Boston Blockchain Association's Doug Mehne: Regulatory Clarity is Key to Blockchain Innovation in US
In this video podcast interview recorded during the Institutional Digital Assets Forum event in Boston on December 4th, 2023, Blockchain Journal editor-in-chief David Berlind and Boston Blockchain Association (BBA) Chair Doug Mehne talk about the objectives of the BBA, why Boston makes for a great blockchain city, and challenges when it comes to blockchain regulation uncertainties.
The event was produced in partnership with the TABB Group and focused on blockchain adoption within enterprises as well as institutional investment in cryptocurrency. In the interview, Mehne highlights the three pillars of the Boston Blockchain Association: education, advocacy, and leveraging the unique Boston ecosystem on the national and international stage.
On the topic of blockchain regulation, Mehne talked about how regulatory certainty is one of the keys to fostering innovation. He noted how jurisdictions with ever-evolving crypto regulations such as India, Germany, and Singapore, are attracting significant investments while such investments are muted in the US where federal and state regulations have largely been gridlocked. According to Mehne, the BBA is looking to foster a productive dialogue with US regulators to promote responsible blockchain adoption.
As for the city of Boston, Mehne argues that the town's unique blend of world-class universities, traditional finance firms, and a vibrant technological startup scene across various industries, make for a unique ecosystem relative to other global blockchain destinations.
The interview touches on the challenge of explaining blockchain to individuals with preconceived notions and the negative headlines surrounding cryptocurrency. Mehne emphasized the need to showcase responsible use cases and pointed to some upcoming BBA initiatives designed to further drive adoption strategies.
By David BerlindPublished:December 12, 2023
David Berlind: Today is December 4th, 2023. I'm David Berlind and this is the Blockchain Journal podcast. I'm in Boston, MA. Where right now the final event of the year for the Institutional Digital Assets Forum is taking place and standing with me as Doug Mehne. He's one of the organizers of this event. Doug, thanks for joining me on the Blockchain Journal podcast.
Doug Mehne: Thank you, David. [It's a] pleasure to be with you.
Berlind: It's great to have you and you've had a great event tonight. All sorts of wonderful speakers talking about all sorts of great topics, largely having to do with institutional investment in cryptocurrency. Blockchain Journal, of course, we're about the enterprise adoption of blockchain as a platform. Tell me a little bit about what the Boston Blockchain Association is.
Mehne: Sure, happy to. The Boston Blockchain Association really has three pillars. One is on education, the second is on advocacy, and the third is around leveraging the unique ecosystem of Boston against the national and international markets.
This series in particular, we have focused on the people and firms that are trying to build this and scale this in the right and compliant way. We've tried to show the inside perspectives of leaders in the institutional space and we wanted to send people home having learned something new about what's really going on in this Market.
Berlind: Also, their bellies are full because there's a lot of food and beverage here, so...
Mehne: There's some great networking going on as well. And as Mike Wise said at the end of our event, "rising tides lift all boats," and that's really the approach we're taking for this community.
Berlind: Yeah, actually, it's funny you say that because that's how I talk about Blockchain Journal. It's about making all boats float higher and it's not really about any particular ledger, any particular technology. It's about driving an understanding of the efficacy of blockchain when it comes to what enterprises can do with it, and how they can drive new or improved business outcomes.
Mehne: That's right, David. And we're focused really in three areas. There are crypto assets, there are the digitization of traditional assets, and then there are blockchains. And we're focused on the adoption of all three of those. It's not the Wild West of companies and people trying to avoid regulation. We're trying to embrace regulation and figure out what does adoption look like? What does innovation look like and how can we help to promote that?
Berlind: Well, I actually I kind of agree with the idea of embracing regulation because we study the patterns of adoption around the world at Blockchain Journal, and one of the things we're seeing is that in the jurisdictions where there is regulatory certainty, innovation follows. You look at what's happening in India, you look at what's happening in Germany or you look at what happening in Singapore, they mentioned Project Guardian today on stage, the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
It seems like all the investment coming – even from American companies is taking place where there's regulatory certainty and, of course, that's kind of absent here in the US.
Mehne: I mean, you're right. We heard a number of examples of this today and our our October 17th event, we had three panelists from the UK, from Europe, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and continental Europe really talking about what does that landscape look like? How are they working with regulators? And we're just trying to bring that same approach to the US. We have regulators committed to our 2024 series. So we're excited to share more soon.
