If he is nervous about the upcoming meeting, Jeremy Gardner doesn't show any sign of it.
Today, Gardner and a friend, Daniel Bloch, will be sitting down with senior administrators in the development office at the University of Michigan to discuss what it would take to process university donations in Bitcoin. If the administration likes what they have to say, Michigan may soon become the first major university to accept Bitcoin gifts.
Gardner, a 22-year-old junior and recent transfer from Bard College, is a co-founder with Bloch of the College Cryptocurrency Network, a burgeoning association of Bitcoin clubs on campuses nationwide. In its first weeks, the network has already attracted important mentors, among them Will Pangman, who sits on the education committee of the Bitcoin Foundation. Circle, a well-funded cryptocurrency startup, wants to be a corporate sponsor. The meeting this week in Ann Arbor will be an early milestone marking a whirlwind two months since CCN's founding.
It will also be a sign that the full impact of Bitcoin has yet to be felt; indeed, that entire user bases remain to be tapped. "People are calling Bitcoin the money of the Internet," Gardner says. "I think it's going to the Internet of money."
Gardner isn't alone in that thought. In fact, The Economist said as much in a recent issue. And despite some negative headlines this year, a growing number of investors are acting accordingly. Last month, Bitcoin startups Circle, Kraken and Xapo announced a combined $42 million in new funding. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen pledged recently to invest hundreds of millions more in the Bitcoin space, on top of the $50 million his firm, Andreessen Horowitz, has already sunk in. Also last month, San Francisco-based hedge fund Pantera Capital announced the formation of a new $147 million fund for investments in digital currencies and related startups.
But even as venture capitalists, institutional investors and hedge funds begin to pour Scrooge McDuckian sums of money into this nascent ecosystem, an even stronger indication that Bitcoin has a future may lie on college campuses.
At first blush, student groups would seem a strange barometer of the future durability of a breakthrough technology. But think of how Facebook started at Harvard and spread to universities around the country, becoming a private club for college kids long before it opened up to everyone else. Then, too, think of which demographic propelled Snapchat to a multi-billion-dollar valuation.
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"The younger generation is always more open to adopting new technologies and new paradigms," says Dan Elitzer, a first-year MBA student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and CCN's regional director for New England. "If Bitcoin is going to be successful in the broader world, it's going to be successful on college campuses earlier than we see it in most other communities."
For years, youthful enthusiasm for new technology has been translating into huge windfalls for entrepreneurs and savvy investors. Ironically, this means that the key to Bitcoin's future may rest not with the investors themselves but with people like Jeremy Gardner.