In this episode, Andrew Marquardt (President) and Sean Kennedy (Managing Director) join me to discuss Spartan Blockchain Solutions, a non-profit at Michigan State University aiming to help small businesses with blockchain.
Brandon Zemp 0:00
How you doing guys? It is Wednesday, October 2. This week on the podcast. I actually have two guests. Andrew Marquardt, President and Sean Kennedy, Managing Director for Spartan blockchains solutions at Michigan State. Spartan blockchain is a student run nonprofit with the mission provide local businesses and organizations with innovative blockchain solutions. Both Andrew and Sean do a great job at elaborating on what they do at Spartan blockchain. I really think you guys are going to enjoy this episode. As always, guys, be sure to subscribe if you haven't already. And please share this episode with someone that you think needs to learn more about blockchain and crypto. Alright guys, enjoy.
So how you guys doing?
Andrew Marquardt 0:50
Great, how are you?
Brandon Zemp 0:51
Good, good. Um, so why don't you tell the audience a little bit about each of you so they can kind of get familiar with who you guys are?
Andrew Marquardt 0:59
Yeah, for sure. So my name is Andrew Marquardt. I'm currently a senior at Michigan State University studying supply chain management. But I'm also president at Spartan blockchains solutions, and we'll talk about that a little bit later.
Sean Kennedy 1:12
Then, I'm Sean Kennedy. I'm a third year computer science student at Michigan State University. And I'm also the managing director at smart blockchain solutions, which will kind of get into now, when did you guys
Brandon Zemp 1:25
are when was Spartan blockchains Solutions started?
Andrew Marquardt 1:29
Um, so we were actually started I would say two years ago now. I'm originally a Spartan blockchain cryptocurrency club. Quickly, quickly realizing that focusing on cryptocurrencies wasn't really sustainable for our organization. We transition towards foreign blockchain. Where we took we took more of a focus on education and inspiration overall spreading blockchain awareness around the East Lansing Community. On this past, I would say January, we fully rebranded Spartan blockchains solutions. So now we're a student run nonprofit blockchain advisor as well as advocacy firm who aims to not only develop blockchain solutions for clients around Metro Detroit, but as well as spread jumpstart Michigan's Michigan State University's ecosystem, you become an academic institution of watching space. Very cool. Do you guys focus mostly on
Brandon Zemp 2:17
like on campus stuff? Or do you do like off campus stuff as well?
Andrew Marquardt 2:20
Um, so we do two different things. So we primarily do off campus engagements with clients around Metro Detroit. And we also co host off can't like on campus events spreading blockchain awareness and adoption on MSU. So hosting workshops developing like blockchain applications, co partner, other student organizations on campus, I'm just overall trying to spread awareness and adoption again around them issue.
Brandon Zemp 2:42
What kind of things do you guys do to spread adoption and awareness for students at MSU?
Sean Kennedy 2:48
Um, yeah, so kind of things that we've done in the past are different workshops, which were a big thing. So we would just do general blockchain workshops that we would keep up with into both students then like faculty members, and also community members in the Greater Lansing area. So in those workshops, we would just focus on giving a broad overview of what blockchain is, and basically why they should care about blockchain. So those workshops are a big thing we do in the past. And now we do things like hold, we did a networking event last spring. So just inviting people in the blockchain space or related technology fields, to come out and meet other people in the area. And to just talk about unfamiliar eyes themselves with kind of the community that does exist in the Lansing area. And then we will talk we kind of talked about how we can advocate to get more people to understand kind of the merits of blockchain technology. It's very cool. What did your networking event consist of?
Andrew Marquardt 3:53
Um, so our spark blockchain innovation competition was a two day event centrally located on them issues campus. So the first day we hosted a networking night where we had 150 attendees as well as sponsors, such as representatives from IBM and Deloitte common just talk about their experience overall on the blockchain space, made other like my meet other students, as well as stakeholders who want either get involved or are looking to implement blockchain technology into their current their current companies operating procedures. And then immediately following that on on a Saturday in March, we host our innovation competition, where we brought in student teams from all across the Midwest, to pitch innovative solutions for blockchain technology to again a panel of judges and stakeholders. Overall, we thought the event was really successful. We had a lot of different students from issue as well as from like the University of Michigan come and attend. And we look to like host an event later on, on this this coming year as well.
