Blockchain club grows like tech startup


The Blockchain Society, a University of Washington tri-campus club, runs like a fast-growing tech startup.

Since forming last spring at the University of Washington Bothell, the Blockchain Society has:

  • expanded to include the Seattle and Tacoma campuses and now has about 700 members with 50 club officers; 
  • connected 15 to 20 students to internships and jobs; 
  • taken an office in downtown Seattle in a workspace for tech startups; 
  • set up its own nonprofit to handle financial contributions from sponsors; 
  • partnered with clubs at colleges across the world to form the Block Venture Coalition, including Carnegie-Mellon, Harvard, MIT and Wharton; and 
  • organized the Blockchain Exposition, involving hundreds of industry professionals, academics and students on Oct. 13 in Kane Hall on the University campus in Seattle.    

Zack Nelson“It’s kind of crazy to think that six months ago the tri-campus club didn’t even exist,” said Zack Nelson, president and co-founder, left.  

One of the Blockchain Society’s goals is to connect with professionals and universities to bring more opportunities to UW students. Officers have represented the UW at conferences, hackathons, workshops and networking events. They have traveled to California, New York, Germany, Korea and the Philippines, with more invitations pending. They are being contacted by governments, small companies and big businesses (Amazon, Microsoft and T-Mobile), some of whom have sponsored their global outreach. 

“Blockchain is taking technology by storm, and we are at the forefront,” said Nelson, a junior majoring in Media & Communications Studies. “Our club is known for being innovative for the way we are putting ourselves out there and sharing what we know.” 

Blockchain is a secure digital record-keeping technology that increases transparency in the organization or service using it. It is gaining popularity in a number of  fields as a way to control online information and manage financial transactions over the internet. 

There’s a lot of development around this technology that has the potential to give people back their privacy and change how they operate on a daily basis, said Brice Ward, a Blockchain Society officer who works at UW Tacoma.

“The Blockchain Society gives students on our campus one of the best ways to enter this emerging space,” Ward said. “The Blockchain Society can speed up the learning process by being a direct place to go to learn about and ask questions on Blockchain and its tech.”

The technology has the potential to make decentralized information sharing and networking available to everybody, said Akshay Chalana, a senior majoring in Computer Science and Mathematics on the Seattle campus where Chalana is the club president. 

“This is why so many students from a wide variety of disciplines want to build awareness, skills and projects in the blockchain space,” Chalana said. 

Sharel Satran“That’s why it grew so fast. We have been able to pool all these different talents and abilities and passions,” said Sharel Satran, Blockchain Society vice president, a junior majoring in Management Information Systems at UW Bothell, left.

The Oct. 13 expo promotes education and access through fast-paced talks, panels and workshops. It aims to connect students with blockchain professionals. It’s also an opportunity for startups to find motivated interns and employees. The cost to attend ranges from $5 to $99, but the club is offering a 100-percent discount when using the code UWFREE. “We want this expo to be accessible to all,” said Nelson. 

One of the speakers is UW Bothell alumnus Kory Hoang, CEO of Stably, a startup developing tokens backed by U.S. dollars. The expo also received attention in blockchain and cryptocurrency websites.

Expo posterThe expo also is part of the first Seattle Blockchain Week, a series of events taking place Oct. 11-18 with multiple collaborators. Later in the year, the Blockchain Society also is planning a hackathon with Amazon. 

The club has benefited from having UW Bothell School of Business Dean Sandeep Krishnamurthy as its adviser, said Nelson. “He’s connected us with quite a few businesses,” he said, “and he’ll help us if we need to get things done.”  

The Blockchain Society’s rapid rise is the result of hard-working students who regard it professionally and use skills learned in the classroom, Nelson said.   

“Our growth and visibility didn’t happen because we got lucky,” Nelson said. “We put in a lot of time and effort, which shows in our results. We could hire out a lot of the work, but it’s important to us that everything we do is designed and produced by students.” 

“That’s a pride point for us.”

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