Initial coin offering (ICO) is an unregulated and controversial means of crowdfunding via use of cryptocurrency, which can be a source of capital for startup companies. In an ICO a percentage of the newly issued cryptocurrency is sold to investors in exchange for legal tender or other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. The term may be analogous with ‘token sale’ or crowdsale, which refers to a method of selling participation in an economy, giving investors access to the features of a particular project starting at a later date. ICOs may sell a right of ownership or royalties to a project, in contrast to an initial public offering which sells a share in the ownership of the company itself. According to Amy Wan, a partner at Trowbridge Sidoti LLP practicing crowdfunding and syndication law, “The coin in an ICO is a symbol of ownership interest in an enterprise—a digital stock certificate, if you will. In contrast to initial public offerings (IPOs), where investors gain shares in the ownership of the company, for ICOs the investors buy coins of the company, which can appreciate in value if the business is successful.
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