On 11th February, more than 200 students crammed into a 125-person lecture hall at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to listen to entrepreneur Jeremy Allaire speak about bitcoin.
It was standing room only as the Circle founder and CEO informed the crowd of his background, his company and his passion for the fledgling industry for nearly 90 minutes.
Although the MIT Bitcoin Club was only officially recognized by the university on 1st January, it is already one of the largest student-run cryptocurrency groups in the country.
Dan Elitzer, the club's president, was stunned by demand for the group's first event, in which nearly 300 students ultimately registered. Elitzer had initially booked a room for 60, but after selling out in a matter of hours, he and his team scrambled to find a larger venue.
Even after reserving the largest available room on campus, the club was forced to turn away dozens of disappointed students after every seat, stair and standing room area became occupied nearly 30 minutes before Allaire began his presentation:
"This is our first event, and we are blown away by the amazing response.
The idea to bring in Jeremy as our first speaker came up several weeks ago during a planning session. While we thought it might be a big ask to have him present on such short notice, it only took a five-minute conversation to get him excited to visit."
Enthusiasts vs skeptics
An informal poll of the audience revealed nearly 20 students who said they were actively working on bitcoin-related projects, and an even split between students who considered themselves enthusiasts and skeptics.
Several attendees credited Allaire with piquing their interest in the event. One computer science undergraduate said:
"I'm not sure that I believe the hype around bitcoin just yet, but Mr Allaire is a tech pioneer and has been the CEO of a successful public company. I wanted to hear his point of view and learn more."
Indeed, all attendees had a chance to learn about the broader bitcoin ecosystem as Allaire fielded a wide range of questions regarding bitcoin's regulatory environment, competitive threats and price volatility.
He also spoke at length about the potential for distributed public ledgers to spawn innovations other than currency, such as decentralized asset exchanges.
While the Circle team were characteristically tight-lipped about their product plans, Allaire did say that his company intends to derive revenues from both consumer wallet services and merchant tools, and suggested that its revenue model will be similar to that of San Francisco-based wallet provider Coinbase.
When asked how the company would differentiate from Coinbase, Circle's co-founder Sean Neville simply said, "The devil is in the details."
Josh Hawkins, a VP of marketing at Circle, said he was excited to have had the opportunity to sponsor the event. Hawkins stated that his team's investment in campus evangelism was motivated by both a need to support and educate the broader bitcoin community, and an interest in recruiting talent from top engineering schools like MIT and Harvard.
Allaire agreed. "Everyone always talks about Stanford and Silicon Valley," he said. "But there's no reason that MIT and Boston can't lead the charge for bitcoin."
They sure are off to a good start.
Ryan Galt is a blogger, entrepreneur and freelance opinion writer for CoinDesk. His opinions do not necessarily reflect CoinDesk’s. You may email him at [email protected], or follow him on twitter @twobitidiot.