The gist: After months of silence, the Lafayette Public Innovation Alliance finally held its first public meeting. The alliance will function as a trust for investing in innovation projects in Lafayette Parish and could serve as a vehicle for the mayor-president’s cryptocurrency and blockchain aspirations.
ICYMI: Earlier this year Mayor-President Robideaux proposed that LCG create a new public trust focused on developing Lafayette’s digital economy. The idea is to build a chest of cash that can help finance projects in the tech space and attract entrepreneurs to the area. It was approved by the City-Parish Council in July, but the first meeting wasn’t held until today.
LPIA elected its officers. Joel Robideaux (who appointed himself to the board) was elected chairman, Louisiana Economic Development VP Mandi Mitchell vice chairman, and UL professor Ramesh Kolluru secretary/treasurer. The other trustee in attendance was Bruce Greenstein, an LHC Group executive and former U.S. Department of Health and Hospitals CTO. The fifth and final trustee, Waitr CEO Chris Meaux, was unable to attend.
Robideaux floated exploring contracts with other entities to help manage the LPIA until the trust is able to afford to hire its own dedicated staff. (It’s got $100 of Robideaux’s own cash for seed money.) One potential partner here is UL. Kolluru indicated UL is open to such an arrangement, possibly paving the way for a cooperative endeavor agreement with the university.
Crypteaux figures in as a possible financial fuel for the trust. Robideaux recruited his campaign consultant Hilary “Joe” Castille, known for his role in City Marshal Brian Pope’s infamous press conference, and UL’s Matt Delcambre to discuss the use of cryptocurrencies issued by public entities. Castille is the architect of the “crypteaux” concept Robideaux announced earlier this year and runs with attorney Clay Burgess a company called CryptoResearch LLC, which has no formal relationship with LCG.
Castille believes private equity and VC investors are looking for safe ways to invest in cryptocurrencies and other blockchain technologies, given the crypto market’s recent trouble with scofflaws and emerging SEC scrutiny. Greenstein challenged Castille’s notion that many investors are looking to make “patient,” long-term investments like that represented in the innovation trust.
What to watch for: Where the LPIA goes from here and whether Robideaux’s crypto play has any legs. Coming out the gate, the group will look at traditional funding sources like economic development grants and think through issuing a municipal cryptocurrency. The trust will likely meet again in March.
The gist: If you read the tech blogs, there’s been a big crunch on the crypto market. After a bonkers 2017, the SEC has become a major buzzkill, signaling intent to sheriff the crypto wild west. That could actually make LCG’s crypteaux concept more attractive.
I don’t understand anything you just said. That’s OK. The broad strokes are that Mayor-President Joel Robideaux announced this year that he wants Lafayette to launch a digital currency as an alternative means of public finance. Last year there was a gold rush on the stuff, particularly around Bitcoin, with cryptocurrencies netting billions in profits for investors. There’s been something of a correction in the sector this year, capped off by a ruling by the SEC that initial coin offerings – called ICOs — should register with the federal government and be regulated like any other type of security. Observers have suggested that the developments frosted over what was once the hottest place for investment.
Ok, I understand it marginally better. Good deal. So here’s the thing, lots of people tried to cash in on the cryptocraze. There are digital currencies that support journalism, others that pay cam girls. In Ohio, you can pay your taxes with Bitcoin. The sector attracted a lot of criminal actors and folks that plain didn’t know what they were doing. In a recent talk, Crypteaux architect Joe Castille — perhaps better known as a political consultant, and the ghostwriter of Brian Pope’s demise — characterized the world of crypto entrepreneurship as one lousy with naifs waving white-papers. There’s an argument to be made that the SEC’s ruling will clear out the riff raff like a brushfire, leaving only vetted concepts to thrive in a healthier crypto ecosystem.
Keep in mind that municipal securities are exempt from SEC registration. At least that’s what Investopedia tells me. So while it’s tempting to fear the SEC’s rules on ICOs as a valve closing, in theory a municipally backed ICO could squirt through the regulatory gaps. “Different laws apply,” Castille tells me.
What’s the latest on crypteaux? That’s unclear at this point. Robideaux set up a public innovation trust earlier this year — and put himself on it — but the board has yet to meet. The parishwide trust is a possible vehicle for funds raised in a municipal ICO. LCG recently paid IBM and mega-consultant KPMG $150,000 for developing a Smart City road map that suggests crypteaux and e-residency, concepts championed and researched by Castille, are worth exploring. Castille and his new company, Crypto Research LLC, studies the application of cryptocurrencies and blockchain — a whole other enchilada —in the public sector as a means of addressing budget problems in tax-averse communities. Sound familiar?
Is this crazy? Not necessarily. But it’s a thorny space and one likely to be a tough sell for your average voter. Just because the SEC’s recent crackdown doesn’t necessarily apply to crypteaux doesn’t make the path forward clear.
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