Brock Pierce is known as a technology visionary, especially in the field of cryptocurrency – Rolling Stone magazine dubbed him the “first cult leader of the cryptocurrency world” – but he prefers to be described as an entrepreneur and philanthropist. “Cryptocurrencies and blockchains and digital currency have been a substantial part of my career, but I’ve done lots of things outside of that,” says the charismatic 38-year-old.
Puerto Rico booster
A former child actor and videogame tycoon before conquering digital currency, the Minnesota native settled in Puerto Rico after starting a crypto bank there and has now turned his energy into revitalizing the hurricane-ravaged island. But make no mistake, Pierce is not a part-time second-home owner who flies in during the cold months to enjoy the tropics; he is all-in as a resident of Puerto Rico.
“I live at ground zero, on the corner of Calle del Cristo and Fortaleza and my immediate next door neighbor is the governor’s mansion,” he says. At press time, that governor is Wanda Vázquez, who took over the office after her predecessor, Ricardo Rosselló, was ousted amidst widespread peaceful public protests. “It’s rare, almost unheard of, that a head of state is forced to resign without any violence,” notes Pierce, adding that there were no serious injuries during the uprising, and nobody went to jail. “Rather extraordinary, especially when you think about past revolutionary events throughout Latin America. The Puerto Rican people are able to demonstrate their force through peaceful protests. So, it was an extraordinary thing to witness, having been on the ground and having been right in the heart of everything that happened.”
In demand around the world for speaking engagements, Pierce found that people tend to follow him wherever he goes. After Hurricane Maria hit, he moved to Puerto Rico permanently in 2017, and since then 1,500 to 2,000 people have relocated there as well. “I went there because it’s the place I thought I could have the biggest impact. We’re still in the early stages, but all big things have small beginnings.”
Creating a startup ecosystem
“Puerto Rico has a tremendous amount of engineering talent but historically it has lacked opportunity and so one of the things that we’re trying to do is create a support system – a cultivation, a nurturing, of a startup ecosystem.” He notes new tax legislation for “qualified opportunity zones,” in which people who invest capital gains for at least 10 years reap tax benefits.
The goal is to create innovative companies and jobs so that Puerto Rico can solve its challenges through entrepreneurship. “We spend a tremendous amount of time supporting those activities, me specifically because this is my background, teaching the next generation and helping them to avoid the pitfalls that are typical to learning new traits.”
Nature conservation, charitable foundation
Another area of Pierce’s focus is nature conservation and preservation, which had not previously been a part of his background. “It just feels like something important, to continue to cultivate the beauty that is Puerto Rico.”
He believes Puerto Rico is perhaps the most underappreciated part of America. “Most people don’t even know that Puerto Rico has the only tropical rain forest in the United States. Obviously, it’s an island surrounded by beaches, on the border of the Atlantic Ocean and, on the other side, the Caribbean. It’s one of those magical and beautiful enchanted islands that I would highly encourage everyone to visit at some point.”
Hurricane Maria clearly had a huge impact on the island, and there is still a long way to go as far as recovery, in issues both large and small. One area of conservation they are focusing on is trying to restore the endangered green parrot population that was decimated by the storm.
“There is a specific green parrot that lives in the El Yunque rainforest, and prior to Hurricane Maria there were 56 of the wild birds that were being protected and cultivated, and the storm killed all but two of them,” Pierce says. Other pockets of the birds were also devastated by the storm: four survived in the town of Maricao, and 75 remain in the Rio Abajo forest in the island’s central mountains. Called the Puerto Rican Amazon, it is Puerto Rico’s only remaining native parrot.
Pierce is also supporting efforts to save the coqui frog, several species of which are endangered. “The coqui is the symbol of Puerto Rico, so trying to support those types of initiatives, the rainforest overall, the coral reefs, and nature conservation is a core area of focus for Integro, which is my principal charity on the island.”
Education is another area of focus. The University of Puerto Rico lost its library in the hurricane, and Pierce made a $50,000 donation to assist in the rebuilding, and to provide students with the tools of innovation.
