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DBOT gone as platform rebrands, refocuses as Justly

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NEW YORK – The Delaware Board of Trade is no more.

The controversial and embattled company hadn’t been operational in more than a year, but its owner, financial technology and electric vehicle company Ideanomics, announced Friday that it has rebranded and relaunched the former penny stock trading platform as a new equity crowdfunding platform for early-growth private companies and startups.

Now named Justly Markets, the platform intends to specifically target investments in companies focused on the environmental, social and governance (ESG) space. The ESG movement is among the hottest in investment circles, as companies increasingly are held accountable by clients and consumers for their environmental and social impact. For those companies that don’t pursue an ESG focus, Justly will reportedly donate a percentage of its fees to an ESG charity, emphasizing the platform’s commitment to the idea.

While open to advisors, registered investment advisors, family offices, and angel investors, Justly is also targeted to appeal to individual retail investors with fewer dollars to invest, setting a $100 minimum. Retail investment has seen an explosion of interest during the pandemic, especially among young adults using easy-to-navigate apps like Robinhood. Companies will be able to raise about $500 million through the platform.

“Investors and founders who are concerned about the future of our planet will be able to turn to Justly to receive access to research and other pertinent information from well-respected independent third-party companies on ESG, fundraising and other related topics,” the company said in a press release announcing the new focus and name.

Aiding that transition is Ideanomic’s appointment of Fidelity veteran Paul Karrlsson-Willis as the new CEO of Justly. He helped build Fidelity’s global equity business in the United Kingdom and Fidelity Capital Markets in the United States.

The move away from the Delaware Board of Trade, or DBOT, name ends any remaining vestiges of a startup that sought to bring new energy to downtown Wilmington. It quickly became a quagmire, however, after then-New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon agreed in 2015 to lend the startup $3 million from county park maintenance endowment funds after the county council voted not to do so. The county took the DBOT trading software as collateral on the loan, a decision that finance experts questioned.

But Gordon touted the bonafides of the market’s backers, which included former Philadelphia Stock Exchange chief John Wallace and former longtime Joe Biden aide Dennis Toner, as a reason to invest in the hope of bringing high-paying financial tech, or fintech, jobs to Wilmington. DBOT was advertised as an alternative way for startups to raise necessary funding compared to pursuing traditional venture capital.

Despite its rocky origins, DBOT opened in the Hercules Building in downtown Wilmington in May 2017. Within a year it was trading millions of shares of over-the-counter stock each day from roughly 1,000 companies, including low-tier equities and international stocks like BMW and Bayer Aspirin that don’t want to meet reporting requirements necessary on larger exchanges.

DBOT was also notably an adopter of blockchain technology, a decentralized, unalterable recordkeeping system made famous by its connection to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. In 2018, it launched DBOT ATS, or alternate trading system, underpinned by the tech designed by a precursor to Ideanomics.

Although officials had touted job growth of up to 100 positions at DBOT it only ever created a handful of jobs.

In April 2020, Ideanomics, a rapidly evolving tech-focused company led by Chinese billionaire tech investor Bruno Wu, decided to close DBOT and vacate its Wilmington offices. It terminated its 15-year lease and vendor agreements to close down the outfit.

“Management re-evaluated the opportunities in the over-the-counter (OTC) equity market and determined that the Delaware Board of Trade business as structured was unlikely to achieve profitability in the short to medium term without significant additional investment,” the company told shareholders, noting that it would remain a registered broker dealer. “The company continues to develop its plan to use DBOT for sale of digital securities and brokering of commodity products subject to obtaining the required regulatory approvals.”

After months of tense negotiations, Ideanomics repaid the $3 million DBOT loan a year ago and closed its chapter in Delaware. In the end, the loan brought $900,000 to New Castle County coffers through interest payments. Meanwhile, Ideanomics share price has grown this year as investors are attracted to its new focus around renewable energy.

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