Many companies dream of having an initial public offering. This is when a company goes from being privately held to being listed publicly on a stock exchange.

In the age of cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, ICOs are becoming more popular.

ICO stands for initial coin offering. Instead of a company issuing shares on a stock exchange, they issue in cryptocurrency. Many of the companies that have had ICOs are names you probably haven’t heard of, such as Augur, Suretly and INS. While each ICO creates a new cryptocurrency, and thus a new monetary market, they are typically based on pre-existing cryptocurrency software such as Bitcoin or Ethereum.

What these companies are trying to do is raise money by selling a new cryptocurrency. The hope of investors is that the value of these cryptocurrencies will increase relative to the dollar. Just like stocks on the stock market, some of these cryptocurrencies have been winners, others have been losers. According to ICO WatchList, the ICO of Qtum has returned 5,740 percent since it was initially offered in March of 2017. Playkey.io however has lost over 83 percent of its value since Nov. 30, 2017.

When it comes down to it, IPOs and ICOs are very similar. Both are creating a new market for stores of value. With IPOs, we call them shares. With ICOs, we call them coins. However, there is a big difference. Stock markets are heavily regulated. It is often an expensive and long process to issue company shares in an IPO. After shares are issued, investors have certain rights, such as voting for a board of directors or to receive dividends. Leadership of a publicly traded company has spelled out legal responsibilities and duties to its shareholders. Coin offerings however, have pretty much no regulation.

Take the example of the Vietnamese company, Modern Tech. As TechCrunch reported in April, this company raised $660 million in an ICO for Pincoin. After the ICO was completed and the seven founders had the money in the bank, they disappeared. When investors showed up to their physical office to demand answers, the offices were empty. Exit scams, as they are called, are happening. It is hard to tell how many companies offering cryptocurrencies are real or not. Even those based in the United States are not regulated by the Security and Exchange Commission like publicly traded companies.

So are ICOs just for obscure, possibly non-existent companies? No, there are actually several well known names working on ICOs. Perhaps one of the more developed ideas is Kodak’s KODAKCoin concept. Kodak is creating a new platform called KODAKOne that will help photographers manage rights to their images. The currency for this platform is KODAKCoin. Photographers will earn KODAKCoins when their images are purchased. They then can use the cryptocurrency to buy cameras, software, airfare and "other products and services."

Whether you trust cryptocurrencies or not, they are having an impact on investing and how companies are run. It will be interesting to see if any new major companies are able to grow out of ICOs or if well established companies like Kodak can reinvent themselves through ICOs. In any case, it is an exciting show to watch.

Brian Boyer is the managing partner of Web Pyro (http://?www.webpyro.com) located in Wooster.