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Hands-on exposure to the world of cryptocurrencies for Daniels’ students

As befuddling as the concept of cryptocurrency is to millions around the globe, its underlying utility, stability and transparency hold appeal to many in the world’s financial system. As a result, the tech-heavy concept is slowly gaining traction in the business community.

“Down the road, I don’t think we’ll have a choice to understand cryptocurrencies or not,” said Oliver England, a first-year Daniels College of Business student. “It will be like getting smartphones, we’ll all just have to adapt.”

Fortunately for England, he and about 400 fellow DU students have a leg up on much of the rest of the world after completing the Fourth Industrial Revolution course in December. The introductory business class covered cryptocurrency and a host of other disruptive technologies and concepts.

“There’s a massive wave of tech coming in the next 5-10 years and you’d better get on that wave,” said Daniels’ second year student Arthur Ashworth. “Because if you’re not on it, you’re going to get left behind.”

Stephen Haag

Such a philosophy inspired Director of Entrepreneurship Programs and Professor of the Practice Stephen Haag to overhaul the Gateway to Business class curriculum last year into a format that he rolled out in the fall term. Seeking to keep DU students at the forefront of business trends—and receiving considerable support from university and college leadership—Haag and six other faculty members developed the course around emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things and 3-D printing, as well as cryptocurrency and blockchain.

For the cryptocurrency portion of the class, Haag asked students to take advantage of a promotion by the e-wallet firm CoinBase, in which account holders can earn a small amount of different e-currencies by watching videos and answering questions. Once they received the cybercurrencies, which included variations such as Ethereum and Stellar lumens, students were tasked with exchanging bits of cyber-cash with other students.

While the transactions were relatively simple—Ashworth received a bit for helping out a classmate on crutches and England used some to help cover the cost of a friend’s pizza—the exercise illustrated how relatively effortless the process can be.

“Using cybercurrencies with businesses is still tough because there’s not a large scale adoption, but within our group, it was easy once we got started,” Ashworth said. “It’s very similar to Venmo.”

Haag sees the elevated comfort levels with the technology as critical for tomorrow’s business leaders.

“We wanted to give them practical, hands-on experience with something that many have heard about but probably haven’t had access to,” he said. “Then, when they get into the business world and someone starts talking about cryptocurrencies, they can say ‘no big deal, I can do that.’”

In the near term, discussions around cybercurrencies will likely remain focused on their speculative nature. Especially with the value of the most well-known cybercurrency, bitcoin, bouncing between $3,400 and $12,000 over the past 12 months.

With an eye on the long haul, however, Haag delights in exposing DU students to an early stage of the cybercurrency movement.

“Roughly one-third of the world population is unbankable, with no access to the traditional banking and financial services industry, but cryptocurrency gives us the ability to bring those people into the financial system, ranging from transferring money around the world to buying a product,” he said. “Currently, cryptocurrency is viewed as more of a speculative asset, but it’s quickly migrating into the realm of common transactions for all.”