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LAWRENCE — Students needn’t attend an Ivy League university or work along the coasts to be successful in the blockchain startup ecosystem, said Rhett Phillips.
But they do need hands-on experience in the budding tech space, he continued, encouraging founders and innovators to consider KU students for initiatives tied to cryptocurrency and other blockchain offshoots.
“Our primary goal [at the Kansas University Blockchain Institute] is to get students working on projects that could eventually turn into startups or translate into students getting full-time jobs in the startup space,” said Phillips, former president of the KU Blockchain Institute, now a senior studying mechanical engineering.
Since the student-run organization’s founding in 2018, the KU Blockchain Institute has progressed tremendously in both membership and influence, said Phillips, who joined the group as a freshman.
“Over the past year and a half, we’ve focused on growing membership and creating an environment where students can come to learn about blockchain. I was really wanting to create a close-knit group that could really collaborate and work together,” he said, noting that their membership fluctuates between 30 to 50 members.
Click here to read about how the KU Blockchain Institute formed.
Earlier this semester, the group launched the KU Blockchain Research Initiative — a program that provides students with blockchain learning opportunities, student and faculty mentorship, technical help, a platform to showcase their work and even funding if needed. It is through the research initiative that students can experience hands-on work, Phillips added.
“With the research initiative, we try to allow students to select something they’re interested in,” Phillips continued. “For example, if they’re really interested in finance, giving them a finance project would enable them to possibly work in [decentralized finance] projects or cryptocurrencies. … We’ve got a mix of projects that are currently in motion and then some in ideation stages.”
Click here for a background in blockchain and the definitions of basic cryptocurrency terminology.
As a fundraiser for the initiative, the students created a series of collectable KU Blockchain Institute NFTs to sell on OpenSea.
“That was something all student-led,” Phillips said. “We created all the ITs, did all the design work. We led a workshop with the students on how to create an NFT, how to put it on the blockchain and how to open up a hot wallet. It was a really good experience for students to see that whole process, and we ended up raising about $1,000 in 72 hours.”
Tapping into the KU alumni network, the group has played host to KU alumni who have since launched their own blockchain-related businesses, Phillips said. Alumni speakers have included: David Khalif, co-founder and head of operations at Viridi Funds, and Justin Schreiner, the co-founder of Clear Contracts.
“Speaking with our alumni has been really great because, A) they are important connections for our students; and B) it shows them there is a way, if you have ambition and drive, to get into this space, even from the heart of America in Kansas,” he shared.
To stay current on updates from the KU Blockchain Institute, individuals can sign up for the weekly “On the Chain” email newsletter, Phillips said.
“We would love to have companies, founders and community members interacting with us and involved with us,” Phillips said. “If anyone wants to reach out with possible projects for students to work on, or if there are high school students who want to be involved in this space, we’re more than happy to connect.”
Click here to sign up for the KU Blockchain Institute’s weekly newsletter.
The KU Blockchain Institute’s ongoing mission is to make the University of Kansas the premier blockchain university in the Midwest, Phillips shared.
“The general public doesn’t know all the great things going on at KU,” Phillips said. “And our team would like to change that.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.