Berlind: I'm looking forward to that since I'm in the Boston area, I can't wait to hear some of those regulators talk. You mentioned something that I thought was interesting. You said that Boston is unique in terms of the community that you've got going here, how it relates to blockchain. What do you mean by that?
Mehne: I've always thought Boston was a unique ecosystem. If you think about it, we have universities that are world-class. We have traditional firms, traditional banks, and traditional asset managers, we have a number of technological startups, if you will, across disciplines. So it's digital assets, it's financial services, it's healthcare, pharmaceutical and all of all of these different verticals are analogous in terms of the regulatory landscapes from an innovation and an adoption perspective, and we're trying to appeal to those so that everyone can understand what those ecosystems look like.
Berlind: It's really quite a mix of organizations that are based here in Massachusetts all over. And of course, you mentioned the universities, each of them have their own blockchain club. I've attended some of those. It's really interesting to see some of the innovations taking place just among students there. So when we talk about the the Boston Blockchain Association, I realized this event had another name attached to it, TabbFORUM.
Mehne: Yeah, this is the one event that we do a year in collaboration with the TABB Group they're a fantastic partner and collaborator. They share our interest in the people and firms that are trying to do this the right way and it's just fun to do with them.
Berlind: So I remember back when I was a kid and I was messing around with PCs and I became pretty proficient. Suddenly you become the expert in the family and everybody asks you, "Hey, how do I make this printer work or how do I do this?" And then you become the expert in the neighborhood. People are calling you over to their house. You somehow become that person. I'm guessing that in your family, in your neighborhood, you're like the blockchain and crypto guy?
Mehne: Yeah, it's been fun. It's that's definitely happened, to be honest with you. It's happened for most of my career, being a Fintech guy by background. So you just kind of roll with it. The beauty of the internet right now though, is – and even social media – there's everything from The Simpsons to cartoon characters, depictions of what blockchain and digital assets are. There's also some really healthy classroom and use cases and and case studies about what these technologies are and what their impact could be.
Berlind: Yeah, well, Speaking of The Simpsons, actually, FOX has an animated series called Krapopolis where you get NFTs that are associated with the characters of Krapopolis, so it's all integrated. So, that's coming – [the] intersection of blockchain and animated TV series.
What do you tell your neighbors, your friends when they say what is this? What is blockchain?
Mehne: I think if you think about blockchain it's it's basically an audit trail to be able to see the history of all transactions and all participants. So it's basically, in full transparency, able to show exactly what's happened across all of these transactions, no matter who the counterparties are.
Berlind: And do they get it when you explain it to them that way?
Mehne: Sometimes, you know...
Berlind: Do they understand why you need transparency?
Mehne: People get tablets and kind of, what... how people have done transactions in the past and the manual effort of that and what the implications of that are. So if you give them examples of companies and examples of transactions, the instant payment ability anywhere in the world, the instant settlement ability, anywhere in the world, then people start to understand that.
Berlind: That yeah, I would agree. It just takes a while because there's a lot of negative headlines out there and people come to that conversation with some preconceived notions and they kind of want to reject the whole idea. You just have to spend a lot of time trying to convince them that there's actually a "there" there there's something worthwhile inside of this technology.
Mehne: And, that's a common thread we're trying to do that with federal regulators. We're doing that with state associations. We're doing it with companies.
You asked about the blockchain clubs, we're starting a new series in 2024 where we'll have a small number of companies, a small number of universities, and a small number of university blockchain clubs and we'll show the perspectives of each. What do the curriculums look like? What does adoption look like? What should these students be doing to be attractive to these companies when they hire them and build them out?
To go back to your earlier question, from my perspective, these technologies are coming. The margins and pressures on efficiencies and the transfer of value anywhere in the world. These technologies are definitely coming, so it's a matter of what are the responsible use cases and and how can we show that.
Berlind: what's your favorite use case?
Mehne: I think some of the blockchains... I think Solana is doing some really cool things. Provenance is doing some really cool things, Avalanche. So they are genuinely trying to bring this into the institutional world, and it's not just the Wild West of Bitcoin or some of these other lesser-known coins.
Berlind: Yeah. Well, Doug, Mehne. You're one of the organizers here of the Boston Institutional Digital Assets Form. It's a mouthful. It's been a great time and some great panel discussions. Thank you for organizing it. Thank you for bringing the whole community in Boston together. You know, I think you're a unique organization here in Boston.
Mehne: Thank you, David.
Berlind: So you definitely get a great set of people here together. And thanks for having me.
Mehne: Thank you, David. [I] really appreciate it and hope to see you on March 11th .
Berlind: I'll be there.