Brandon Zemp 4:47
Nice. Yeah. What events are you planning for this year? Are you doing them in the fall or in the spring? Or what do you guys have planned out so far?
Andrew Marquardt 4:56
Yeah. So. So stemming from that success, or originally, this past March, we're going to we're looking to scale up our innovation competition to a conference for 2020 focusing on both the entrepreneurial side as well as the enterprise blockchain applications for an issue. I'm looking at the looking looking backwards towards the events in this coming fall. We're looking to host like a couple workshops again with other student organizations on campus to spread blockchain awareness around them issue, as well as host like a fireside panel discussion, just so we can get different stakeholders and different entrepreneurs from around the area to common talk about their experience with within the blockchain space.
Brandon Zemp 5:33
So when you guys say that you're spreading blockchain awareness, are you guys primarily just trying to educate the student body on what blockchain is exactly in the industry? are you guys doing like, in depth, like work and teaching them how to code or build apps and stuff like that?
Sean Kennedy 5:53
I would say it's a pretty good combination of both. So we do do these things, workshops, where we're kind of educating on general blockchain knowledge. And then we also do workshops where we teach people the technical skills if they want to pursue blockchain as a career. So for example, last spring, we did a workshop on development using hyperledger, composer to build applications on the hyper ledger fabric blockchain. So there's definitely an interest from the computer science side of Michigan State students that want to get involved in understanding how they can maybe leverage blockchain into a fast growing career. So that's one thing we focus on. And then the other thing is just helping local businesses understand how blockchain can disrupt their field, and what they need to be prepared for to understand how to make sure they remain competitive, fast changing field.
Brandon Zemp 6:55
Yeah, it's definitely important, especially for students to get this kind of like education and like guidance on the industry, because there's just not a lot of it out there. So when there are students that like, have ideas regarding what to build, or what to develop, around blockchains, you guys help incubate those ideas? Like what kind of tools or resources you provide students?
Andrew Marquardt 7:23
Yeah, so that directly aligns that third service offering, which is incubation for MSU students who already have an idea for developing a blockchain solution. So we look to work with like these students, these student teams are co founders, providing them with the resources, like our own resources are leveraging our network, as well as like the financial backing of our organization, to overall look to bring their products to market and help with overall like developing a full solution for them. Um, where where they can take their solution after graduation with them and look, look to look to that solution once they graduate.
Brandon Zemp 7:58
Yeah, I think I think can remember exactly, but I think blockchain was still one of the highest skills engine in demand out there in the workforce above like TensorFlow, and like AI, and all that in the tech field. So it's definitely a growing industry, for students. And there's a lot of demand that coming out of college, because there just isn't like a whole lot of education, and whatnot. I don't know, like what you guys have seen, because you guys are seeing it every single day. Like I haven't seen it in a few years, or worked with as many students directly but like, statistically, do you guys see that going up in terms of demand for and then like, student interest in blockchain?
Andrew Marquardt 8:40
Yeah. So first of all, starting with like, starting with that demand for blockchain applications, just in working with clients around the Mexico chart area, a lot of companies are beginning to explore internal applications for developing blockchains solutions, as well as like, how can these solutions be scaled to overall health, the general community in the Metro Detroit area? I'm transitioning more towards that student for perspective, there's just in the short time that we've developed Spartan blockchains solutions, there are significant interest in students to learn overall learn about blockchain technologies, how can it be applied, as well as how can I be involved in this space and kind of like leverage my internal network as well as like the network of the blockchain space to kind of jumpstart my career to like any opportunities I look to pursue?
Brandon Zemp 9:20
So other than that, like the institutional side of it, and the centralized side of it, do you guys do any practice or development in terms of like, decentralized, blockchains? Like on a theorem and stuff like that? Are you guys primarily focused on blockchain in the in the centralized sense?
