Imperial College London and Entrepreneur First (EF), a pre-seed investment programme, have announced a new partnership focused on bringing bitcoin technology to students.
Under the agreement, the institutions will support student innovation in the field of cryptocurrency, including bitcoin. The programme will be available to students from a range of departments, including mathematics, computing, engineering and business.
Where appropriate, students will be encouraged to pursue bitcoin-related ideas as credit-bearing elements of their degree courses. For example, students can apply to carry out bitcoin projects as group projects or individual projects, both of which are compulsory elements of many degree courses.
Bitcoin Prize Fund
In order to motivate students and support the initiative, Entrepreneur First has created the Imperial/EF Bitcoin Prize Fund, which will provide cash awards of up to £3,000 to the best bitcoin-related projects. It will also offer additional funds to purchase equipment used in the projects. Grants of up to £500 are available, along with mentoring sessions and other forms of support.
EF said it is already funding one Imperial alumnus working on a bitcoin startup that came out of his studies and the partnership should allow it to fund even more.
"Stewart Douglas, an Imperial computing graduate, and Rory Grieg, who dropped out of Goldman Sachs to join EF, are building a bitcoin lending platform that allows holders of bitcoin to earn a return on their holdings. They started work on [TradeMore] late this summer and are currently pre-public launch," Matt Clifford, co-founder of EF, told CoinDesk.
The newly formed Imperial Bitcoin Forum, comprised of a cross-departmental group of researchers, will work alongside EF to provide mentoring and education to students engaged in bitcoin-related projects.
The forum formally launches today, at an event that will include prominent members of the bitcoin community. James Smith, CEO of Elliptic, and Iain Stewart, the brains behind the 'proof of burn' concept, will address the event.
Bullish on the block chain
EF said it is excited and bullish both on block chain technology and the college's decision to become a key part of the UK technology ecosystem.
"We're bullish on the block chain because – whatever the fate of bitcoin-as-currency – we think it has the capacity to transform vast swathes of activity that today are insecure, inefficient or expensive," EF said in a blog post.
EF said it is bullish about Imperial too, because it is a world-leading university open to innovation and partnerships.
“Our mission at EF is to support Europe’s most talented founders to build disruptive technology. We’re bullish on the potential of the block chain to transform whole industries, so partnering with one of the world’s leading universities to encourage more innovation in this area is hugely exciting for us."
Clifford told CoinDesk that, while EF is very excited about bitcoin and other block chain applications from a commercial perspective, it is also interested in people who find bitcoin fascinating from a technical point of view. Clifford explained that he was originally inspired by the MIT Bitcoin Project.
"I'm an MIT alumnus, so when I saw MIT launch their bitcoin project earlier this year, I was very keen to try to encourage a similar trend in the UK," Clifford said.
William Knottenbelt and Rob Learney, co-convenors of the Imperial Bitcoin Forum argued bitcoin has already evolved from a niche "cyberlibertarian" hobby into a powerful peer-to-peer platform that could revolutionise the way financial services and contracts are delivered around the globe.
"Imperial and EF are uniquely placed to bring together the multidisciplinary expertise required to deliver innovation in this emerging area,” Knottenbelt and Learney said in a statement.
Learney told CoinDesk the forum was started as a result of a year-long partnership and co-supervision of student projects into bitcoin. Learney and Knottenbelt quickly realised the technology behind bitcoin was "fascinating and important" from an academic perspective, but it had numerous disruptive commercial applications.
"We reached out across the university to find out if there was interest in other departments and were overwhelmed by the positive response. On the back of this, we have brought together professors, academics, researchers and teaching fellows in the departments of Mathematics, Electrical & Electronic Engineering, Computing and the Business School."
He said the short-term ambition of the forum is to become the focal point for multidisciplinary activities related to bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general.
Image courtesy of Ivica Drusany via Shutterstock.