The McCombs School of Business will receive $2 million from the currency exchange company Ripple over the next five years to fund research in blockchain technology by the school’s Blockchain Initiative.
“Academia has traditionally been a critical driver of technical innovation,” said Eric van Miltenburg, Ripple’s senior vice president of global operations, in a press release. “Our support of McCombs is an acknowledgment of the important role the school has the potential to play in advancing our understanding and application of cryptography and blockchain technology.”
UT is one of 17 academic recipients worldwide, including MIT and Princeton, to receive part of a $50 million donation from Ripple.
Blockchain is a method of storing information and records in a digital network rather than in a physical bank or government agency. Proponents of blockchain say method is a more secure way to store records because it requires the consensus of everyone using the network in order to alter the data.
The most common use of blockchain technology is through cryptocurrency transactions like Bitcoin. However, the technology has many other uses, including storing medical records.
The Blockchain Initiative is a program within McCombs that fosters research and innovation in blockchain technology within UT. The initiative began after McCombs hosted its first Blockchain conference in the spring of 2018. During the conference, McCombs brought in 300 people, including Ripple company representatives and students and faculty of different universities.
“That was the catalyst for really seeing that there was a lot of demand from students and industries and companies for having a central focus inside the business school to basically harness the demand for blockchain technology,” said Cesare Fracassi, director of the Blockchain Initiative.
Fracassi said the money from Ripple will go toward funding projects, research and outreach programs.
“We would like the initiative to be the outreach between the University and the companies that are working on blockchain technology,” Fracassi said. “Austin is a pretty large hub (for) blockchain technology companies, so I see the initiative as a way to link faculty and students to those companies.”
Alan Orwick, president of the undergraduate organization Texas Blockchain, which collaborates with the initiative, said contributions such as Ripple’s help foster student research by sparking student interest in the field.
“I think students get anxious and excited when they see money get poured into places that they haven’t directly looked into,” computer science junior Orwick said. “For the people that have not really been interested in blockchain technology before, I’m sure it’ll raise their effort.”