Andrew Marquardt 9:39
Yeah, so actually, that's one of our internal projects for one of our engagement teams this semester, is to develop an internal solution to overall gamify our engagement teams when they begin to work through client engagements. And pretty much as they move throughout, like throughout developing a blockchain solution, the reward and like you 30 am tokens, just depending on like the the overall size of like a task, as well as like, how far along and how quickly it moves along in comparison to everybody else. So we're just beginning to explore like the ether and in public blockchain space, but we're looking to develop a pipeline of again, those those public public blockchain projects, just as we speak,
Brandon Zemp 10:18
that's very interesting. Do you guys have your own token? Or do you guys just like, give out like a token that already exists?
Sean Kennedy 10:26
Um, so the plan right now is to kind of develop our own token through the ERC 20 tokens standard, and then build that out. And then kind of use our own internal network as a proof of concept for kind of understanding what it's like to manage your own token from both like an economic and a technical perspective. And then from there, we're going to kind of see how we can build that out, whether it be token that Michigan State University students could use, or even the broader community. So that's one of the things we really want to explore this semester, and kind of see how we can use it as an educational resource for both our members and then also students.
Brandon Zemp 11:12
Yeah, tell me a little bit more about that, like is, so is that something that you guys, like have like a, like, Do you guys know what kind of solutions you'd want a token like that to solve, like, on campus for students or for faculty? Or how you'd want it to function in a college system?
Andrew Marquardt 11:32
I'm not really know, just because we're initially building out that internal application now. Um, but we're just But with that, we're just beginning to get in talks with the university. See if there's some sort of business opportunity for scaling our solution just for the general admission community.
Brandon Zemp 11:48
In terms of your guys's network, do you guys have a lot of people that are experienced in blockchain, or all of you guys kind of trying to figure it out all the same time,
Sean Kennedy 11:58
um, I would say we have a good balance. I mean, within our like core members, as students, we have people with experience in the blockchain space. But we also have a pretty broad array of experience with students experienced in startups, venture capital, supply chain, software development. So in terms of our core students, we have a pretty broad array of experience. And then with our network and our stakeholders, we do have a lot of people with very deep experience of the blockchain space, whether it be people who were early investors and cryptocurrency or just blockchain startups, or people working at, you know, the large firms like Accenture, Deloitte, IBM, who have a broad understanding of how this technology can be disruptive in their industry. And companies like that are kind of doing a lot to try to see how they can benefit from those technologies.
Brandon Zemp 13:01
Okay, gotcha. So I know a lot of university clubs and organizations are starting to kind of move this direction. Because most universities don't really offer like a full degree or a track for going into blockchain yet. And there's companies out there as well that are offering like certificates and blockchain if you take like certain prescribed courses and whatnot, is are you guys at all considering a certification that students could get for being a part of the organization or from taking a course under you guys are? Are you guys in any way at all like, regarding blockchain, whether it be development or the investment field, or economics or whatever it may be?
Sean Kennedy 13:50
Yeah. So we're, we've actually had talks with university faculty about developing curriculum for a certificate program, and blockchain. So that would consist of a pretty broad array of subjects and blockchain from like a legal perspective and a business perspective, specifically. And that's something that we talked to faculty members, and they're very interested in seeing how they can build that out, and how we can contribute to helping them do that.
Brandon Zemp 14:21
Do you know what the next steps for you guys are in terms of doing that?
Sean Kennedy 14:25
I personally do not. Because the we haven't had many very specific talks about it. But I know that one of our faculty advisors, Carla Reyes, who was a head of legal r&d at Michigan State University, is very involved in trying to get that to happen and working very cross functionally between the different departments to see how we can make that
Brandon Zemp 14:49
work. I know it's pretty popular idea just hasn't like really taken fruition anywhere around the country need these colleges or universities, it's because it's just one of those things where, like, professors and faculty members really don't understand the technology yet or really don't have a background in it. So it's kind of hard to offer some kind, of course, or certificate or degree around blockchain at this point. And it is pretty early still. So it's kind of interesting. Every once in a while you'll see a club or an organization pop up and try to offer like a certificate or something. So just Yeah, I was just kind of curious if you guys were going down that path or not, but it sounds like you are
Sean Kennedy 15:31
Yeah, the good thing about kind of the faculty that we've met here at Michigan State University, is not only do we have people who have experience in the blockchain space, we also have faculty who are really excited to learn about how they can leverage it as an educational resource for students. So we think with that combination of faculty members, we're excited to see what happens with feature educational programs focused on blockchain. That you guys talked about what those might be. I know there's one course in the legal department. Well, actually, there was Andrew could probably talk about this more, but there is an offering last fall for a blockchain course it was the first ever blockchain course offered at Michigan State, but he could probably talk about that more right now.
