Seventy-million dollars is a lot of money donated to one cause.
In this case, the cause is the future of blockchain and the donors are the Ethereum Foundation and Ripple’s University Blockchain Research Initiative.
Committing $20 million to over 70 organizations in 2018 alone (according to Executive Director Aya Miyaguchi), the Ethereum Foundation (EF), once named the richest blockchain company, is poised to be a leader in new waves of blockchain innovation. The EF is committed to funding blockchain-related initiatives across to a diverse range of organizations from universities to Hackternships. “It is our natural desire to bring in talented researchers, and universities are looking for new and interesting topics to research in both computer sciences and in economics,” says Miyaguchi. A leading player in blockchain innovations at universities, EF is a major grant maker to Stanford University. The university is currently the considered number one for studying blockchain according to CoinDesk and to Coinbase, which calls Stanford “the epicenter of crypto courses.”
Simultaneous to the Ethereum Foundation’s donations, Ripple has committed $50 million over a period of five years to 17 universities through its University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI). Recipients of funding include MIT and Princeton. Eric Van Miltenburg, Ripple’s SVP of Global Operations at Ripple UBRI believes that these partnerships only have upside. “We’re a little biased; Ripple certainly would benefit from [research on the potential of blockchain], but primarily as a philanthropic endeavor.” Alex Bouaziz, CEO and co-founder of SciDex protocol and an MIT alumnus who conducted blockchain research while enrolled at MIT, likewise believes that university partnerships with companies produce a positive mutual benefit and will “lead to the development of exciting new advancements.”
Even though both the Ethereum Foundation and Ripple have committed at least $70 million, there is a loose agenda for how universities will spend this money. Lacking one specific objective for the donations, Miyaguchi says that implementation is “rather flexible” and Miltenburg says that there’s “no prescriptive” way for universities to use the funds.
As these partnerships become increasingly popular, it is important to assess the progress of how they are working for both companies and universities. Andrew Moore, Dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science tells the Computing Research Association, “Like any relationship, industry-academia partnerships do best when each member understands the other’s needs…and exactly what it takes to fulfill them.” The “sweet spot” of university-industry partnerships is where “the company, faculty, and students can explore areas that are high risk but might prove important in the future.”
While it does seem that these partnerships are sitting in this sweet spot of driving blockchain’s future, these types of partnerships may pose challenges and risks. This includes risking financial loss at universities, which won’t see much of the financial upside for tech innovations. There is also a question of neutrality in this research as the agenda may be driven by or biased to the company that’s doing the funding, according to this study on university–industry R&D partnerships.
Undoubtedly additional research initiatives like the UBRI and the EF will pop up in the coming years (for example, Cornell’s IC3). Millennials should pay close attention to these sponsorships and research collaboratives in order to invest wisely in the blockchain and to follow industry trends for your personal portfolio or professional goals.
In order to follow the latest research in the blockchain field, set a “Google Scholar” alert for faculty members whose research benefits from external blockchain funding. This will help you to hold blockchain companies and the institutions they sponsor accountable for their agendas while benefiting from the new knowledge created by this funding.