Nearly three years after Estonia introduced its “e-residency” program, becoming the first country on Earth to allow foreigners to become “digital citizens,” the tiny Baltic republic is considering another proposal that would further cement its reputation as a digital pioneer: Becoming the first country to launch its own Initial Coin Offering.
In a Medium post published Tuesday, Kaspar Korjus, managing director of Estonia’s e-residency program, explained how such a virtual token – which he has tentatively named Estcoin – would function as a new type of investment allowing investors a “pure play” investment in its development. In this case, the money raised from the IPO would be administered by a public-private trust, and used to improve the country’s already formidable digital infrastructure.
Depending on how quickly the country follows through with this proposal (assuming they do pursue it) Estonia would become the first country to publicly launch a digital currency. The Chinese are developing a prototype called “ChinaCoin,” or “DigitalRMB,” but central-bank authorities say it could be another 10 years before it’s finished and launched.
As Korjus explains, Estonia would have “a clear advantage” in launching a digital token because of its “advanced digital infrastructure” and its e-residency program.
“No other country has come close to developing both the technology and the legal frameworks that would enable them to introduce and securely manage tradable crypto assets globally.”
Korjus said the idea was workshopped with input from Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin. Buterin, Korjus says, envisions the estcoin as a new way to directly invest in a country’s future, rather than buying stocks, bonds or businesses.
“Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin has a keen interest in Estonia's development as a digital nation and has provided valuable feedback for the estcoin proposal.
He believes estcoins could be used to incentivise investors to support the success of a country in a way that is not currently possible through existing means of raising international finance.
‘An ICO within the e-Residency ecosystem would create a strong incentive alignment between e-residents and this fund, and beyond the economic aspect makes the e-residents feel like more of a community since there are more things they can do together,’ says Buterin.”
The coins would give investors “a bigger stake in the future of our country,” Korjust said, something that he hopes would help Estonia crowdsource ideas to improve its digital infrastructure.
“We already know that many people become e-residents simply because they are fans of our country, our technology and our ideas, and being an e-resident enables them to show their support.
A government-supported ICO would give more people a bigger stake in the future of our country and provide not just investment, but also more expertise and ideas to help us grow exponentially.”
Aside from being purely an investment, the coins, if issued on top of a blockchain, could be used in smart contracts, or otherwise as a transfer of value. Meanwhile, the money raised in the offering would be managed by a public-private partnership tasked with helping to build a “new digital nation.”
“The funds raised through Estcoins could be managed through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) and only used as described in the agreement to actually help build the new digital nation. This would enable Estonia to invest in new technologies and innovations for the public sector, from smart contracts to Artificial Intelligence, as well as make it technically scalable to benefit more people around the world. Estonia would then serve a model for how societies of the future can be served in the digital era.
In addition, a large proportion of the funds could be used as a community-run VC fund on behalf of investors. The money could then be used to support Estonian companies, including those established by other e-residents.”
Right now, Estcoin is still just an idea. The next step would be fleshing out the project in greater detail with a White Paper, which means the ICO, if it happens, could still be a few months away. But it’s difficult to imagine an argument for not pursuing it. Even if the coins tank on the secondary market, Estonia will be left with a giant pile of crypto-capital to spend. ICOs have already raised $1.3 billion since the beginning of the year, and analysts at Pitchbook believe that the total for 2017 will be somewhere around $1.7 billion. Earlier this month, a company called Protocol Labs raised nearly $250 million in an exclusive “presale” followed by a public ICO for its Filecoin project – all without a viable product.
Surely, an ICO with a country behind it could make an equally attractive pitch.