’s blockchain industry.
A 22-year veteran of Wall Street and president of blockchain startup Symbiont, Long expects the event to attract greater interest in the state from the roughly 300 software developers who competed in WyoHackathon.
“I think we just witnessed the birth of a software technology hub in southeast Wyoming,” she told the Laramie Boomerang.
Hackathons are sprint-like programming contests that often lead to software ideas that make it to mass markets. Some of Facebook’s most notable features got their start at hackathons.
UW’s inaugural Hackathon focused on blockchain technology, the emerging ledger technology that’s being embraced in banking and other industries.
Joseph Lubin, the billionaire co-founder of Ethereum, said there’s “no reason that the next Google can’t be built” in Laramie.
“The mechanisms we’re building will allow capital to flow very quickly to anywhere in the world,” he said.
With more than $100,000 worth of prizes, the event attracted software developers from around the world — including Shoshoni high schoolers and a senior Google engineer — to compete at UW’s Memorial Fieldhouse.
Coders worked throughout the night, occasionally napping on cots, to develop software that was ultimately judged Sunday afternoon by blockchain entrepreneurs.
Three gubernatorial candidates — Republican Mark Gordon, Democrat Mary Throne and Libertarian Lawrence Struempf — convened at WyoHackathon on Sunday to help judge the “Best for Wyoming Challenge,” which asked developers to create blockchain software that would benefit Wyomingites.
Gordon said the event is “hopefully the start of a great parade of Hackathons and new technology.”
As the event neared its end Sunday, the three candidates made their pitches to the roughly 300 developers in attendance on why Wyoming is best suited to become the next tech hub.
“We react quickly. When we hear an idea that we think we has merit … we can move very quickly to get the framework in place to get these technologies moving,” Throne said. “What really warms my heart is seeing all these students from the University of Wyoming. It really gives me hope for Wyoming that we will be able to retain some of this bright young talent in Wyoming.”
The 2018 legislation regarding blockchain technology rolled back the hard-line stance taken against crytocurrencies by Wyoming Money Transmitters Act.
The legislation moved Wyoming to the front of facilitating blockchain companies by providing them with a framework for companies to work within — like the bill that made Wyoming the first government to provide a definition for “utility tokens.”
Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, helped shepherd the five blockchain bills through the Legislature. He emceed the Hackathon and said Sunday he expects Tennessee to follow in Wyoming’s footsteps by considering the same five bills in 2019 that Wyoming’s already passed.
But that doesn’t mean Wyoming can’t stay ahead of the curve.
“(Tennessee’s) going to run our five bills from last year. That’s great. I’ve got eight more for this year,” Lindholm said.
Bills he’s planning to introduce in 2019 include a measure to allow state banks to accept both fiat and cryptocurrencies without needing insurance and oversight by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
Wyoming’s emerging blockchain eminence is helped by the caution taken by federal regulators and other states.
Lindholm noted it was unusually bold for the Wyoming House to unanimously pass blockchain legislation that federal regulators had urged caution toward.
“We took their comments regarding (initial coin offerings) and we completely rejected them,” he said. “That’s a big deal for a group of people whose average age is 62. And why did we do that? Because Wyoming’s hungry.”
Lindholm told the software developers he hopes to “create a regulatory environment that matches your speed” and to get “the next Bill Gates into Wyoming.”
“Not only do we want to see you make it big, but we want to make it big with you,” he said.
Delaware was set to emerge as a major blockchain player under the former Gov. Jack Markell, who announced the Delaware Blockchain Initiative in 2016. After the election of Gov. John Carney later that year, the work to foster blockchain businesses in Delaware stagnated.
Long said the support of blockchain technology by Wyoming’s three gubernatorial candidates Sunday was an important signal to the industry that the 2018 blockchain legislation wasn’t just a “flash in the pan.”
“It matters that there’s a commitment to continuing blockchain in Wyoming,” she said.
Alanna Gombert, who served as a judge for WyoHackathon, became involved the lobbying effort for the 2018 legislation shortly after similar bills were killed in the Delaware General Assembly.
At the time, it was apparent Wyoming was the most likely to pass blockchain legislation and Gombert said she was impressed by how open state legislators were to the idea.
“On a federal level, they don’t care. They’re just looking for donations half the time,” she said. “Wyoming’s very different. They’re genuinely interested and they work across party lines.”
Gombert is the chief revenue officer for MetaX, a blockchain company that works on digital advertising.
Even though Wyoming’s blockchain laws are just six months old, Gombert said she’s already seen the benefits the legislation has had.
“It’s already happening,” she said. “I spend a lot more time in Wyoming that I ever would have before.”
And while the blockchain efforts will pay dividends for the state economy, it will also be a template for the rest of the U.S., she said.
“For the time in the U.S., there’s a definition of utility tokens on the books,” she said. “Wyoming for us is a precedent and that’s so important.”