Every "bit" counts: Using new forms of currency to level the playing field

Grateful for his College Hill experiences, Kris Brown ’89, P’22 is paying it forward for today’s Brown students and beyond—using Bitcoin.

Growing up in northern Alaska, a remote part of the world even today, Kris Brown discovered early on that opportunity is a limited resource. Now he's set out to change that.

After concentrating in applied mathematics and economics at Brown, Kris attended Boston University School of Law. Today, as a partner at Goodwin Procter, he negotiates and structures the legal aspects of corporate transactions, specializing in the life sciences, health care, and technology sectors. He gained much of his experience in the late 1990s—the early days of the internet—in New York, then sometimes called "Silicon Alley."

The next breakthrough

Kris also is an active angel investor, beginning with a seed stage stake he made in the internet communications company Skype when it was first formed in the late 1990s, and has continued to invest personally in emerging technology and life sciences companies. In 2011, when he first recognized the revolutionary nature of Blockchain* technology, he approached the founders of Blockchain Limited, an e-wallet provider that held bitcoin. He knew that their search feature, which accompanies the e-wallet and enables users to verify Blockchain transactions, was critical and could have many uses beyond electronic currency. Ultimately, Kris started purchasing bitcoin, as another way of investing in the technology.

It is not just emerging technology that interests him, but the ways in which new technologies dramatically alter access to purchasing and other opportunities.

For example, the transaction of buying a car is today completed when a paper title is transferred from the buyer to the seller. "That's a narrative we all in some ways 'randomly' decided: that a simple piece of paper would represent ownership." But, Kris asks, "what if we all simply agree to change the narrative so that the car's ownership was instead represented on the Blockchain?" That would allow someone in New York City to potentially transfer ownership to a woman in a remote area of India. Although the purchaser might never see the car, she could—in theory—lease it to an Uber driver and earn revenue to benefit her and her village.

"It would mean a true flattening of the economy, in the same way Skype was one of the first companies to use the internet to make it possible for people to communicate across continents at virtually no cost. It provides access to thoughts and ideas."

Bitcoin, for good

Kris has found additional ways to create opportunities through his Bitcoin investments. "In the early days, people were using it to buy all sorts of things, from pizza to clothes." But Kris chose to use Bitcoin as a meaningful agent for social change by supporting causes he values. In March 2018, as pro bono general counsel for DonorsChoose.org, the education crowdfunding organization, he even guided his client on aspects of the largest reported donation—$29 million—in cryptocurrency** to a single organization. In his role, Kris paced the sale of the cryptocurrency to avoid a depression in the price. The impact of the gift is staggering: it funded 35,000 classroom projects, and affected roughly one million students and teachers in nearly 17 percent of all U.S. public schools.

It’s all about trying to change things, not only for a charitable purpose, but also because the existing system is unfair...and it needs a new competitor.

Kris Brown ’89, P’22
Kris Brown sitting on a chair in NYC street

Simultaneously, he was encouraging Brown to accept cryptocurrency gifts. He found a champion in President Christina Paxson. "Having someone who would push the University to accept bitcoin is pretty telling; it shows she is interested in innovation." In March 2018, he made the first-ever gift of cryptocurrency to Brown, which he fittingly earmarked for the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship where he also volunteers to conduct workshops and counsel students—and occasionally even invests in student ventures.

Only at Brown

As a father, he is thrilled that his daughter is now a first-year student at Brown. "I'm very close with her, and I feel having this shared life experience will make us even closer."

The University will let her chart her own path "because that's what kids here do." He adds, "she is an excellent writer, but she's also really good at math and science. I'm certain that, at Brown, she will challenge herself to go into those areas where she thinks she isn't as strong." As he views it, this sets Brown apart. "At another school, she might have felt she could only go down the writing path and wouldn't risk other things." At Brown, however, "I'm pretty sure she might leave not being a writer."

His education at Brown, both socially and academically, encouraged him to tackle tough social issues, grounded by the belief that change is possible. An entrepreneur at heart, he found a way to forge a legal career that combines his personal and professional interests in innovation, philanthropy, and social justice. "Brown made me who I am today."

Now, "it's all about trying to change things, not only for a charitable purpose, but also because the existing system is unfair—with large gaps between talent and opportunity—and it needs a new competitor." For him, it is about making opportunity available to everyone, "because every human deserves it."

(January 2019)

Kris Brown is as a partner at Goodwin Procter in New York City. He negotiates and structures the legal aspects of corporate transactions, including advising on capital markets matters, mergers and acquisitions, joint venture and collaboration deals, and private equity and venture capital financings. He specializes in advising financial and corporate investors in the life sciences, health care, and technology sectors.

About the terms used in this article:

*The Blockchain is an online system in which a record of transactions involving a digital or intangible file or format (including anything from a cryptocurrency like bitcoin to an electronic medical record or home mortgage) is stored across many—sometimes millions—of computers linked in a peer-to-peer network. This results in a distributed ledger that cannot be individually altered and can be searched to confirm the validity of the transaction, thus enabling both the security and integrity of the records.

**Cryptocurrency is a digital currency that operates independently of a central bank and in which encryption techniques make it virtually impossible to counterfeit.

For more information about giving to Brown via cryptocurrency, or other structured giving opportunities, please contact the Office of Planned Giving at +1 (401) 863-9119 or Planned_Giving@brown.edu.

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