Institute organizes first tech summit

The Emerging Technologies Summit was held April 18-19. Photo by Madeline Ambrose | Mercury Staff.


Students and faculty members at UTD had the opportunity to network with industry leaders during a summit focused on adapting companies to new technological discoveries.

The Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship hosted the first annual Emerging Technologies Summit on April 18-19. The programs focused on financial technology and artificial intelligence while tying both topics back to the growing field of blockchain, a digital ledger to publicly track transactions by date.

While blockchain technology got its start through the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, it has since spread to different fields, such as finance and music. The summit also allowed startups to demonstrate their products and give pitches to industry leaders through networking receptions.

The event attracted over 500 attendees and featured notable speakers, including Don Tapscott, who serves as executive director of the Blockchain Research Institute. Steve Guengerich, the executive director of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, organized the summit and said it would help the university and its students gain exposure in the tech world.

“At the end of the day, we want that attention to come back to UT Dallas so it helps sponsor our research, it helps sponsor a talent pipeline of students,” Guengerich said. “So we hope those things will establish what we have, which is a good reputation as a tech school, but we want to have more and more of that come back to UT Dallas.”

Software engineering freshman Liam McMain showed his application, Chainstart, to professionals during the closing reception, where industry leaders met with members of the Blockchain and Cryptographic Systems club. The app is a decentralized version of traditional crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, and McMain said professionals showed interest in his product.

“You don’t get a lot of opportunities to talk to people who are only interested in the same kind of things you are, even in college. But here, everyone’s interested in blockchain, everyone’s interested in emerging technologies,” McMain said. “So it’s really nice to be able to bounce ideas off them, see what they think is a good idea or a bad idea and just making conversation. Making opportunities, making friends, it’s been really nice.”

While initial conversations with sponsor Goldman Sachs began about one year ago, the summit took shape over the course of three and a half months. Blockchain technology, which was the main focus of a majority of the events at the summit, is relatively new to the general public. BACS president and computer science junior Michael Lewellen said club members were able to demonstrate the skills they’ve learned over the course of the year.

“Both the officers and the members (of the club) have been working pretty hard over the past two semesters,” Lewellen said. “So this was their time to show off, look really good in front of people that could hire them, or that they might be working with in the future, and also to show the university that the club has been doing some good work.”

Lewellen added he would like to see more projects and research from the computer science and business departments at UTD involving the blockchain club, in addition to more events like the EmTech summit. Guengerich said the summit is the first step toward getting research projects for blockchain through the UTDesign program and possibly building a curriculum around the technology.

“The top universities like Berkeley, MIT, UCLA, Stanford, these schools were already starting to get out there with some early blockchain events and programs,” Guengerich said. “If we want to be one of the top 10, we have to run with the top 10, we have to move as fast as the top 10 and we need to do something now.”


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