Blockchain Builders

Joan McGuire

Academic programs aim to bridge the gap between tech and business.

Share this article!

According to a 2020 report by business networking platform LinkedIn, blockchain familiarity is the No. 1 hard skill employers are looking for in candidates, followed by cloud computing.

Much of the excitement around the secure recordkeeping technology comes from the prospect of interoperability, meaning the ability for different data sets, potentially from different companies, to interact with one another while keeping the private data secure.

Applications include allowing driverless cars to communicate with one another, allowing businesses to pool customer rewards programs and share customer records without infringing on privacy.

A 2019 study by Deloitte found that while business leaders were optimistic about the technology, three-fifths of business executives said blockchain still needed to ‘prove itself’ with measurable results.

“If I were to categorize businesses adopting blockchain as a baseball season, we’re probably at the stage where we’re boarding the busses to spring training,” says Jeff Gaus, founder and CEO of The Provenance Chain Network, an early adopter of blockchain technology.

Gaus says that while blockchain has the potential to be the biggest technology innovation since the advent of the internet, sluggish adoption by the business community remains the largest hurdle for the recordkeeping technology.

RELATED STORY: New Kids on the Block

Kristi Yuthas is the founder of Portland State University’s blockchain certificate program. Still in its first year, the program is offered through the school of business. The program has 25 students so far, and is still in its “soft launch,” according to Yuthas. She expects it to grow.

The coursework gives enrollees a basic understanding of the underlying technology behind blockchain, but students are not expected to develop coding skills.

Instead, understanding of the technology is paired with courses meant to teach how blockchain can be used to improve supply lines, build business relationships and make data more secure.

“We have a lot of tech people who understand it [blockchain], but we need more businesspeople to understand it.”

Businesses have gotten along without blockchain until now; to make blockchain a priority at companies, proponents have to generate demand on their own. That means turning interest and excitement into expertise.

“Our program helps businesspeople and engineers speak the same language,” says Dr. Stanton Heister, who serves as director of the blockhain program. “Once these students begin to take on manager roles, their companies will start investing. We want business analysts and project managers to be able to look at a current business model and make it a blockchain model.”

The program has already placed its first intern at the value exchange platform Everest, which employs blockchain to make monetary transactions.

For Benjamin Diggles, chief revenue officer at Constellation Network and co-chair of the program, the transition to blockchain from other recordkeeping systems will be generational, but when the change does come, it will happen fast.

“Familiarity with blockchain results in a very different way of thinking,” he says. “It’s like the difference between using Netflix and Blockbuster. It leads to questions like: ‘What if I could mix my Starbucks rewards with my frequent flyer miles?’ We tend to think very closed in business.”

Oregon is already ahead of the curve with blockchain. In 2019 R/GA Ventures launched a blockchain studio in Portland, bringing together six startups specializing in the technology to meet with industry leaders and collaborate with one another.

Portland State University’s certificate program further cements Oregon’s place as an early adopter.

“This is the first program of its type in the world,” says Yuthas. “Students can enter the program without any programing experience, and think about blockchain from a purely business perspective.”

To subscribe to Oregon Business, click here.