- The Silicon Valley VCs are linking up with the University of Arkansas, in a state with lawmakers and companies like Walmart and J.B. Hunt that are eyeing blockchain and crypto.
- Arkansas “is home to innovative entrepreneurs, major corporations with global reach and policymakers including Rep. French Hill and Sen. John Boozman, both of whom have taken an interest in digital asset technology,” a Haun executive said.
Cryptocurrency-focused investment firms Coinbase Ventures and Haun Ventures are backing a technology accelerator program at the University of Arkansas, noting the southern state’s mix of entrepreneurs and large corporations, as well as some influential policymakers.
Referring to Arkansas’ potential when it comes to shaping policy around crypto, Tomicah Tillemann, chief policy officer at Haun Ventures, said Arkansas is at the confluence of a number of forces shaping the landscape around blockchain technology and digital assets.
“The state is home to innovative entrepreneurs, major corporations with global reach and policymakers including Rep. French Hill and Sen. John Boozman, both of whom have taken an interest in digital asset technology. All of this makes Arkansas a great place to work with the startup community,” Tillemann told Coindesk.
Coinbase and Haun are embracing a model seen elsewhere in the U.S., where many universities have tech-focused programs where corporations can set up shop to recruit students as interns. For example, Jump Trading, the Chicago-based crypto and traditional financial trading giant, had a group at the University of Illinois' Research Park; Jump Crypto President Kanav Kariya joined the company through that program.
The collapse of FTX last year caused alarm among lawmakers, not least because of disgraced boss Sam Bankman-Fried’s energetic solicitation of Capitol Hill to try and shape favorable regulation of crypto.
To some extent, Coinbase Ventures and Haun Ventures are preaching to the converted in Arkansas: Hill, the vice chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, also chairs a subcommittee on digital assets; Boozman, the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, is a co-sponsor of the Digital Commodities Consumer Protection Act (known colloquially as the “SBF Bill” because of being backed by the now-disgraced FTX founder).
Tillemann of Haun Ventures pointed to other states which could be usefully targeted to boost crypto jobs and adoption, and also further policy discussions, similar to blockchain-focused Bounds Accelerator in Arkansas.
“There’s a great deal of engagement going on right now across the 50 states,” Tillemann said in an interview. “Arkansas is a very compelling example for a variety of reasons. But there are important conversations with founders and policymakers underway in places like Ohio and Montana and many other jurisdictions that are part of this evolving story of building the next generation of the internet.”
Shan Aggarwal, head of corporate development and ventures at Coinbase, pointed to large firms based in Arkansas like Walmart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt, adding that blockchain tech can help streamline areas like supply chain management. (Walmart’s extensive explorations into so-called enterprise blockchain with the likes of IBM have been well documented.)
“I wouldn’t describe it as enterprise blockchain,” Aggarwal said in an interview. “But I do think there’s a rising tide of interest in blockchain and crypto technology from large enterprises like Walmart. Some of them are thinking about that more for enterprise use cases, such as helping revolutionize their supply chain, others are thinking about it more from a community or end consumer engagement perspective.”
The 16-week Bounds accelerator program is now accepting applications from startups with a U.S.-based location or representative until Nov. 3. The program begins on Jan. 8, 2024, and is bookended by an in-person orientation and demo day event in Bentonville, with weekly remote learning and mentoring sessions.
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