The Marquette Blockchain Lab partnered with Northwestern Mutual to host the first Milwaukee Blockchain Conference last Friday at the Northwestern Mutual Tower.
The event featured 25 speakers and attracted over 300 attendees, according to the Milwaukee Blockchain website.
Gabriella Suliga, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences and the director of events for the Marquette Blockchain Lab, said blockchain allows for individuals to complete transactions without a “middleman” between them.
“For example, we have Uber,” Suliga said. “So we have one person who has a car and is willing to drive people and we have people who are in need of rides. But we use Uber as this middleman to connect us. Blockchain technology — and this isn’t just for Uber, this is for Amazon and a whole list of ‘middlemen’ — is going to essentially get rid of them so you can make direct transactions that are safe, secure, fast and reliable.”
Clayton Boehm, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and president of Blockchain Lab, said Marquette Blockchain Lab was established to promote this new technology.
“Our mission is to establish Milwaukee as a leader in blockchain education,” Boehm said. “What we’re doing is creating more awareness and understanding of blockchain, how it’s very disruptive technology and how it would be applicable to our lives, everyone else’s lives and business.”
Blockchain Lab is one of seven ventures under the Blue and Gold Ventures program, which is Marquette’s student-run business program.
Owen Raisch, the CEO of Blue and Gold Ventures, said the purpose of the Milwaukee Blockchain Conference is to help individuals and companies use and understand blockchain.
“The conference is in part designed to bring the knowledge, resources and ideas for the universities to the public, and to that make that accessible for people who are trying to improve their businesses, their relationships with different governments, or their own entrepreneurial ventures in this emerging technology space,” Raisch said.
According to an article by CNBC, traditional methods of payment (credit cards, checks, etc.) mean every transaction in the world is registered on privately-held databases owned by corporate and state entities. They are also usually owned by one entity, which means they are open to fraud or being hit by an attack that could cripple a network.
Think of the Target data breach of 2013, as reported by USA Today, where cyberattackers gained access to Target’s computer system and exploited weaknesses in Target’s system. Through this the attackers gained access to a customer service database, installed malware on the system and captured full names, phone numbers, email addresses, payment card numbers, credit card verification codes, and other sensitive data. Target now has to pay $18.5M for the breach that affected 41 million of its customers.
Suliga said Blockchain Lab hoped to make Milwaukee a leader in blockchain innovation by hosting the only blockchain conference in Milwaukee.
“We like to say Milwaukee is in the stone age when it comes to blockchain technology and emerging technology,” Suliga said. “So what we’re really looking to focus on is bringing them out and fostering this collaboration within the Milwaukee community.”
The Blockchain Conference had two main tracks students could choose from in attending the different speakers: enterprise and entrepreneurship. It featured speakers and corporations concerning topics as diverse as healthcare, regulations, cryptocurrencies, real estate and auditing, so students in attendance could interact with a variety of industries.
“There’s a lot of great networking opportunities here,” Boehm said. “There’s a lot of industry professionals that are looking for talent and looking for people that are interested in this technology.”
Northwestern Mutual and Blockchain Lab worked closely in hosting this conference, Adam Gabornitz, the senior project manager on Tech Advancement and Outreach Team at Northwestern Mutual, said.
“Because of the work that we do out of the tech and outreach team, one of our focuses is on talent attraction, talent retention and supporting of the next generation here in Milwaukee,” Gabornitz said. “We as an organization have a great relationship with Marquette University so when we were approached by the student-run business program, it was a natural thing to want to support them in any way that we can.”
The student-run business 1881 Event Productions helped to organize the logistics of this event.
Kat Christian, a sophomore in the College of Business and the president of 1881, said, “It’s been kind of an honor to be able to work with them and understand how they organize events from start to finish so that we can kind of base what we do off of the way that they organize things.”
Alyssa Dunn, a sophomore in the College of Business and the executive project manager of 1881, said working on this conference was a unique opportunity, especially considering 1881 has only existed for six months.
“We have learned so many skills through this that I feel we will take throughout our lifetime, especially in event planning and learning everything that goes into these big events,” Dunn said.
The conference was the largely student-run, said Raisch.
“A lot of conversations and ideas are being shared that wouldn’t have been able to without them doing it,” Raisch said. “And it gets Marquette’s name out into the community in a positive way which over time benefits students getting better jobs, the school getting more support and more opportunities for collaboration.”
Boehm said this conference is a good step in promoting blockchain for students and organizations.
“Marquette doesn’t teach much about blockchain technology, though in the future, I’m optimistic that it will,” Boehm said. “Right now this is understanding the facilitation of discussion and understanding that this is where businesses are at and getting in the mindset of a business and thinking and applying yourself and understanding new ways of emerging tech.”
Gabornitz said Northwestern Mutual hopes to host more events like this in the future.
“I think that Milwaukee is ready and is excited for new things and new opportunities and if you want to do something cool in this city like go to a blockchain conference at Northwestern Mutual you can do that here,” Gabornitz said. “You don’t have to go to Chicago or someplace else.”