Buildathon challenges students to develop solutions using blockchain technology

group photo of the winning team at the buildathon.

The recipients of the Blockchain Buildathon Grand 1st Prize pose with representatives from M&T Bank and faculty member Bina Ramamurthy.

By Nicole Capozziello and Sarah D'Iorio

Published June 28, 2019

About 100 students gathered on campus this spring to take part in the 2019 Blockchain Buildathon—an annual event that brings together local businesses and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences students to develop a solution to a problem, or use case, utilizing blockchain technology.

“The experience helped me put the components of a blockchain system into perspective. I encourage anyone interested in fabricating new technology to give it a try. ”
Dana Moukheiber, Biomedical Engineering Student
Grand 1st Prize Recipient

Blockchain is a new type of computer coding—a permanent records of sorts—that keeps track of digital transactions via a centralized public ledger. While best known for Bitcoin, the definition and possibilities of digital transactions have expanded in recent years, with the potential to affect such diverse markets as the insurance industry and intellectual property rights management.

Held on April 12-13, 2019, this year's event was sponsored by M&T Bank, ValueCentric, and BlueCross BlueShield, who provided funding and acted as mentors and judges throughout the two days.

“The Blockchain Buildathon is a valuable experience for students, who are empowered to engage with and solve real-world problems,” says Bina Ramamurthy, organizer of the annual event, and professor of teaching and director of the Blockchain ThinkLab. “Best of all, this kind of focused interaction between sponsoring businesses and student participants is only possible at such events.”

On Friday night, 17 student teams met and were randomly assigned use cases, which had been developed by each sponsor. M&T Bank’s use case concerned blockchain-enabled property title search, ValueCentric’s pertained to tracking pharmaceutical drugs using blockchain, and Blue Cross Blue Shield’s dealt with personally identifiable Information on blockchain.

On Saturday, the teams convened to analyze their use case, and design and develop a blockchain-based solution for their issue. After presenting their final project solutions, the winners were announced. The Grand 1st Prize ($500) went to Dana Moukheiber, Abhijit Joshi, Vikram Karthikeyan, Emmanuel Johnson and Saiyam Pravinchandra Shah. The Grand 2nd Prize ($300) went to Ethan Sachse, Timothy Chase and Anthony Introne.

Moukheiber, a biomedical engineering student, said her group worked on creating a platform to look for liens on one’s property—whether it be unpaid property taxes to the government, loans from the bank or even judgments from court. 

“I really appreciated all the time and effort Dr. Ramamurthy, the volunteers and sponsors put into making such an event possible. The experience helped me put the components of a blockchain system into perspective. I encourage anyone interested in fabricating new technology to give it a try," says Moukheiber. 

With an evolving technology like blockchain, the event changes every year to reflect the expansion in understanding of both students and industry. “Participants were more knowledgeable about blockchain technology so they were able to solve the use case in under 24 hours,” says Ramamurthy. “The duration of the event is half of last year.”

In addition, most of the student teams were able to develop a complete solution for their assigned case; last year, only one or two teams presented completed solutions.

ValueCentric, a local technology company that provides services to health care organizations, was excited to again be involved in the Blockchain Buildathon. Representatives from the company, including a few UB alumni, consulted with student teams throughout the day.

Judy Feldman, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer at ValueCentric, said the event allows companies exploring blockchain to provide real world scenarios, such as the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA), and meet bright and creative students in the process.

“As a business leader, it was fantastic to engage with so many students and experience the energy of the buildathon!” says Feldman, who sits on the SEAS Dean's Advisory Council. “The winning team had an elegant technical solution, but more importantly, explored the business problem and was able to articulate how their solution solved the DSCSA problem.”

This was BlueCross BlueShield’s first year participating in the event but said they enjoyed their involvement and are looking forward to future collaborations. Over a dozen M&T Bank employees were also engaged with the event, acting as mentors and ultimately recognizing the top teams.

M&T Bank was a gold level sponsor, donating $5,000, as well as nearly $1,000 in gift cards that they gave away throughout the event. ValueCentric, a UB Engineering Partner, sponsored the event at the $2,500 level. BlueCross BlueShield was also at the $2,500 sponsorship level.