David Weild: The Collapse of the Small IPO is Undermining Entrepreneurship, Tokenization May Help Fix the Problem

Last week Crowdfund Insider attended the KoreSummit in Miami – a security token focused event. The opening presentation was delivered by David Weild, a former Vice Chairman of NASDAQ and now CEO of his own firm Weild & Co.

Weild, a staunch proponent of the JOBS Act, has long championed the benefits of entrepreneurship and the smaller initial public offering (IPO) market – a sector that has dramatically declined in recent years. He believes that misguided policy decisions have crushed the small to mid-market IPO and thus undermined access to capital and wealth creation in the US.

Today in the US, much of the innovative entrepreneurship takes place in hotbeds of creativity like Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley – to the exclusion of most of the country. Weild believes this is a shortcoming that must be addressed and the loss of small-cap IPOs have accelerated the decline in entrepreneurship.

Additionally, part of the economic impact due to this concentration of innovation is that the concept of upward mobility has been undermined. For much of the country, it is harder to get ahead. The wealthier get more wealthy while the poor and middle class struggle to make ends meet.  Opportunity and access to capital, is not being equally disseminated across the country. Now, Weild is no social democrat. As he explains:

“I do not begrudge the rich getting rich. I begrudge the people getting left behind.”

Weild is on a mission. He believes that education, access to capital, company formation, and “exitability” are all essential for upward mobility. Fostering a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem is vital.

He has advocated on behalf of the concept of creating a venture exchange: a marketplace for smaller firms to raise capital, provide liquidity, and create an exit opportunity.

Currently, Weild believes that blockchain technology and tokenization may be the best path forward to take friction out of the innovation ecosystem, lower costs, and reinvigorate entrepreneurship in the US. The technology may streamline primary issuance as well as secondary transactions.

“Instead of us having a one size fits all stock market that is really geared towards trading … and ignores the needs of the companies and intermediaries this would be one that really balances all of the interests.”

Weild believes the problem with the current market structure is that interests are out of balance. He is critical of the existing options. Weild calls OTC Markets efforts to be the US venture market “lunacy” and says we need a complete remake:

“OTC Markets is a stock held exchange. I seriously doubt that any model will work unless it is a member owned exchange.”

He believes the tick size pilot, an experiment launched by the SEC to boost liquidity for smaller cap firms, was flawed due to the participation of the exchanges as they were incentivized by their own profitability. Weild believes that small investment banks and those who make markets and commit capital must be part of the equation.

“You don’t get that optimization, that balancing of interests. Investment banks have to worry about being on the right side of the investors and the right side of the companies they serve and they have to get it right.”

NASDAQ and NYSE just care about their quarterly earnings as public firms, according to Wield. He also believes that the SEC set up the tick pilot to fail from the beginning. In fact, Weild sent a letter to SEC Chair Jay Clayton telling him just that.

Bullish on Entrepreneurs

Weild notes that jobs are created by small businesses – a statement that has been born out in multiple reports. Most innovation takes place in startups and early-stage firms as well. It is vital that policy and regulation support these types of firms – even if many of them inevitably fail.

“You gotta get that right or you don’t have a future,” says Weild.

So what about private markets? Today, there is an ocean of private money looking for great deals. As public markets have declined in relevance and viability, private money has stepped in to fill the void.

Weild believes private markets are not that efficient. He asks the question as to how many entrepreneurs do you run into that are struggling to raise money. This point is buttressed by a slide from his presentation that shows the decline in entrepreneurship that has hit fly-over country.

“They don’t know who to talk to, they can’t find it. It’s a chronic disease of US public markets … there is a have and have not world and the vast majority of the United States is have not … we are in the lowest startup rate in 40 years…”

In effect, venture capital has become a substitute for public markets.

Policymakers need to get ahead of the curve. They need to figure out how to get the heartland back to creating jobs and you cannot do it if you have to be a $500 million company before it is reasonable to take it public.

So where does tokenization fit into all of this? And is the hype getting ahead of reality?

Weild says yes, the hype always gets ahead of the story. But the technological shifts are always overestimated over the short term, or the hype phase, and underestimated in the long term. Weild draws a parallel to the rapid rise of the internet and the first market entrants that largely failed. Inevitably hugely successful companies will arise from the “primordial ooze.”

“Security tokens technologically are really interesting because they can take a lot of cost out of the system. It is not just a token, it is not just a block and general ledger, its this integrated system that includes this software layer that can do whatever, ultimately, they are programmed to do.”

Weild sees a system that is amazingly efficient where you can take out intermediaries – like a bank.

“Look at what JP Morgan just did announcing their own stablecoin.”

Sure. There are plenty of Luddites and naysayers that don’t believe in blockchain tech but in Weild’s experience, we are in the trial and error phase where we are going to work out the kinks. He would be surprised if, at some point in the future, we are not holding securities very differently.

Even DTCC is working on a blockchain project.

Weild says that a lot of the transactional costs will be stripped out of the system.

Securities on blockchain will create a level of innovation we have yet to experience in the past, says Weild. It will transform securities but there will be an interim step where traditional and digital will be interchangeable but eventually, it will all be tokenized.

Weild acknowledges there are still many issues that need to be worked through such as custody. But eventually, major Wall Street firms will be compelled to change and adapt.

Of course, the change is not going to be instantaneous. Weild sees it shifting over the next five years at best.

JUMP Coalition: Jobs Upward Mobility and Making Markets Perform

One of Weild’s newer projects is the Jump Coalition that will be a bi-partisan lobbying group/think tank. The goal is to advocate politically for creating incentives that work for most people. He mentioned both Representative Maxine Waters and former Representative Jeb Hensarling as pursuing supportive legislation in Congress. Representative Waters, now the Chair of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, is on the record supporting the JOBS Act 3.0 – an entrepreneur/small business friendly act of legislation.

Ultimately, Weild wants to see everyone on a path to a better future – not just the lucky few.

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