Technology education is another cause about which Pierce is passionate. This year, he was selected as an ambassador to Korea by the Kyungbuk Governor and the president of Kumoh National Institute of Technology to create a scholarship for students at the University of Puerto Rico College of Engineering. Pierce is also a frequent lecturer at Singularity University and has spoken at the Milken Global Conference, the Mobile World Congress, Stanford University, USC, and UCLA.
Carole Crist: Everything To Me is Politics
“Capital with a Conscience” is the motto of CLC Global Advisors, a company that advises clients on “impact” investing and philanthropy. “Capital with a Conscience means I’m sort of a translator or bridge builder for the private sector and the public sector,” says Carole Crist, Founder and CEO. As former First Lady of Florida – her ex-husband, Charlie Crist, served as Governor from 2007-2011 – she understands both sectors intimately, and believes that if investors want to have impact and solve real problems for people, the two are inextricably linked.
“The investment community, global or domestic, has a choice. Why not be conscientious about how you invest your capital for profit, choosing projects, ventures or funds that benefit society?” Carole says. “What I do is for profit, but basically philanthropy and public service for profit. That’s what impact investing by definition is. We also work with many non-profit organizations, organizing events in order to raise both awareness and funds.”
Carole Crist’s proprietary product is her connections, the network of people that she has cultivated over 30 years of building relationships in both the private and public realms. Carole states simply, “I’m a strategist.” She is very selective, identifying ventures that have impact in some way, whether through job creation, social or economic development, or philanthropy of some sort, like medical or environmental research. “It’s got to connect with me; I’ve got to be inspired.” One example is Opportunity Zones, located in underserved communities throughout the U.S. that lack capital inflow and job creation. “Investments that improve the lives of people, that’s the kind of stuff that gets me up in the morning and makes me tick, gives me motivation. So, I identify what people want, what they need, then lay out a strategic plan to accomplish their goals.”
From humble start to Florida’s First Lady
Carole grew up in Roslyn, New York, graduated Magna Cum Laude from Georgetown University with a degree in Accounting, and worked in her family’s business, Franco-American Novelty Company, a 100-year-old global wholesale business specializing in Halloween costumes. She became President of the firm in 2000, after her father’s death, and handed the reigns to her sister in 2007, after she decamped to Florida and met Charlie Crist, the state’s sitting Governor.
On-the-job political training
Newly divorced and thinking she’d never marry again, the next thing she knew, she was marrying the Governor of Florida. “I didn’t follow politics at all,” Carole says. “I mean I literally went to Georgetown Business School in Washington, DC, and never even visited the White House when it used to be open to the public,” she says with a laugh.
Over almost ten years being active in her husband’s political career, which also included a run for US Senate and being considered as a possible running mate as John McCain’s VP, Carole gained a wealth of knowledge and experience. “I was exposed to so much at such a high level, the most sophisticated minds in politics on both the Republican side and the Democratic side,” she says. She focused a lot on donors and fundraising, networking with consultants, media personalities, pollsters and strategists, and met many billionaires, including Donald Trump in his pre-politics days, with whom the Crists dined at Mar-a-Lago.
Carole was seated next to Barack Obama at his first official NGA Governor’s Dinner at the White House. “In this historic moment, the first African-American President of the United States of America, his very first official dinner as the President, I was a dinner guest sitting next to him.”
Directing a winning Congressional campaign
Carole’s astuteness came into play when she stepped in as Campaign Director for her husband’s 2016 Congressional race. His unsuccessful bid for an additional term as Governor in 2014, on top of a failed Senate run got her motivated. “Basically, I got tired of losing and I said: here’s how this is going to go down. I’m going to be running things. Charlie, are you okay with that?” He was. Carole developed a winning strategy, the “Hometown Candidate,” and handled everything in the campaign. “Every resume, every interview, plus the build out of the teams for the offices in both Washington DC and St. Petersburg, everything in that race from top to bottom all went through me, and I loved it.”
The most important education: Integrity
Though she studied at business school and steered a successful political campaign, the most important and life-changing training came from her ex-husband, Charlie. “Charlie Crist taught me: you work for the people, not the other way around,” she says. “I’ve met a lot of members of Congress, state officials and Governors, and I have never met somebody as committed to his constituents.”