Andrew Marquardt 16:19
Yeah. Um, so management for anyone blockchain blockchain, or international blockchain applications was more or less, I would say like a case by case base class just talking about the different applications of blockchain technology, as well as delving into like the legal r&d side of like cryptocurrencies, we primarily had a lot of guest speakers from around the Metro Detroit area, who are more more or less subject matter experts on a lot of different topics presented. And overall, it was it was really collaborative, I think the final product was to actually pitch a blockchain solution to a panel of judges. Um, and I know just from just from those initial pitches, we were able to transition some of those projects to engagements for like this, this previous spring semester.
Brandon Zemp 17:00
For these pitches, like students are doing, are they getting rewarded for doing that? Or like, what's the incentive to get them to do it? Or is it just gratification or
Andrew Marquardt 17:10
is primary yet it was primarily built into the actual curriculum for that course. Okay. Um, so again, it's just for like gratification, like an actual like grade.
Brandon Zemp 17:20
Okay, gotcha. Are you guys have you guys like brainstorms with like the faculty or with anyone? It's kind of like, supporting you guys at Ms. You what you could use blockchain for on campus? Like, whether it be for learning and education classes or logistic stuff? Like or how do you guys like brainstorm like any ideas around blockchain? Like, like with the faculty?
Andrew Marquardt 17:50
Yes. So those two use cases, we're actually actively experiment faculty on to see if there's some any sort of business case to implement a blockchain solution to help with logistics services are on Michigan State University, as well as complementing a lot of our like teaching on to primarily like help with like rewarding students for completing assignments. Another application that we're looking to explore on is either developing some sort of bond offering for Michigan State on blockchain in the very early stages. But I mean, it's something that we're as an organization, we're looking to talk through with some of our stakeholders to see if that's even feasible. So if you guys, let's say, you guys develop any of these applications, would you guys be looking to roll that out at other colleges in the future? Or would that be something that stays at ms you for some of these applications, and it just initial meetings on there was there were there are talks of definitely scaling these applications to other organizations. But obviously, we want to first make sure that the system works, that's the rapidly secure, and that the entire systems up and running admission state before we look to scale these applications, once they're in development.
Brandon Zemp 18:55
So I'm some of the biggest issues in the blockchain industry, which I'm sure you guys are somewhat aware of our, like scalability and sustainability, interoperability, different things that are plaguing a lot of these blockchains out there. And there's a huge push to develop new blockchains or too hard for some of the old ones or to provide updates to them to solve some of these issues so that they can be used on a everyday basis. And by the by the average person, you guys discussing those potential solutions with students are having students come up with different solutions for some of the problems that already exist in the industry.
Sean Kennedy 19:39
We are primarily primarily focused on helping businesses through enterprise watching solutions. Whereas a lot of those issues that you mentioned with, like scalability, for example, are big issues with most public blockchain, specifically crypto currencies, which we tend to not to necessarily focus on in our engagements. But at the same time, it's definitely a subject of interest in the field. And it's definitely something that we talked about just from like, a personal perspective as people who are heavily involved with the field. So if we had, like, for example, students who are interested in pursuing something like that, like solving some of the existing issues with public and open source blockchain technologies, that's definitely something we would support because I, I mean, from a personal perspective, I think those problems are really cool to kind of take on and try to think about and understand. But at the same time, we feel like that those things are somewhat beyond the scope of what we can do as just students with kind of limited time, resources and experience. So Wow, we definitely find it of interest as people heavily interested in the field. It's not something that we necessarily focus on.
