E&H course demystifies blockchain for businesses
Business professionals will join Emory & Henry College students this summer for a course that will suggest how blockchain technology can help entrepreneurs, ultimately aiding development in Southwest Virginia.
A collaboration between E&H’s School
of Business, InvestSWVA and William &
Mary’s Global Research Institute, the course will demystify the fundamentals of a technology with far-reaching applications for the region, says E&H Business Dean Emmett P. Tracy.
“A lot of people hear the term ‘blockchain’ and think it is something elusive or wrapped in a technology that’s inaccessible,” he says. But the five-week course beginning June 21 won’t require any technical expertise from students.
Blockchain, known for its association with cryptocurrency, is a technology for storing data in chronological “blocks” to form a transparent and immutable chain of transactions.
The course will be taught by Troy Wiipongwii, affiliated faculty member with the W&M Global Research Institute. He plans to discuss entrepreneurial applications such as how to set up a “smart” contract, which uses a program that automatically executes an agreement when terms are met. He’ll also emphasize the added security resulting from the built-in transparency of a blockchain’s shared data collection.
With traditional databases, he says, “the protocol for how that information is set up and how it is tracked and traced is still very much behind the scenes.”
InvestSWVA Director Will Payne says the course traces its origins to Project Thoroughbred, an effort to make the region the Virginia craft beer industry’s primary source of specialty grains. Blockchain technology would provide supply chain transparency to show breweries they can buy “the best grain” closer to home, Payne says. The project plans to use blockchain to track 82 acres of barley to be harvested this summer, he says.
Payne, vice rector of the W&M board of visitors, spoke as he was on a road trip with Wiipongwii and Will Clear, Virginia Department of Energy’s deputy director, to a waste coal pile to consider ways blockchain might help the state’s effort to identify and reclaim such sites. Blockchain could be used to track the location, size and attributes of each pile, Payne says.
“We see lots of opportunity to create blockchain use in the energy space,” Clear says. “We think that development or redevelopment of southwestern Virginia is really about energy and agriculture at the entrepreneurial level.”