In Crist’s Congressional district, they held roundtable discussions in minority neighborhoods to find out what kind of help people needed, and often it was access to capital. “For minorities, women and millennials, how are you supposed to build a business if nobody will loan you money?” Carole explains. “You need access to capital so that you can start a business, invest in your retail store, café, whatever it is, and hire some people.” This led Carole to urge Charlie to join the Financial Services Committee. “You want to believe that there’s someone that actually cares, wants to serve, wants to help; they’re going to wake up every day and say okay, your problems are my problems, how can I help solve them?”
She didn’t know any of that; Charlie taught her, and the experience proved priceless. “It was the most amazing journey ever, and I loved it, and it serves me very well today because at the end of the day, I am a political strategist. However, right now I’m applying that skill set to the private sector for people, brands, firms, ventures, charity events, initiatives, foundations, what have you. But…everything to me is politics.”
Charlie also taught Carole, who was born Jewish, about Christianity. “I learned so much about the power of service and helping others.” Life’s challenges, she realized, were really a gift, teaching empathy and compassion. “If you’re not in their shoes to know what they’re feeling, you can never really help them.”
“I know people need help; there are problems to solve, diseases to cure, jobs to create. I feel a duty, an obligation,” says Carole. “Why has God blessed me in this way, some girl from Roslyn, New York? What am I doing here, meeting with Presidents and members of royal families, speaking on panels at Davos? Are you kidding me? I feel very blessed; I don’t have a choice, it’s a duty. And that’s what CLC Global Advisors is all about.”
Brock Pierce & Carole Crist: On Rebuilding Puerto Rico
A highlight of this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach will be the Re-build Puerto Rico gala, to raise funds to benefit various non-profit organizations committed to helping the people of Puerto Rico, which sustained substantial damage during Hurricane Maria in 2017. “Puerto Rico has more artists per capita than anywhere in the United States, hence the reason for doing this at Art Basel,” says philanthropist Brock Pierce, who teamed up with Carole Crist, CEO of CLC Global Advisors, to plan the fundraiser. The event, which will take place at the iconic penthouse at the Faena Hotel, will also raise awareness of Puerto Rico in general.
“I like to say Puerto Rico has a PR problem,” Pierce quips, so making people aware of its cuisine, culture, art, opportunity for economic development and innovative job creation, as well as its incredible nature are broader missions. “It’s one of those places that most people have just kind of forgotten exists, and it’s one of the most beautiful aspects of the United States.”
Pierce, an entrepreneur and blockchain pioneer, adopted the island as his home and has become its biggest booster, helping to fund many of these causes through his non-profit Integro Founda-tion.
“I have never met someone quite so fascinating intellectually. What amazes me is his great ability to mobilize people for good, and his sincerity and authenticity as it relates to his commitment to Puerto Rico and this project is truly extraordinary,” says Crist, former Florida First Lady.
Noting the strong ties between the state of Florida and Puerto Rico, and her company’s mission of “Capital with a Conscience and improving the lives of people,” Crist feels it was a natural fit to join forces. “Brock is uniquely positioned as a global entrepreneur and philanthropist, and I felt it would be a really great project to collaborate on.”
“I look at him as a real American asset, his brain, his humanity, his breadth of knowledge,” Crist says. “I’m like holy moly: this is extraordinary; blockchain, cryptocurrency, technology, he’s a historian. The guy blows my mind, and that’s rare for me. So that’s part of the inspiration.”
He swung into action immediately after Hurricane Dorian decimated the Bahamas, organizing a WhatsApp list mobilizing all of his contacts all over the world to donate supplies, medicines, food, pet food, and for help rescuing animals, as well as items like artwork that can be sold to benefit the victims. “He’s a community builder,” Crist said from Miami, where she was on her way to a warehouse where many of these supplies had been collected.
And people responded right away. “It’s extraordinary, he’s like an activator, and he gets people inspired and they want to help,” she says. “He’s so hands on, he’ll roll up his sleeves and sweat, do whatever he can to help. I’ve never seen anybody like that. All day, every day, around the clock, 24/7.”
While Pierce’s main focus is Puerto Rico, the people in the Bahamas are suffering and need help. “That’s what he does,” Crist says.