Chris Cummings was just 17 years old when his 43-year-old mother, Barbara, developed early onset dementia as she battled Multiple Sclerosis. Struggling to help secure affordable treatments for his mother and preserve her memories had a profound impact on Cummings’ education and career path, leading him first to law school and later to entrepreneurship, and ultimately to a 2022 United Nations World Summit Award for his company’s latest product.
“I was inspired to go to law school after I had to battle to get my mom covered by Social Security and Medicaid,” Cummings recalled. “The system automatically denied her coverage three times and I remember the elderly woman working the front desk of the Social Security office pulling me lightly aside and whispering, ‘Honey, we automatically turn down everyone. You are going to have to hire an attorney to get your mom the care she needs.’ Within two weeks of hiring an attorney, my mom’s case was approved. I decided then that I would go to law school someday.”
Cummings began his legal education at the Paul M. Hebert Law Center in the fall of 2010. During his time at LSU Law, Cummings successfully competed in many trial advocacy and moot court competitions. He and his best friend won the Robert Lee Tullis Moot Court Competition during his second year of law school, and a year later he was crowned the Chancellor’s Cup Senior Appellate Challenge Champion. He was also a member of the LSU Law ABA National Appellate Advocacy that finished in the top 16 teams nationally in 2012, and a member of the Peter James Johnson National Civil Rights Trial Advocacy team. He was an LSU Law Moot Court Board member, a Junior Graduate Editor of the Journal of Civil Law Studies, and a legal research assistant for Professor John Trahan.
“The thing I value most in life are relationships and friendships, and I have plenty from my time at LSU Law,” he said. “There is no better way to bond than being thrown into a boiler room with 200 people. I immediately fell in love with criminal law, particularly federal criminal law, and also motion and appellate work after clerking for the Federal Public Defender’s office.”
Upon graduating in 2013, Cummings clerked for the Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson (’69) as well as Judge Ralph Tureau of the Louisiana 23rd Judicial District Court and Judge Guy Holdridge (’78) of the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal, First District, Division C. After clerking, Cummings became a panelist for the Federal Public Defender’s Office, where he spent two years representing persons accused of serious felony offenses in the U.S. District Courts of the Eastern and Middle Districts of Louisiana, both at the trial and appellate level. It was during this time that Cummings’ life took a surprising turn.
“While practicing law, I had a little voice in the back of my head pulling me in this direction to help families dealing with memory loss due to my mom,” said Cummings, who also earned his undergraduate degree at LSU in 2010 with a double major in Political Science and International Relations. “I trusted my gut and listened to that little voice because I didn’t want to have any regrets, and I knew I could come back to law.”
In 2016, Cummings launched Pass It Down, a company focused on helping preserve and present the stories of their loved ones’ lives on a digital platform.
“Every family has a loved one they wish they could back and talk to again, and social media platforms were failing to capture the essence of a person’s life,” he said.
Upon launching, Cummings was quickly approached by some global companies and cultural institutions, from Coca-Cola and Porsche to top museums, who were interested in getting some help with preserving and sharing their stories. Over the last six years, Pass It Down became a leader in the field of digital storytelling as their work expanded across three continents. Since launching, Cummings’ company has been recognized repeatedly as one of the most innovative in the world by groups like the Consumer Technology Association, Daymond John, Techstars, and Established. In total, Cummings has won over $1 million in international pitch prizes and benefits, while raising over $3.5 million in venture capital. In late 2020, Pass It Down announced the launch of Iconic Moments, the first NFT marketplace for culture brands and museums. Cummings was inspired to create Iconic Moments after seeing the impact of Covid-19 on the heritage industry, in which 94% of institutions were forced to close their doors.
“These institutions were hit dramatically by COVID-19 and desperately needed to evolve to survive,” said Cummings.
Iconic Moments enables cultural brands to engage with a new generation of visitors digitally in the Metaverse while creating new revenue streams that are not dependent on foot traffic. Since announcing Iconic Moments, interest has spanned to more than 150 institutions across 13 countries. Cummings isn’t the only one who believes in the great potential of Iconic Moments completely transforming the museum and heritage industry. In February, the United Nations selected Iconic Moments as one of five global winners of the World Summit Award for innovation in Culture & Tourism. The Louisiana-based company was one of just 40 worldwide to receive a World Summit Award across all categories, and it is the only one that’s based in the U.S.
“It is obviously a great recognition of the work that our team has done. It’s acknowledgement that we’re solving a global problem for a global industry,” Cummings said. “The UN World Summit Award is proof that history and culture is important. Iconic Moments is not just preserving history, we are creating new ways for generations to experience, engage with, and understand cultural heritage.”
While his career path might not have been traditional when compared to most law school graduates, Cummings credits the experiences and education he attained at LSU Law for propelling his success as an entrepreneur in an emerging field of technology.
“Most people would assume that the greatest value of a legal education has to do with understanding contracts, IP, and other various legal factors,” he said. “While this knowledge is certainly valuable, it pales in comparison to the value of understanding how to research, how to view both sides of any position, and how to articulate complex matters in simple terms.”