Day one of the Consensus 2015 Makeathon brought together more than 60 developers, industry experts and students with the goal of developing new solutions using blockchain tech.
Held at New York-based co-working space General Assembly and sponsored by Braintree, Chain, Coinbase and KeepKey, the two-day event involves 16 teams competing to win $5,000 in cash or a digital currency of their choosing.
The teams are focused on solutions for financial inclusion or financial infrastructure, with interesting early solutions emerging. At the end of the morning’s brainstorming session, teams had already committed to work projects as diverse as an open accounting protocol and microlending solutions for rural communities.
As explained by Citi senior vice president Ian Lee, the makeathon intends to explore areas of the technology that haven’t yet been developed by startups.
“A lot of startups have focused on remittances but there have been more than a dozen trying to do it, but there’s services – credit, lending – in emerging markets that have yet to be explored.”
“We’re hoping people will come up with creative and new ideas beyond core payments and settlement,” he added.
Elsewhere, makeathon mentors were on hand to help teams move their ideas from concepts to prototype stage for presentation at tomorrow’s final day. Mentors including Skuchain CEO Srinivasan Sriram and Bitspark COO Maxine Ryan suggested that their goal was to expose teams to their respective APIs and solutions, while also helping them move past the challenges that can crop up during the process.
“One of the biggest things that people have asked me is ‘How does [the technology] work?'” Ryan told CoinDesk. “But, they’re also looking at how you can build a product for someone in the third world or an emerging market.”
Final presentations will be judged on the relative newness of the idea, how impactful the solution could be and whether the idea necessitates the use of a blockchain, among other factors.
Teams will follow the venture design program developed by makeathon partner IDEO Futures, which aims to encourage participants to think of the business model and brand that could emerge from their prototype.
“We believe in thinking about ventures from the get go,” IDEO portfolio director and business designer Matt Weiss told attendees. “You should be thinking about the organizational structure and brand at the center, as well as who you’re designing it for.”
Though the verdict is still out on the proposed ideas, day one of the event was able to bring together a diverse set of participants.
Consensus 2015 is a one-day flagship conference organized by CoinDesk.
One notable contingent at the event were founders of early-stage projects in the bitcoin space.
Pierre Gerard, founder of blockchain-based compliance management startup ScoreChain, for example, said he chose to attend the makeathon to share ideas and learn from professionals with diverse backgrounds.
“Bitcoin needs to reach out to people who don’t know much about bitcoin, so it’s great to connect with people outside the bitcoin ecosystem,” Gerard told CoinDesk.
Mario Salazar, founder of blockchain-based resource management network Akiles Coin, was another startup veteran seeking to extend his expertise, though his intent in attending was more focused on highlighting his personal and professional passions.
“My area of expertise the financial situation in Puerto Rico, nobody is bringing anything and I want to be the first one to bring this to the table. It’s cool that I was able to bring my concept and now I’ve got coders working on it,” Salazar said.
For the makeathon, Gerard’s team is working on a peer-to-peer (P2P) credit scoring system, while Salazar’s is more focused on resource management.
Students and graduates
Some of the more tech-focused participants at the event were students seeking to explore the technology as a means to improve their skills for potential employers.
Charles Crain, a recent University of California Santa Barbara graduate, has recently been attending hackathons to explore how his experience in building applications could be applied to projects such as bitcoin and decentralized application platform Ethereum.
“I took a distributed systems class in college and I learned about this idea of the blockchain as this huge consensus network, I was like, ‘Whoa this is crazy. How did someone come up with this?'” Crain recalled.
Deepak Atal, a New York University computer science major, however, was new to the hackathon circuit, this being the first time he’s attended such an event.
“I wanted to explore the field of bitcoin and wanted to start here in a place to know about these things to meet experts,” he said, adding that his team is seeking to apply blockchain solutions to the mortgage industry.
One of the more passionate attendees was Vermont Law School’s Melissa Kent who is seeking to understand applications of blockchain technology in the legal field.
“I know that there is a lot of different types of confidentiality issues that can be solved by using the blockchain,” she said. “For instance, I can have a PGP key and communicate privately with my client and encrypt that and use the blockchain to help me keep all that information private.”
Kent’s team is now working directly on these concepts.
Equally present at the event were members of traditional financial institutions including Citi and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
Thulasi Janardhanan, an associate at Citi’s Portfolio Risk Management division, came to the makeathon to “see what people are talking about” in regards to the new technology.
“If you bring a group of people together, I would think they can come up with brilliant solutions,” Janardhanan said, adding that makeathon environments can offer an alternative from the siloed structure of traditional banks.
Members of the bitcoin industry were also present, with some like Tembusu chief cryptographer Pavel Kravchenko and developer Oscar Guindzberg, coming from as far away as Ukraine and Argentina to attend.
Images via Pete Rizzo for CoinDesk