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News Story: BYOB (Bring Your Own Bitcoin)

A new club on campus wants to connect students to the “future of finance.”

The University of Florida Bitcoin Club has one main goal: to teach students about bitcoin, a decentralized digital currency launched in 2009 that uses peer-to-peer technology to function without an intermediary or financial institution.

The club was launched in September by Aaron Schwartz, a 22-year-old UF alum and the business development coordinator for nexGEN, and DM Suja, a 23-year-old UF entrepreneurship master’s student.

Bitcoin brought Schwartz and Suja together. They met online through the Blockchain Education Network, a nonprofit organization that connects students dedicated to spreading bitcoin awareness and serves as the hub for college bitcoin clubs around the world.

“We actually didn’t meet each other in person until last week,” Schwartz said. “But we’ve been working on three businesses together since fall 2015. Our friendship goes to show exactly what’s possible through this network.”

Schwartz and Suja said they want to create a similar network on campus to bring together potential bitcoin business partners. They said they were surprised that UF did not already have a club dedicated to bitcoin -- so they teamed up and made one.

“The University of Florida is the preeminent university in our state,” Schwartz said, “so there is no reason why UF should not be leading innovation in this field. DM and I got together and asked, ‘Why aren’t there CEOs of bitcoin companies blossoming from UF?’ After we realized there was no space for bitcoin on campus, we decided to create one.”

One of the biggest obstacles is that bitcoin is misunderstood, Suja said.

“If you go back five years and tell your mom that there’s a website called Amazon where you can buy books,” Suja said, “she’d laugh and say, ‘Yeah, yeah, go buy your books from Barnes and Noble.’ When new technology first comes out, people don’t understand it. Bitcoin hasn’t caught on yet because of that.”

That is why bitcoin education is a main goal of the club.

As an incentive to learn about bitcoin and how to use it, the club will give away $5 in bitcoin (or 5,000 bits) to students who join the club or attend a meeting.

This initiative, called a Bitcoin Airdrop, is sponsored by the Blockchain Education Network. The network is sponsoring two other initiatives this fall: The Blockchain Olympics, a cross-campus competition for clubs to explain bitcoin and blockchain technologies, and the Blockchain Gauntlet, an online bitcoin startup competition with insight from current industry executives.

Dean Masley, the executive director of the Blockchain Education Network and a 22-year-old German and marketing student at the University of Delaware, said that all students should learn about bitcoin and its role in the future of finance.

“This is a real opportunity to be a part of something so much bigger than yourself,” Masley said. “And it might seem scary and unpredictable, but I really think that every student needs to go to their local bitcoin club and ask questions. I guarantee that if you take that first step, Bitcoin will tickle your fancy.”

Bitcoin awareness and usage will spread because of the local impact of each college bitcoin club. Masley said that the Blockchain Education Network has members in over 320 universities.

“If all these bitcoin clubs around the world create a local impact,” Masley said, “that becomes a global revolution. Local impacts multiply to create a huge global impact. The result of everyone’s efforts now means that, if you go the University of Florida a few years from now, you’ll be able to buy more things with bitcoin.”

Schwartz and Suja said that they have had an “amazing” response from UF students, especially at the club’s first meeting last week.

Hunter Shechtman, a junior finance student at UF, attended the meeting after seeing the event page on Facebook. Shechtman said he has been following bitcoin news since high school, but used it for the first time at the meeting.

“If you give somebody $5 to attend a meeting, I don’t see why everyone at UF doesn’t show up,” Shechtman said. “But on top of the free money, bitcoin is super interesting. That should be a good enough reason on its own.”

Shechtman said he plans to become an active member, recruit new members and “show everybody how awesome bitcoin is.”

Interested students can stay updated on upcoming meetings and initiatives through the UF Bitcoin Club page on Facebook. The club will have biweekly meetings and plans to host executives from bitcoin companies, Schwartz said.

“I feel like I’m taking part in what the future holds by being in this club,” Shechtman said. “Bitcoin really is the future of finance.”

Elle Beecher