Wyoming’s pioneer cryptocurrency and digital asset laws brought a lot of attention to the state by blockchain entrepreneurs at the fourth annual Wyoming Blockchain Stampede and WyoHackathon from Sept. 21-26.
State political, business and educational leaders vowed during the conference to keep Wyoming at the forefront in all aspects of blockchain technology to encourage economic development and diversity in the face of declining fossil fuel revenues.
When people are looking at places to locate new businesses, “particularly digital businesses,” they often think about California, maybe Colorado, New York or Delaware, said Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon.
“And they're all pretty stodgy,” Gordon said in a public discussion during the WyoHackathon. “And some of them talk a good game. But the fact of the matter is when people say Wyoming, they go, ‘Where is that?’ And then they start saying ‘Wait a minute, that place that has got stuff going on.’”
Gordon said as Puerto Rico rebuilds from Hurricane Maria, which hit the island four years ago, its leaders say they want to emulate what Wyoming is doing with blockchain and digital innovation “because it is what’s coming. It’s next generation.”
WyoHackathon kickoff speaker, U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., credited the University of Wyoming, which also produced the event, with supporting state efforts in pursuing innovation with blockchain.
“The University of Wyoming has created a blockchain certificate and a fintech certificate to equip the next generation of innovators with a firm foundation on this powerful technology,” Lummis said. “So, I'm proud of the incredible work of this university and our state. With what we're doing, have done and will continue to do in this area, it is going to make us among the most innovative states and universities in the world.”
Lummis noted endeavors to use vented natural gas from leaking wells, that would normally escape into the atmosphere, to power bitcoin mining and how the state Carbon SAFE Project is finding innovative ways to capture carbon emissions from fossil fuel and using blockchain.
The audience of blockchain developers, entrepreneurs and advocates applauded in response to Lummis’ pledge to oppose federal overregulation of blockchain technology, particularly cryptocurrency and digital assets.
“We want to make sure that there's an understood, simple regulatory sandbox that does not stifle innovation,” Lummis said.
Nearly 5,100 participants online from around the world and another 800 in person attended the event during the week. More than 250 local, national and international speakers touched on issues involving cryptocurrency, decentralized finance (DeFi), decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO), non-fungible tokens (NFT), digital identity, creating startups and relocating companies to Wyoming.
Charles Hoskinson, among the many top blockchain entrepreneurs and developers at the conference, spoke twice during the WyoHackathon. Hoskinson, who founded Cardano and co-founded Etherium, two of the leading blockchain platforms, stressed the importance of education and accountability in the future success of the technology.
Hoskinson, the CEO of IOHK, a blockchain infrastructure research and engineering company, is from Colorado and has family members living in Wyoming. He has made donations to UW, has a bison ranch near Wheatland, and expresses his love for the state. He said there are a lot of conversations about what is necessary to make Wyoming, as a state, competitive in the coming decades.
“As many of you know, we invest very heavily in university partners,” Hoskinson said. “Right now, Wyoming is going through a great transformation. It's both scary and exciting, as the economy of this state is fundamentally changing. Some jobs are phasing out, some jobs are being repurposed.”
He described blockchain as a “bedrock” industry that touches everything from supply chains to carbon credits.
“One of the things that we've been trying to figure out with the university and policymakers here is how do we enable this industry to continue to get its roots and grow, so the Microsofts, Facebooks and Googles of the future aren't founded in Silicon Valley or Austin, Texas, but they're founded in Cheyenne, Wyoming,” Hoskinson said. “That's something we care about.”
The need for a computer literate workforce to meet the employment needs of blockchain and other technology industries was examined during “Future Forward,” a day of discussion with education and business leaders led by UW President Ed Seidel.
The session was started off by the online presence of Sethuraman Panchanathan, National Science Foundation director, who said a computing mindset must evolve through K-12 in public education, and then into the university and beyond, for whatever discipline and career path that a person pursues.
Seidel outlined how a proposal for a new UW School of Computing and the Wyoming Innovation Partnership (WIP), established by Gov. Gordon in partnership with the state’s seven community colleges, will support enhancing workforce knowledge and skills and entrepreneurship.
He said UW seeks to grow computing beyond the traditional areas of computer science and engineering, “but how to make this a much broader track, not only at the university, but across the entire state.”
“We're also talking about growing our capacity to have much deeper partnerships with the corporate sector, not just at the university, but also at the entire state level,” Seidel added. “In combination with this, we're also looking at building a university-wide center for entrepreneurship and innovation that would be, in some sense, like a one-two punch for building the state's economy.”
Laramie County Community College President Joe Schaffer said “between the community colleges and the university, there is just this deep, strong, committed willingness to find new ways to help build the state from an economic perspective.”
There are roughly 8 million students in the U.S. enrolled in credit-bearing programs at community colleges, Shaffer said, agreeing with comments by Seidel and Panchanathan about changing expectations for college at an earlier age.
“Here in Wyoming, two out of every three enrollments in higher education start at a community college," Shaffer said. “Fifty-three percent of all first-generation students are enrolled at public two-year colleges. So, when we think about the future of our state, of our regions, really, of our nation, we have to think about the pipeline of talent and individuals and where they're going to come from.”
An example of creating a pipeline of talent was the Shoshoni High School developer team, the Hackers, who won the WyoHackathon challenge for the Best Solution for Economic Development in Wyoming. It’s the fourth year Shoshoni students competed in the WyoHackathon. This year, they won an $8,000 cash prize and $5,000 for their submission of blockchain certification pathway for secondary education for proof of stake operations using Cardano.
Shoshoni students have used their winnings from four WyoHackathon appearance to establish a state pool at their high school.
A donation of bitcoin mining equipment to UW made during the event established the university as the first major university to have students mining for bitcoin, said Steve Lupien, director of the UW Center for Blockchain and Digital Innovation. The center produced the six-day conference and hackathon.
The donation was made though renowned bitcoin miner Marshall Long though the nonprofit he helped found, BTC Impact. Long came to the UW campus in Laramie to help a UW student club set up the equipment and provide some guidance in managing a bitcoin mining operation.
“It’s clear that Wyoming Blockchain Stampede and WyoHackathon is making the state an important destination for those in the blockchain industry,” Lupien said. “It’s bringing people to Wyoming who never had a reason to come here before. Our faculty, our students and the business community of Wyoming all get the benefit.”
The event’s growth is satisfying for UW alumnae Caitlin Long, a cryptocurrency and blockchain advocate who helped start the WyoHackathon after she wanted to donate cryptocurrency to UW for a women’s engineering student scholarship, but found the university has no way to accept it.
“None of us intended on this happening,” Long said, citing the work of those who helped start the WyoHackathon, particularly former state legislator Tyler Lindholm. “This is so much bigger than one person and so much bigger, of course, than one state. But what we've done here in Wyoming is define the potential for this industry.”