When you think of a crypto-friendly U.S. state, Washington is hardly the first to come to mind. Yet, a lot has been happening on the ground in the Pacific Northwest lately. Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill, SB5544, into law on March 30. The new legislation creates a working group of seven state officials and eight trade association leaders to examine “various potential applications of and policies for blockchain technology” and report to the governor in December 2023.
Republican state Senator Sharon Brown, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said, “By creating the Washington Blockchain Work Group, we are sending a clear message that Washington is ready to start working with the private sector to advance this technology for the benefit of all Washington residents, employers and workers.”
Washington Technology Industry Association, or WTIA, vice president of public policy Molly Jones described the law as an “important and foundational step to growing Washington’s blockchain sector.” The WTIA was a vocal supporter of the legislation.
So far, Washington has only rarely appeared on the many lists compiled over the years to rank U.S. states by their affiliation with the cryptocurrency industry and blockchain technology. This is despite the considerable efforts of the WTIA, which focuses on blockchain and quantum computing. The WTIA has been active since the 1980s and received a $550,000 state grant to develop innovations in blockchain and quantum computing in the state earlier this year.
Growing the blockchain sector
The WTIA’s menu of programs includes a nationally active apprenticeship program and a chief information security officers’ peer group. Its accelerator, the Founder Cohort, is in its seventh round. It accepts 20–25 companies at a time into a six-month program.
Whygrene, an energy trading platform and distributed energy management system, is part of that seventh cohort. Whygrene’s hybrid cloud and blockchain software uses the Cryptojoule token to track and trade energy. Founder and CEO Patrick Phelps is quick to point out that the token could be developed into a cryptocurrency in the future.
The WTIA 7th Founder Cohort was the fourth accelerator for which Whygrene was selected. “It really helps,” Phelps told Cointelegraph. There have been webinars on structuring a pitch, talking to investors and similar topics, but it is the “warm introductions” and networking events that Phelps enthused over.
“The WTIA says, ‘talk to this company,’” Phelps said. “It counts for a lot in the investors’ eyes.” Phelps had four meetings in his first week in the cohort and has made connections with companies from earlier cohorts. Since joining the 7th Cohort, Whygrene has been admitted to the Plug and Play Startup Accelerator as well. Phelps explained that “Smaller accelerators help you get into bigger ones.”
Another WTIA program, the Cascadia Blockchain Council, was the brainchild of board member Arry Yu. The council, established in 2018, is a collaboration of companies, universities and government agencies that seeks “to make the region a global hub for blockchain development.” The council has close to 200 participants nationwide and helps companies in Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, in addition to those in Washington state.
Portland has seen particular success recently. According to a Bloomberg study based on data from LinkedIn, Portland ranked among the top ten cities adding crypto jobs in 2021. “We made specific moves in 2017 and 2018 to create a center of excellence through the Oregon Enterprise Blockchain Venture Studio,” Jeff Gaus, creator of the Oregon Enterprise Blockchain Venture Studio, told Cointelegraph by email. “Collectively, we recruited Coinbase to open operations here; Portland State University created the first-ever degrees (undergraduate and graduate) in Blockchain […] and the Technology Association of Oregon earmarked this technology as key to the future, giving rise to many companies in the space.” He added:
“What you are seeing is the long-term effectiveness of focused, intentional public-private partnerships.”
The Oregon Enterprise Blockchain Venture Studio has a portfolio of six startups.
From Washington to Cascadia to the nation
Yu’s organizational efforts have not stopped at Cascadia. She has also spearheaded the Coalition of Multi-State Blockchain Associations. “I’ve been in crypto since 2016, and had been looking to federal organizations, like the Digital Chamber of Commerce and Blockchain Association, to do more leadership on the state level,” Yu told Politico.
“But they don’t have the bandwidth and resources to help us. So I asked, ‘Could we get together and help ourselves?’”
The WTIA, Yu told Cointelegraph in an email, “will work to enable the coalition, or federation of states, those tech organizations working locally in each state across the United States, just like it has enabled and empowered the Cascadia Blockchain Council.” The coalition, she said, “serves as the subject matter experts and collective voice to better advocate for constructive public policy and educate key stakeholders, especially policymakers.”
The coalition does not have a website and has not released a members list, although it claims there are 32 member organizations. The North Carolina Blockchain Initiative, or NCBI, has self-identified as a member of the coalition. The organization was established as a nonpartisan task force in July 2019 for educational and research purposes. The NCBI has produced a series of videos to introduce local blockchain businesses and provide information.
“Our biggest victory was the establishment of the regulatory sandbox and Innovation Council –which were two principal recommendations in our 2020 Strategic Report,” NCBI co-chair Eric Porper told Cointelegraph by email. “Passage of 2021’s Regulatory Sandbox Act was a strong signal that North Carolina is open for business and that our state is committed to attracting and growing the next generation of startups and tech talent.”
“We’ve built a national network, and in early 2021, we joined a small, but active group of our counterparts in various states,” Porper said. “We have collaborated on some initial talking points that may form the basis of model legislation that all states can put forward to their legislatures. We keep each other updated on new initiatives in each state.”