UW Launches Center for Blockchain and Digital Innovation | News

November 2, 2020

Wyoming is a pioneer state known for firsts. In recent years, the state passed groundbreaking legislation to create a regulatory environment to foster blockchain application growth and diversify the economy. To aid this effort and train the upcoming workforce, the University of Wyoming is launching a new Center for Blockchain and Digital Innovation.

Simply put, blockchain is a digital record of transactions in which each transaction added to the chain is validated by multiple computers. Blockchain technology enables cryptocurrencies and digital assets but also has many other uses, such as supply chain management and payment systems. Many large companies already use the technology, but blockchain and cryptocurrencies will become much more ubiquitous in everyday life.

“This tech is going to fundamentally change the way businesses and consumers operate in the future, very much like the internet did,” says Steven Lupien, an adjunct professor of finance and director of the new UW center.

There are only a handful of universities nationwide with such blockchain centers, including Arizona State University, the University of Arkansas, Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Duke University, the University of Michigan, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of Texas-Austin.

“UW is in rarefied air,” says blockchain leader and UW alumna Caitlin Long, who served on the Wyoming Blockchain Task Force and chairs UW’s WyoHackathon. “We’re working with some of the top scientific universities in the country.”

Working closely with state legislators such as Rep. Tyler Lindholm and Sen. Chris Rothfuss, Long was instrumental in the legislation that Wyoming passed.

“It’s about economic diversification,” she says. “It’s always been about jobs and bringing in outside capital to the state. Now, we’ll have employers looking for UW graduates.”

The UW Center for Blockchain and Digital Innovation features an interdisciplinary approach among UW colleges — including the College of Business, the College of Engineering and Applied Science, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the College of Law — as well as the state’s community colleges. The center will focus on fostering innovation; applied research and education; technology development; economic development and job growth; and corporate engagement.

“This new center supports three of the four pillars we’ve established to guide the university: being more computational, interdisciplinary and entrepreneurial,” UW President Ed Seidel says. “We truly appreciate the support of our external partners that has helped UW be at the vanguard of this exciting technology. The university is committed to helping drive future economic development in Wyoming, and this center has incredible potential to do so.”

In February, UW received a $500,000 gift in Ada cryptocurrency from IOHK (Input Output, iohk.io), a leading international technology company, that was doubled to $1 million by state matching. The donation, among the largest cryptocurrency gifts to a public university, helped establish a blockchain lab in the College of Engineering and Applied Science that will work in cooperation with corporate partners.

“One of the big things is to train our students to be prepared for this new era that will be coming to our state,” says College of Business Dean Dave Sprott. “So, our first step is to start a minor at the undergraduate level that will be open to any major by next fall.”

From there, the university will work to develop technical graduate certificates and a joint law and master’s degree.

Part of the state’s innovative legislation allows for a new type of bank that can custody digital assets. These banks are known as special purpose depository institutions (SPDI) and, on Sept. 16, the Wyoming Banking Division approved Kraken Financial’s application to create the world’s first SPDI. A second SPDI application, this one submitted by Avanti Bank & Trust, was approved Oct. 28.

In announcing the Banking Division action, Gov. Mark Gordon said: “Today Wyoming became the first U.S. state to approve a banking charter for digital assets. Wyoming’s new charter will allow those using digital assets, like cryptocurrency, to access reliable financial services, protect consumers and allow businesses a way to hold digital assets safely. … I am proud that our state is leading the way and built the framework for this historic announcement. … Wyoming is taking its rightful place globally as a fintech leader.”

Read more about UW’s new Center for Blockchain and Digital Innovation in the winter issue of UWyo Magazine, and stay tuned for additional media releases regarding Lupien’s appointment as the center’s director and on UW’s blockchain partnership with the University of Arkansas.