Brandon Zemp 21:01
Gotcha. So in terms of the the enterprise solutions, then what what do you guys zero in on the most? Or is it pretty broad? Like do you guys focus in on Supply Chain Solutions? Do you focus on teaching and learning about different ways to improve, like company efficiency with blockchain? Or what are some areas that you guys look at specifically?
Andrew Marquardt 21:25
Um, so I would say just, in looking back in our previous and current engagements, we tend to focus on applications for blockchain technology, across all industries and applications and use case of blockchain. Specifically though in the past, we have, we actually did a full supply chain implementation of, of a blockchain for a local consumer goods company, where the end solution was on the front end, you could take your phone, scan a QR code on a jar of honey, which is their primary product, but on the back end, it would show key metrics about that proc supply chain, on the back end, who is on it was running on our own internally developed blockchain, I'm using IBM hyper ledger fabric, I'm looking at our current engagements we're working, we're working through with different financial institutions, as well as another logistics service provider to again build out like instruments for the financial services industry, as well as like more or less that supply chain solution again, um, it just more or less depends on what organizations would want to explore blockchain applications and have students such as myself, as well as Sean, begin to, like fill out the business case for them.
Brandon Zemp 22:31
Well, have you had any companies come to you guys? Or I mean, you mentioned hyperledger, you've met a little bit, you've mentioned IBM a little bit. But have you had anyone like specifically working with you guys or working with the students to like, develop different ideas and whatnot? Or have you had any of these companies come in and try to sponsor you guys?
Andrew Marquardt 22:53
Um, yes. So we're actually working with IBM to figure out if there's any sort of use case, or we can partner with them to develop an application. So usually men towards like education and college universities. Um, other than that, like we've had a lot of different incubators around the space. So looking at like the blockchain Education Network, as well as the mouse Mouse bout accelerator, I'm looking to sponsor our server or student organization, as well as looking to sponsor any of the events that we look to host on campus. So overall, I think companies are just generally becoming interested. And again, we're actively working with IBM to see if there's some sort of use case and collaboration opportunities for our students with them.
Brandon Zemp 23:32
Is there anything that you guys want to discuss that you're doing that I might not be aware of? Or that you guys have coming up in the future? Do you guys have any planned out events or workshops or competitions? Or what what should the people be aware of?
Andrew Marquardt 23:48
Um, yeah, so a couple of different initiatives on our end. Um, so we're actively building out recruiting pipeline of students I'm, in which we hold on board, both business as well as technical students develop blocks, applications together and cross functional teams. And doing so we're looking to build out a curriculum that number one teaches problem solving with design thinking for our business students, how to understand it from our product management role, how to work with our clients to develop solutions they really want. And then from that technical perspective, build out a curriculum based on how do you develop using like I am hyperledger, as well as building on like public change like Bucky, thorium, or even Bitcoin as well. I'm just looking more or less at our upcoming event this coming March. So our spark unboxing and innovation conference, I'm just beginning to build out those perspectives and beginning to distribute them to our network. But if anyone would love to be interested in that event, whether it be from a sponsorship, speaker or just attendee perspective on feel free to reach out to me directly, you can definitely find me on our website or just reach out to anyone inspiring blockchains solutions for assistance,
Brandon Zemp 24:51
guys, thanks for coming on, and taking time really appreciate it. Um, there's a lot of students out there that will be interested in hearing about what you guys are doing and probably take some inspiration away from it and to us at their own colleges and universities. And it's really interesting what you guys are doing at Spartan blockchain and definitely be keeping close tabs on you guys. So again, thanks for coming on. Really appreciate it.
Andrew Marquardt 25:13
Yeah, definitely. Thank you so much, Brandon. Again, I think it's a great opportunity to showcase bb blockchains solutions, as well as just the overall in increasing the interest from students in terms of learning about blockchain technologies and how can and how it can benefit their career. Absolutely. Alright. Sounds good. Thank you so much, Brandon.