Blockchain, perhaps the most exciting and innovative new technology to emerge in recent years, is gradually permeating into the worlds of business and finance and, at hackathons around the world, participants are often found wondering how they can make use of blockchains.
Earlier this month, France’s Edhec organized the first business school hackathon at VivaTech, the major innovation and start-up event held each year in Paris. Amongst headline speakers including Canada’s president Justin Trudeau and Alibaba’s chief executive Jack Ma, hackathon participants raced to “design digital solutions to help students make the best career choices.”
Alibaba’s Jack Ma delivers a speech to participants during the fourth VivaTech show at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on May 16, 2019 in Paris, France. VivaTech brings together 9,000 startups with top investors and companies to grow businesses and all players in digital transformation who are shaping the future of the internet.
The winning team, made up of two Edhec students, a data scientist and a marketer, and who walked away with a $5,500 prize, created a website called Career Explorer in which students could look for their ideal job and see the career paths that other students have taken to reach a particular job or company.
Edhec is meanwhile in the process of putting its students’ qualifications and transcripts on the blockchain, expected to be ready for use next year, in order to maintain an immutable and enduring record of student’s achievements.
“Blockchain is one of those technologies that seems like its everywhere at the moment,” said one hackathon participant. “The most daunting thing about is that we don’t know exactly how it will be used in the future and that can come across in our [computer science] classes.”
One Edhec professor, Dominic O’Kane, who teaches finance at the business school, grapples with this in his teaching.
“It’s all very early days still for the world of blockchain and the popular blockchains like the ethereum network are still evolving,” said O’Kane. “Ethereum’s change from proof of work to proof of stake, for example, will make a big difference and will likely improve scalability.
“Many groups outside of finance are thinking about blockchain. Legal departments, for example, are very interested in smart contracts.”
For 32 hours around 10 teams made up of 60 developers, designers and marketers raced to find a creative and technological way to help students make the best career choices. EDHEC
Some recent blockchain-related headlines demonstrate its versatility. A shipping platform using blockchain, TradeLens, developed by computing giant IBM and shipping group Maersk, has recruited two major marine cargo carriers this week, while Facebook’s planned new currency may be based on a blockchain.
“One of the biggest questions around blockchain and cryptocurrencies is whether they can actually do everything that’s promised,” said O’Kane. “Technology often gets ahead of itself in building things and people working on building blockchain-based technology some times do not understand the needs of the industry.”
Despite concerns around the future of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, major finance and tech firms are pouring money into startups building blockchain technology. Data out earlier this year, compiled by PitchBook for Reuters, showed venture capital investments in crypto and blockchain startups that included funds from corporates have raced to $850 million so far this year.
“There’s a lot of money being invested in blockchains by companies before they’re even fully functional,” said O’Kane. “For example, if you’re going to put a futures contract on the ethereum blockchain, you need to know the contract will still be functional when it’s time to settle.”
One of the biggest blockchain-related deals is a $20 million investment involving the London Stock Exchange and Banco Santander in a London startup whose platform can be used to issue debt on blockchain, while Maersk’s TradeLens is designed to boost efficiency and limit the enormous paper trail left by the global container shipping industry.
“Cost cutting is the strongest reason for a move to the blockchain right now but we’re still years away in my view from any firm uses,” added O’Kane. “Within five or ten years we’ll have a better idea of whether blockchain is around for the future.”
The winning team, made up of two Edhec students, a data scientist and a marketer, walked away with a $5,500 prize.
“Tech is really reshaping everything,” said Emmanuel Métais, dean of Edhec Business School. “The hackathon perfectly illustrates our innovative educational model, which focuses on encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset, learning-by-doing and the use of appropriate digital solutions, always in a manner consistent with the human aspects.”