Tepper Case Challenge deals with CMU Coin

For the past few months, all eyes have been on cryptocurrency prices as cryptocurrency speculation has entered into the mainstream. This past Saturday at the Simon Auditorium in Posner Hall, however, undergraduate students from every college at Carnegie Mellon University gathered for Undergraduate Business Case Challenge to figure out how a “CMU Coin” could change life on campus.

Colleges have been quick to attempt to funnel student interest into expanded academic exploration of this topic, with a New York Times article this past week covering mostly graduate-level classes cropping up at Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Duke, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Maryland that have focused on cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, and blockchain technology.

The winning team, Team Kappa, want to use CMU Coin to more efficiently allocate resources on campus through a bidding system. They planned on using CMU Coin as an incentive to keep students active on campus, and using the blockchain technology associated with CMU Coin to create an “immutable, transferable, and permanent storage” of student ledgers.

The second place team, Team Alpha, focused more on the potential of CMU Coin as a currency. They claimed that it would speed up the verification process that Student Leadership, Involvement, and Civic Engagement (SLICE) does for purchases made by student organizations, changing what is currently a wait time of around a month to a mere eight minutes. This, they asserted, would lead to a more vibrant campus life, as organizations would plan more events and be more open to collaboration.

Both teams skewed traditional conversations about cryptocurrencies by looking for ways that a CMU Coin could be better for the environment, suggesting that mining could be more efficient and powered by sustainable resources.
This week’s challenge was a large departure from past case challenges in terms of subject.

Elaine Kim, a business major on the Kappa team, said that “other [challenges] have been about specific companies,” but she had been drawn to this one because it afforded an opportunity to “learn more about cryptocurrency.” Yiyi Zan, a senior on the Alpha team majoring in Business and Statistics agreed, stating “that this was the most interesting case [she] had ever been a part of.” She found that while “other cases revolved around a problem,” looking for uses for a cryptocurrency on campus let her think about “solutions we can implement with this technology.”

Professor Param Singh, Carnegie Bosch Chair and Associate Professor of Business Technologies at the Tepper School of Business, co-authored the case and is working on the development of CMU Coin. He is careful to highlight that the purpose of CMU Coin is not to create a cryptocurrency for the university, but rather to experiment with the mechanisms and functionalities of cryptocurrency. Singh stated, "the whole idea is not for cryptocurrency," but to work with the computer scientists and economists at Carnegie Mellon to understand cryptocurrencies. “With all these cryptocurrencies out there, we realized we don’t know a lot about cryptocurrency,” he said.

This case was meant to collect student ideas about the potential for this currency. Singh states that CMU Coin will be a “student driven project” and that students will be able to “build their own changes.” He hopes that CMU Coin will “demystify [cryptocurrency] for students.”

Singh finds that all cryptocurrencies have certain characteristics in common: ‘proof of work,’ the method where participants solve problems to ‘mine’ coins, anonymity, and decentralization. Singh hopes that CMU Coin will shift these expectations by being more centralized and easy to regulate, in addition to being greener.

This anonymity and lack of regulation and centralization is what many have lauded about current cryptocurries but these changes to the typical type of cryptocurrency, CMU Coin developers hope, will allow them to combat speculation and stabilize prices, as well as model a future where cryptocurrencies may be regulated.

When asked how the recent hype surrounding the price of cryptocurrencies has effected this project, Singh replied that the CMU Coin project is not based upon the hysteria surrounding cryptocurrencies but rather the potential of the technology.

“Cryptocurrency is going to be the future,” Singh stated before going on to detail how various economies are looking to integrate cryptocurrencies. “A pound might be a cryptopound, a dollar might be a cryptodollar.” He has found that the recent focus on cryptocurrencies “has raised interest, and we need to understand it more.”

This Undergraduate Business Case Challenge, sponsered by the PNC Center for Financial Services Innovation, gave students a chance to think about how this attempt to understand cryptocurrency might be able to effect the lives of all students.