The spring season is rapidly approaching which, for many U.S. college basketball enthusiasts, also signals the beginning of “March Madness.” But this year, there will be another tournament on campuses across North America: Blockchain Madness will commence this March 15th. Hosted by the Blockchain Education Network (BEN), formerly known as the College Cryptocurrency Network, three schools in the U.S. and three in Canada will compete against each other in a spirited blockchain event.
As a global ecosystem of students and young professionals, BEN is the catalyst behind a grassroots movement that supports blockchain education through campus events, hackathons, and other activities. It also provides educational resources and support for students seeking to start a new educational chapter at their school or campus.
In an interview with BTCMANAGER, Nicholas Abouzeid, Operations Director and Officer with BEN notes that BEN’s recent rebrand reflects a renewed effort to attract a broader scope of student interest. The goal he says is to cast a wider net, capturing the attention of kids in high school, colleges and universities, as well as dropouts who are working on startups and recent college grads who are seeing greater involvement in the high-stakes blockchain movement.
One of BEN’s recent featured events was its month-long hackathon last October. Teams from around the world, all college or high-school students, competed for prizes. The first prize was a week-long trip for the winners to the beautiful Mediterranean island of Ibiza.
The first-place team was comprised of two computer science students: Connor Fromknecht, a Masters student at MIT, and Jinglan Wang, a senior at Wellesley College. They were the hackers behind the winning innovation known as OZCoin, a fungible cryptocurrency that uses ring signatures to enhance three properties of prevailing cryptocurrencies — privacy, amount confidentiality, and transaction uniformity.
After the contest, Fromknecht and Wang praised the hackathon in a statement for being extremely well structured — complete with milestones that kept them on track and prizes that motivated them throughout the month-long stretch. They noted that the length of the event enabled them to develop their ideas much more thoroughly than via a traditional hackathon. “The Slack channels were particularly useful for getting help, advice, and making connections to experts and peers,” they said.
The runners up, business partners Steven Masley and Dakota Baber, presented an innovative solution called CryptID for organizations struggling to manage their ID systems.
Says Abouzeid, “They discovered a great way for organizations to place all of their IDs on the blockchain so that they can be publicly validated, mitigating the risk of imposters or nefarious people attempting to join their organization using fake IDs. We found them to be a great contributor to the competition.”
BEN’s next event, Blockchain Madness, will commence this week. It is being sponsored by Purse.io and ChangeTip with the first place prize being 1BTC for the winning team along with six Ledger wallets.
The six teams feature elite students from University of California-Berkeley, New York University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Toronto, Queen’s University and Wilfrid Laurier University.
“We’re really excited here at BEN to host this head-to-head, Jeopardy-style competition over Google Hangouts. It will be interesting to see who knows the most about bitcoin and blockchain among the contestants,” says Abouzeid.
Abouzeid points out that they are currently hosting a trivia contest as a ramp up to Blockchain Madness via BEN’s Twitter account. “People have been jumping in and suggesting questions. We are offering a small BTC reward for those who get the correct answer. It’s a fun way to really increase hype and get everyone interested.”
Abouzeid’s Journey to BEN
Currently, a freshman at Vassar College, Abouzeid was lucky enough to meet an alum from his school, who worked at Netki. “He ended up connecting me with some people at a conference I was attending, including Patrick Cines, who is currently a junior at Penn State University. When I met with him last summer, Patrick tells me, ‘because you seem to like bitcoin, let me invite you to our Slack.’ I was a senior in high school at the time and enjoyed chatting with everyone on this BEN forum. Then during the summer, I attended a conference in Los Angeles that was being sponsored by BEN called Keynote 2015. It was there where I met the BEN team. Later that year, when Patrick stepped down to start a company, he asked me to consider stepping into a leadership role.”
Abouzeid says that it’s exciting being a part of an effort to fuel the next generation of blockchain innovation.
BEN is sort of like a big think tank for students attempting something that may be new to them but that other students across the country may have tried. It’s a cool way for more experienced students to reach out and help those that are just getting into the space.
He notes that a large part of BEN’s work involves assisting the student clubs in getting approval from their college or university. “Universities are sometime hesitant to approve a bitcoin club, especially with Silk Road and all of the bad press that happened in the past. We explain to them how blockchain is being used for some cool stuff in the tech space and lots of investment. Venture capital money is being poured into it. Then they usually warm up and become more receptive.”
Abouzeid believes that the greatest thing anyone can do for BEN and the broader blockchain cause is to take time out of their day to sit down with people to explain it in a way that doesn’t come off as flippant.
People sitting down and having conversations — that’s the way we all grow. It has been really fun to be a part of that here at BEN.