“The challenge is to use blockchain technology to build the
future of finance and trade networks,” Pat Riley, BTC Media’s head of product,
told attendees during the event’s opening. “That is the theme of this weekend,
but beyond that it is pretty loose. We welcome any creative ideas that you
The event was held at T-REX,
a co-working space and technology incubator in downtown St. Louis. Participants
ranged in age, work experience and familiarity with distributed ledgers. Some
had traveled across the country to represent their industry-leading software
companies, while others had wandered over from their student housing at nearby
Washington University in St. Louis.
“The bi-state St. Louis region is a massive financial
services hub, home to a wide range of wealth managers, banks, payments,
insurance and other institutions,” Atul Kamra, managing partner of SixThirty,
“It is a natural place to convene the best thinking on a promising technology
that is emerging as a smarter, more secure and open way to verify and record
value, assets, money and goods.”
Wherever they had come from, each arrived to compete for a
bounty of prizes to be doled out to winning teams in cryptocurrency: $6,000 for
first place, $3,000 for second and $1,000 for third, with Qtum providing a special $10,000 prize for the
top team using its platform.
Following an introduction, participants who had arrived
without teams were encouraged to share their project ideas or offer their
skills to others. Once teams were formed, an introductory seminar on blockchain
technology was held to familiarize those who had never developed applications
on the platform before.
“If this is your first time diving into blockchain
technology, never fear,” Dev Bharel, regional ambassador for the Blockchain Education Network, told the
audience as he led the seminar. “The big thing in the blockchain space is just
learning how to think the blockchain way.”
Bharel showed his temporary students how to build a smart
contract that would automatically carry out a set of protocols, creating a
token that could later be redeemed for a 15-minute back massager rental. He
demonstrated the basic tools that blockchain developers use, including Solidity, MetaMask and Truffle, all of which allowed participants
to follow along as he built a smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain.
“If you’re working in the blockchain space and you’re a
developer, most of the development will happen on Ethereum,” Bharel said.
After the tutorial resulted in a successful,
massage-enabling smart contract, the newly-minted blockchain graduates were
ready to begin work on their projects.
“We’re looking at doing a music streaming app where you pay
the artist directly per listen and the artist has final say on how much a
listen will cost,” Daniel Mangum, a software developer and student at Washington University in St.
Louis, said as his hackathon team, Jukebox, mapped out its approach. “It’s
built on the Ethereum blockchain so that it’s public and you’re able to
identify that the artist is being paid.”
Each member of the team had development experience, but
Bharel’s tutorial was the first time they had gotten their hands on the tools
necessary to build a smart contract. Well versed in pulling all-nighters, the
members seemed undaunted by the task.
“You really get into the zone,” said Ian Kitchens, a
software developer with DigitalGlobe
and Jukebox teammate. “But if you end up staring at your screen at one line of
code, then you know it’s time to take a break.”
Beyond the applications they would pursue, some teams also
strategized based on the competition judges.
“We want to learn who the sponsors are, and based upon who
they are, we extrapolate the motivation for the sponsors, what they might be
looking for when they choose a winner,” said Nate Smith, a technical manager at
3M, as he discussed
strategy with the rest of his team in a back office.
Smith’s team, calling itself Angel, built a prototype
website that would allow users to make donations to the causes of their choice
without the overhead and inefficiency that usually cuts into funds intended for
charity. With blockchain technology, donations would be recorded immutably and
users would have the ability to track exactly where their donations go.
“The reason that we think this is important is that we see
evidence in the world of organizations that aren’t doing this efficiently and
some of the funds that are intended for recipients aren’t making it there,”
Smith said. “Our goal is to be more transparent and more efficient.”
The Best of the Best
After a long night of poring over code, the teams assembled
in T-REX’s presentation room to share the solutions they had built. The 16
teams spent four minutes each outlining the need for their solutions, their
potential to find networks of users and their leveraging of blockchains.
Projects ranged from a system that verified online consumer
reviews to one for automated financial investments. A panel of judges rated the
projects based on how difficult the problems they addressed were, their use of
blockchain technology, their market readiness and the quality of the
After conferring amongst themselves, judges awarded the
third-place prize to Blockscripts, which proposed to track pharmaceutical prescriptions.
Second place went to Depot, a token that would enable rentals of storage space.
And first place was awarded to Blockchain Express, a system that could
Finally, the project D-Rex, an exchange platform that can
enable microfinanced solar energy for rural communities, took home the $10,000
“It’s really exciting,” said D-Rex team member Rosalind
Stengle, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Blockchain is
really interesting. I only got into this space about four months ago.”
The D-Rex team said that its application is headed to the World Bank Group, which is interested in providing
the globally distressed with affordable, renewable energy. It’s likely that the
other solutions built at the hackathon will find uses around the world as well.