Jennifer Sereno: Bitcoin sparks fear and loathing, spurs entrepreneurial activity

This is an excerpt from a column posted at BizOpinion.

It’s been scorned by Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase; it’s been the target of U.S. law enforcement officials and yes, it’s one more thing that’s been banned in Russia. Is it any wonder people are talking about Bitcoin?

In Madison and other tech-savvy communities, they’re innovating with it, too.

On a recent Saturday, some 30 members of Madison’s tech community gathered at Madworks Coworking in University Research Park for a “hackathon” or code writing session to create new applications related to the cryptocurrency. Teams competed for bitcoin-denominated prizes in a daylong session fueled by coffee, bagels, Coke and pizza.

“It’s exciting to see this many people here,” said Brian Samson, president of Ten Forward Consulting and an organizer of the Madworks Cryptocurrency Hackathon. “It speaks to the interest in the underlying technology, which is amazing. People criticize Bitcoin for a variety of things, but it is still in its infancy and the capabilities are still being developed. It’s like when the Internet started. People could have said, yeah, but you can’t watch TV. Well, now you can.”

So, what exactly is a bitcoin? Depending on how you define a “store of value,” the volatile virtual currency may or may not be money, although some traders have been charged with money laundering.

“It really is geek money right now,” says Monty Schmidt, a hackathon organizer and founder of Madison computer consulting company Wuntusk. “You almost have to have a degree in computer science to do anything with it.”

Read the full column