Virginia Tech is about to enhance the way it teaches students about blockchain technology, thanks in large part to a $3 million contribution from block.one, Blacksburg’s billion-dollar cryptocurrency startup.
Tech’s computer science department head Cal Ribbens said the university was already interested in focusing more energy on the topic, but a partnership with an industry leader is going to allow the university to quickly hire more blockchain researchers, develop at least a couple of blockchain courses and launch some sort of certificate or minor program.
Friday’s announcement comes as the research world, Tech included, has been scrambling to keep up as blockchain technology has gone mainstream over the past few years. It’s most recognized as the driving force behind the Bitcoin digital currency, but the technology enables all sorts of distributed networks that can store and process data in new ways. Scientists around the world theorize it could prove to be a transformational piece of technology.
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Dan Larimer, a Christiansburg-based thought leader in the field and co-founder of block.one, is a Tech alum. He previously gave a gift to endow a scholarship at the university, according to Ribbens. But this time the relationship goes deeper.
“They [block.one] made it very clear that they’re eager and willing to help think about how we teach this, what kind of things happen in the classroom,” Ribbens said. “That’s a great asset to have a really active, important company like this just down the road.”
Larimer’s rise to prominence happened about as quickly as the cryptocurrency revolution. He was among the first to buy Bitcoin, back in 2009 when a coin cost 5 cents instead of the $8,000 they sell for today.
He went on to found several of his own blockchain startups that took off, including Steemit and BitShares.
The company, which is creating a sort of operating system for blockchain, has its own cryptocurrency called EOS. As of press time Friday, it was ranked the fifth largest cryptocurrency in the world, with a total value of $11 billion.
Larimer, meanwhile, was named earlier this year to Forbes’ list of “The Richest People In Cryptocurrency.” The magazine estimated his net worth somewhere between $600 and $700 million, though that’s subject to change as cryptocurrencies are notoriously volatile.
Block.one is headquartered in the Cayman Islands for regulatory reasons, but has offices around the world. Most of the software development team, led by Larimer, is in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.
“Block.one is dedicated to creating a more prosperous society by improving the integrity of business interactions, and blockchain is the key driver of this vision,” Larimer said in a Friday press release. “If we are to achieve this goal, it is important to work with a leading institution such as Virginia Tech to provide students with the tools to succeed as the technology is developed.”