At its most basic level, a “blockchain” serves as an unhackable, irreversible repository of transactions. Likely to be one of the most influential and revolutionary developments of the century, blockchain technology has the potential to transform the way transactions and exchanges occur in many different industries and sectors.
Today, we are witnessing the early applications of this limitless technology: those engaged in cryptocurrency exchange rely upon a blockchain to document and store each transaction that occurs. It won’t be long, however, before many other industries begin to take advantage of the futuristic tracking capabilities of the blockchain: transportation, healthcare, supply chain management, and agriculture are just a few examples. And with the excitement surrounding the potential of blockchain technology continuing to build around the world, Willamette University Office of Alumni Engagement and Willamette MBA hosted an event to allow Willamette community members get in on the conversation.
On November 7, Willamette MBA alumni Neil Bergquist (CLA ‘09, MBA‘10) and Nathan Love (CLA ‘05, MBA ‘06) returned to their alma mater to speak to the Willamette community about the various use cases of a blockchain. Over 200 Willamette community members attended the sold-out event, “Blockchain: The Revolution Extends Beyond Cryptocurrency.” Bergquist is co-Founder and CEO of CoinMe, a financial advisory firm that services cryptocurrency users, and Love serves as his Head of Crypto Advisory Services.
The evening in Willamette University’s Cat Cavern began with a networking session that gave attendees the opportunity to speak with experts and insiders in the world of blockchain. The formal portion of the event was then kicked off by Bergquist, who gave an illuminating presentation about the most common use case of blockchain technology, cryptocurrency. Compared to a centralized form of money, such as the US Dollar, cryptocurrency offers greater security and sustainability, he explained.
After the audience was primed with this information, several panelists joined Bergquist for a deeper dive into the complexities and unknowns of blockchain technology. Panelists included: J.R. Willett, the inventor of the Initial Coin Offering (ICO); Jameson Watts, Willamette MBA Assistant Professor of Marketing; Robert Walker, Willamette MBA Associate Professor of Quantitative Methods; Don Negri, Willamette CLA Professor of Economics; and Jason Gershenson (JD '11), Attorney at White Summers Caffee & James (New York).
Moderated by Love, each panelist shared their experience and engagement with blockchain technology as well as their opinions and anticipations regarding its potential, both in the realm of cryptocurrency and in broader use cases. Each of these topics served as a new platform for debate amongst the panelists as they speculated what the future of blockchain holds.
Supporters of this emerging technology, including Bergquist, Watts, and Willett, described the most important features of a blockchain from their perspective: it can serve as a decentralized repository of information and a safe store of value in which there is a guarantee of complete transparency. They explained how blockchain technology can be useful in any situation where there is a combination of trust between parties and high transaction costs, making the list of potential use cases essentially endless.
Negri expressed significant skepticism as he addressed each of these questions in turn. With his background in economics, Professor Negri explained that cryptocurrency should be viewed as it is currently treated: as an asset rather than a means of exchange. He then described the flaws he sees with blockchain technology more broadly, including its irreversibility in the case of a mistaken transaction and its limited supply.
Panelists were also asked to describe how they feel this disruptive innovation may impact future Willamette graduates as they enter the workforce. The objective view presented by Walker was that blockchain technology has the potential to increase the speed of everything. Gershenson, who served alongside Walker as the neutral members of the panel, added that the emergence of blockchain technology in various industries is likely to immediately affect those working in law as well as in the software industry, explaining the cross-industrial and cross-sectoral engagements of folks in both of these professions.
After hearing from the panel, audience members were invited to ask questions and were also welcomed to engage in additional conversations with the panelists following the event. A thought-provoking and insightful evening for all in attendance, the CoinMe founders and panelists left the Willamette community with food for thought regarding the future of blockchain technology.
Only at Willamette MBA, do students get this type of early exposure to such advanced concepts. And at Atkinson, the conversations on this topic will only continue as they become integrated with classroom lectures and discussions. Debra Ringold, Dean at the time of Bergquist’s graduation and current Atkinson faculty member, weighed in on the significance of this event for the entire Willamette community:
“I am very proud of these talented, articulate graduates. Both demonstrate the thoughtful risk-taking we encourage at the Willamette MBA. They are forward-thinking and their work is actually changing the world for the better. In addition to all that -- they are really nice people.”
To watch the event: