As Bitcoin expands into the Durham area, students are examining the currency's impact on campus.
Currently, Duke students interested in Bitcoin technology are spearheading events to encourage others to get involved with the currency. Advocates for Bitcoin range from recent Duke alums to a Durham bakery. Senior Jeremy Welch, among its supporters, noted how valuable the technology has the potential to be.
"There is a very high underlying value with the Bitcoin system," Welch said. "I am very bullish on the technology.
Inspired by perceived lack of campus knowledge about Bitcoin, Welch decided to create a forum where students can learn about the new technology. He noted that Bitcoin has the potential to bring great change to various industries.
On April 5, a group of students led by Welch will host an open discussion about the technology.
“We want to put together a forum for people to understand what it is and what companies are doing on the policy side,” Welch said.
Originally a member of the class of 2009 before he left campus to work for a technology startup, Welch said he is confident in the possibilities Bitcoin provides—and not just for currency. He noted that the coding technology behind Bitcoin could be used for things such as notarizing contracts and other sensitive legal matters.
“The reason I bought in is because the technology is sound,” Welch said. “It is not a valuable commodity, it is a valuable technology.”
But Welch is not the only member of the Duke community branching out into the world of Bitcoin. Duke alum Fred Ehrsam, Trinity '10, founded a company that allows businesses to cut down on transaction costs.
In 2012, Ehrsam quit his job as an investment banker to start Coinbase, a de facto online Bitcoin bank that allows customers to buy and use the currency.
“In the middle of 2012, there was a distinct lack of a user friendly and trustworthy site that let you use Bitcoin, and that was the idea behind Coinbase,” Ehrsam wrote in an email Wednesday.
The company has gone on to raise a little more than $30 million in financing, Ehrsam said, and he hopes to bring more Duke students to the enterprise.
In addition, Rise, the Durham bakery that recently began accepting Bitcoin, uses Coinbase as its Bitcoin transaction processor.
Efforts on campus to raise awareness about Bitcoin are slowly gaining traction. Sophomore Farrukh Jadoon, president of Duke Hackers, said he has hosted multiple events—including taking students to a Bitcoin forum hosted by The American Underground at its Main Street campus—in the hopes of educating the student body about Bitcoin.
"As a tech geek, I like keeping an eye on trends around the community," Jadoon wrote in an email Wednesday. "Bitcoin caught my attention about a year ago."
Senior Scotty Shaw said the Bitcoin community at Duke is small, in part because of the currency’s reputation.
Recently, two major third party Bitcoin holders, Mt. Gox and Flexcoin, declared bankruptcy, each of them claiming much of their inventory of the currency had been stolen by hackers.
Welch said the security problems at those institutions has nothing to do with the security of Bitcoin itself.
“Talking about Bitcoin’s security because Mt. Gox got hacked would almost be like talking about the internet’s security because someone’s email account got hacked,” Welch said.
The fluctuating price of the currency is not an issue because the technology itself is so valuable, Welch said.
Jadoon agreed, noting that it is time for the Duke community to take notice of Bitcoin.“You can ignore it right now, but you’ll be ignorant two years from now,” Jadoon wrote in an email Wednesday.