Major cryptocurrency companies and foundations are partnering with educational institutions to further democratize the development of the technology and tap into new talent pools. Blockchain pioneers view it as a way of passing the torch to the next generation of innovators.
Ripple’s University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI), for example, boasts partnerships with more than 30 of the world’s leading universities, while the Stellar Development Foundation (SDF) now works directly with academic programs around the world.
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“We started looking at academic institutions seriously about a year or so ago,” said Justin Rice, the vice president of ecosystem development for SDF.
Rice said SDF now has enough staff to run such a program, which it sees as aligned with the open-source platform’s founding mission to increase equitable access to the world’s financial infrastructure.
It’s “not only in putting the end products, the digital assets, into the hands of end users, but it’s also about empowering the people who create those products,” he said. “In many ways that’s the most important layer of the whole cake that we can and should be focusing on – the builders, the creators, the innovators – because they will take these underlying networks that represent value digitally and turn them into something meaningful.”
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The mandate of increasing equitable access extends to the development of the technology itself. To that end, SDF has partnered with academic programs around the world, including Blockchain at Berkeley, the University College London’s Centre for Blockchain Technologies, The National University of Singapore’s Fintech Lab and the University of Nicosia in Cyprus. The first three place within the top seven places of CoinDesk’s new ranking of top universities for blockchain, which covers 230 schools worldwide.
The Stellar Development Foundation also provides a range of resources to students outside of those institutional partnerships, including grants and guest lectures, as well as hackathon events developed in partnerships with blockchain clubs on campus.
“We also assist in adding blockchain – and sometimes Stellar-specific – content to various curriculums,” says Rice. “A lot of it is creation of resources, some of it is providing technical assistance or providing mentorship with people in our organization, and some of it is actually creating hackathons that have rewards for successful projects.”
Such partnerships are becoming increasingly popular now as a generation of blockchain pioneers feel increasingly certain about the technology’s longevity.
“The people who are working on blockchain today are the first generation,” he says. “There’s been enough advancement, adoption, and mainstream understanding of blockchain where it feels like it’s here to stay, so let’s start thinking about the next generation.”
These partnerships help academic institutions stay up to date with leading-edge technologies.
“Having students who are trained in blockchain technology is going to inevitably lead to more tech jobs in Wyoming for our graduates,” says Dr. James Caldwell, the co-director of the University of Wyoming’s Advanced Blockchain Laboratory (WABL).
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The Lab launched in early 2020 following a $500,000 endowment from IOHK, the entity behind Cardano and the ada cryptocurrency. It was also matched by state funding. The Blockchain Lab currently supports six graduate students and a similar number of undergraduate researchers. WABL has minted 205 blocks as part of the Cardano Stake Pool.
“We have students who are doing research on the cutting edge of blockchain technology, working on projects at IOHK,” said Caldwell. “Through the center’s efforts we just got 13 mining machines, and we’re starting a mining club, and we’re hoping to be able to get the students involved in keeping those machines running properly.”
Caldwell, who has been teaching at the University of Wyoming for 23 years, says the state has long struggled to secure local tech jobs for its graduates, as most employers favor neighboring Colorado when setting up offices in the region. A slew of blockchain-friendly legislative changes, coupled with WABL’s efforts, however, are helping to establish the state as the “Crypto Capital of America.”
“It provides a point of technical expertise in blockchain – and more specifically in the Cardano blockchain – in Wyoming,” he says. “Wyoming is kind of a hard sell, but now with this legislation we’ve had more technology companies interested in moving to the state than we ever have.”
Caldwell adds that those recent successes are a direct result of both the legislative changes and partnership with the IOHK, and he believes it won’t be long before other states and institutions look to establish similar partnerships. “Oh gosh, I’m sure of it,” he says.