Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Club president Zach Nelson explains to a pair of students how the currency works while handing out free cryptocurrency at the University of Washington Bothell on Wednesday, May 9, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Club president Zach Nelson explains to a pair of students how the currency works while handing out free cryptocurrency at the University of Washington Bothell on Wednesday, May 9, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Cryptocurrency interest grows with UW Bothell student club

They recently handed out free “wallets” of the Dogecoin currency, and 88 new members signed up.

BOTHELL — Free money.

That’s a surefire way to get attention from students walking by.

The currency wasn’t the green stuff. It was the virtual version of blockchain bucks.

The newly minted Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Club at the University of Washington Bothell set up a table in the courtyard Wednesday to explain what the group was all about and recruit new members.

Inside a fishbowl were folded up pieces of paper with a QR code — a “wallet” of digital currency when scanned.

“Everyone’s a winner,” club President Zach Nelson said with the zest of a carnival barker.

The club signed up 88 new members and gave out 120 wallets. And, yeah, they did a lot of explaining.

The wallets were for Dogecoin, a crypto named after an internet meme dog and cheap compared to granddaddy Bitcoin: $1 bought about 200 Dogecoins that day. By contrast, a single Bitcoin was trading for about $9,000.

Prices are highly volatile for currencies that have no tangible form and are used worldwide with no central regulating body or bank. Nelson said demand, transactions and number of coins mined often influence the price.

Bitcoin traded near $20,000 at one point last December. That’s when cryptocurrency entered the imagination of the masses, though most people don’t understand what is it or how it works and/or which to use. There are hundreds of currencies to choose from. Many have “coin” in the name, though there’s nothing to jingle in your pocket.

Oscar Meyer recently jumped into crypto frying pan with Bacoin based on social media engagement. Bacoin is only good for scoring coupons for free bacon. It’s not on the crypto trading exchange. At least, not yet.

Crypto has downsides and dangers, such as fraud, hacking and environmental impact from mining. Still, the get-rich fantasy tends to steal the spotlight. And rightly so.

Nelson, 20, a sophomore media and communications major from Seattle, bought Bitcoin in 2011 “for about $12.” He also bought Litecoin and Ethereum, other popular coins.

“If I had ‘hodl-ed’ which is ‘hold on for dear life’ — that’s what they say in crypto, if you never sell — I would have had about $1.5 million, but that’s OK, I still made some. I’m not going to give the exact amount,” he said.

“No regrets.”

Wait, doesn’t he wish he had that $1.5 mil?

“Yes, of course,” he said, “but at the same time I can always make more money.”

The blockchain technology used by crypto has other applications, and those are the club’s focus.

“It’s not an investment club,” Nelson said. “The technology behind it is really the most valuable thing. Blockchain is an all-purpose ledger tool. It can be used for many things — supply chain management, keeping inventory better, for voting, for securing transactions.”

The club started in March. Officers already have met with startups and businesses. A goal is to develop curriculum, internships and scholarships for students pursuing careers in blockchain technology.

“This is a budding industry,” Nelson said. “It has a super long way to go. It’s new. Give it 100 years.”

The club plans to compete in a campus hackathon and host a talk by an algorithmic trading expert.

Club co-founder Anthony Waddell, 26, a Lynnwood junior, wants to get into blockchain engineering.

He’s betting on crypto to fund his education.

“I got started because I watched my friends make a lot of money,” he said. “I have made money in cryptocurrency. Like most people, I will not say how much. I plan to keep holding and buy more and walk out of college with no student loans.”

Students who stopped at the table were intrigued.

“I’m interested in learning about it,” said student Naima Hassan, 24. “I don’t know where to start.”

Angelo Tadrous, 18, a law, economics and public policy major, was hip to the hype. “I heard people got rich off it,” he said.

Maybe he’d be one of them.

The wallet he unfolded had the code for a top prize of about 6,000 Dogecoin.

It was worth about $30 at that moment. Two days later, it had dropped to $24.

So “hodl” … as they say in the crypto circles.

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown @herald net.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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