At MIT, Gensler ‘read more white papers’ than anyone: Former teaching assistant

At MIT Sloan, one former student and teaching assistant said Gensler had a reputation as a tough grader who did his homework

article-image

Midjourney modified by Blockworks

share

Now-SEC Chair Gary Gensler, from a “social perspective,” came across as an MIT Sloan professor that was “super friendly, super nice, super approachable,” according to a former student.

But from a “business perspective,” it quickly became clear that “this guy is serious,” said that former student, once tapped to serve as one of Gensler’s teaching assistants.

Kenny Li — who graduated from MIT Sloan with an MBA and co-founded the Manta Network on Polkadot — told Blockworks that Gensler was a tough teacher, a harsh grader and someone who generally knew his stuff. 

Kenny Li, Gary Gensler's former teaching assistant
Kenny Li, Gary Gensler’s former teaching assistant | Photo provided by Kenny Li

Li’s generally positive recollection of Gensler flies contrary to scores of dabblers and professionals alike in all things digital assets. A number of industry participants, perhaps now  approaching something close to consensus, have derided Gensler and the SEC for the US securities regulator’s scrutiny of wide swaths of the sector. 

Everyone from Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong to top officials at lobbyist Blockchain Association have weighed in on the SEC’s actions with oscillating shade. The regulator in recent weeks has levied lawsuits against Binance and Coinbase, and officials have also fired a fresh round of warning shots at other crypto-linked entities. 

They’ve pointed to Gensler’s purportedly shifting tone about what constitutes a crypto security — and whether it’s even possible, at present, to set up an exchange that meets the regulatory prerequisites to freely facilitate the exchange of tokens. 

Li graduated from MIT Sloan in 2018. Given the pace of crypto developments since, that may as well have been a lifetime ago, at least in digital asset terms. 

Looking back, what sticks out now, he said, is the deep rooted work Gensler put in to explain markedly complex blockchain topics to students who may have not known much about them. The now-SEC chair “read more white papers than anyone I’ve ever met,” Li said.

“One of the classes…he started diving into the technical details of how proof-of-work actually works, how mining actually works, all this stuff,” Li said. “It was a blend of thinking and [considering] it all from a holistic industry perspective of, ‘What actually is the blockchain, and why is it defined as a blockchain?’ That is something that, honestly, most people in the space still probably don’t even know how proof-of-work really works.” 

Loading Tweet..

Gensler worked with Li on a paper charting the history of cryptocurrencies, which Li said Gensler sent to Binance CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao to read. 

“I remember the first draft of the Binance paper came back with so many marks, so many comments and everything, and I was just like, ‘Wow, out of all the classes I’ve taken, I’ve never seen a professor go into this much detail with edits and suggestions and thoughts,’” he said. 

Having gotten his start casually mining bitcoin (BTC) years before he officially broke into crypto with Manta, Li said he’s come a long way since those graduate school classes in terms of his own understanding — and his own two cents of where regulations does, and should, factor in. 

Where is crypto headed?

The SEC’s recent enforcement actions against Binance and Coinbase are really representative of a “larger question,” Li said, a question that’s “not just about the SEC,” but rather “where is this industry really headed?”

He rattled off a number of problematic trends, including the continued prevalence of rug pulls and related scams on DeFi protocols. Li said, “they’re the ones that take precedence,” even though such bad actors are “not representative of all of the things that are happening on the development side.” 

Polychain led a $1.1 million seed round for the Manta Network in 2021, alongside participation from several other investors, including the now-defunct Three Arrows Capital and Alameda Research. The privacy-oriented Manta Network, which incorporated a decentralized exchange into its business plans, went on to rustle up another $5.5 million in an ensuing raise.

At MIT Sloan, which houses MIT’s graduate programs in business and management-related fields, Gensler worked as a senior adviser to the MIT Media Lab Digital Currency Initiative, in addition to serving as a professor for several cryptocurrency classes. 

Lessons learned from Li’s time looking over papers and helping Gensler with mounds of coursework as a teaching assistant often remain front of mind in his professional dealings with building out the Manta Network today, he said. 

“When you’re in the crypto space, it’s really interesting, because you feel like you’re going a million miles an hour, regardless of what the market conditions are…it must be hard to regulate,” he said.


Don’t miss the next big story – join our free daily newsletter.

Tags

Upcoming Events

Hilton Metropole | 225 Edgware Rd, London

Mon - Wed, March 18 - 20, 2024

Crypto’s premier institutional conference returns to London in March 2024. The DAS: London Experience: Attend expert-led panel discussions and fireside chats Hear the latest developments regarding the crypto and digital asset regulatory environment directly from policymakers and experts.

Salt Lake City, UT

WED - FRI, OCTOBER 9 - 11, 2024

Pack your bags, anon — we’re heading west! Join us in the beautiful Salt Lake City for the third installment of Permissionless. Come for the alpha, stay for the fresh air. Permissionless III promises unforgettable panels, killer networking opportunities, and mountains […]

recent research

Research report - cover graphics (1).jpg

Research

In this report, we dive into crypto private market data to gather insights on where the future of the industry is headed. Despite a notable downturn in private raises, capital continues to infuse promising projects that aim to transform payments, banking, consumer experiences, community, and more, with 2023 being the fourth-largest year for crypto venture capital.

article-image

BUZZ holds shares of Coinbase, Robinhood and MicroStrategy

article-image

Opinion: Even though I didn’t pay for my “Diamond Hands” burger with BTC, don’t let that fool you into thinking that crypto’s development is futile

article-image

The results mark “a major positive inflection point,” one analyst says, as the exchange carries net income momentum into a crypto rally

article-image

While the slate of 10 US spot bitcoin funds have tallied $4.6 billion of net inflows thus far, half of the field is lagging the leaders

article-image

Trading volumes totalled $154 billion in Q4, including $125 billion in institutional volume

article-image

DeFi on Bitcoin is all the rage right now and Stacks is positioned to benefit