Arizona State University (ASU) has announced a partnership with the digital currency Dash that will provide $350,000 to “accelerate research, development, and education in ways that advance blockchain transaction speed, efficiency, security, and expand its uses.” The funds will be allocated as follows:

  • The Dash Scholars Program, which provides $100,000 in scholarships for undergraduate and graduate research fellowships;
  • Research lab and Industry open source projects, providing an additional $100,000 in funding for ASU’s Blockchain Research Lab (BRL) and $50,000 in new funding for the Luminosity Lab, and
  • Blockchain course development, with $100,000 for creating an online graduate course expected to be offered at ASU this fall.

The $350,000 is funded by Dash, via a successful treasury proposal. Director of ASU’s Blockchain Research Lab, Dragan Boscovic, commented:

“ASU welcomes this initiative and is ready to play its role in creating a potent Blockchain research and innovation environment for young talents to develop practical Blockchain applications.”

Fusion of research and development

When thinking about digital currencies, there’s a tendency for the community to focus on the development side of the equation. New versions of the software, updates to add new features, roadmaps and the like - these usually get far more attention than research. However, the new features that get everybody so excited are made possible by researchers who discover the means and methods to add them.

While Dash’s Core DAO (distributed autonomous organization) is focused on development, marketing and the day-to-day aspects of maintaining a digital currency, there are at least two research groups working to move the project forward. Dash Labs is a DAO founded by Dash founder Evan Duffield, based in Hong Kong, that is working to develop hardware solutions to enable on-chain scaling using massive blocks.

Likewise, researchers at ASU are working on researching ways to improve Dash and solve the problems of cryptocurrency in general. Last summer, Dash funded ASU’s Blockchain Research Lab with a $50,000 donation. Dash Core Team CEO Ryan Taylor wrote:

“Initial research [will] focus on throughput capacity and latency performance of blockchain technology, model and assess it for different network architectures (including Dash's multi-tiered architecture), applications, and use cases to propose a "scalability" deployment guide and best practices.”

Taylor notes that the partnership is exclusive:

“Until now, the majority of Blockchain research has been focused on Bitcoin, with minimal focus on other Blockchain applications…The sponsorship incorporate[s] Dash as the exclusive digital currency for ongoing academic research.”

Bitcoin and MIT

Dash isn’t the only digital currency project to partner with a major university. In the summer of 2015, MIT launched the Digital Currency Initiative and solicited donations which were used to hire three full-time Bitcoin developers. This move followed the effective collapse of the Bitcoin Foundation, which had been providing much of the funding for development. None of the funds actually come from MIT, rather, they come from outside donors and are funneled through the Digital Currency Initiative.

By May 2016, MIT had raised $900,000 to fund these developers’ salaries. Later that year, this number had risen to $2 million. This funding is crucial, as Nasdaq points out:

“Funding Bitcoin development seems to have always been problematic.”

While some developers are willing and able to work full-time on open source projects like Bitcoin without compensation, most are not. Therefore, funding is desperately needed to maintain and advance the project.

A different method of funding

While MIT has serious fundraising muscle, dependence on the altruism of others is always a shaky proposition. While most digital currency projects rely on donations or an initial endowment (via ICO) to fund development, Dash has chosen a different method. Dash self-funds its development team, paying developer salaries out of a portion of the block rewards.

Each month, 10% of the block rewards are reserved for successful treasury proposals. This means that as much as 6,650 DASH, worth $5.8 mln at press time, can be paid out directly by the network to those who manage to get their treasury proposals passed. Dash’s treasury system pays for marketing efforts, business development and integrations, conference sponsorships and more.

Most important, Dash’s treasury pays Dash Core developers’ salary each month. At present, Dash employs a staff of 50, including 23 developers, four project managers, eight marketing specialists and 15 other administrative employees. These team members are paid a total of $300,000 per month, directly from Dash’s treasury system. No donations are necessary, and nobody is required to work for free.

It’s this treasury system that funded the $350,000 partnership with ASU.

Direction of influence

One of Dash’s community members who goes by the handle of “TanteStefana,” wrote that while MIT funds Bitcoin’s development, Dash funds ASU’s research lab. She points out that the direction of influence is completely different: Bitcoin is at least partially dependent on the good will and fundraising efforts of MIT. This means the university could theoretically attempt to influence the project.

With the partnership between Dash and ASU, money and influence flows in the opposite direction. It’s Dash that’s providing funding to ASU, making it impossible for the university to wield any influence over the project.

Good fit

Cointelegraph had the opportunity to speak with Dragan Boscovic, director of ASU’s Blockchain Research Lab, who commented on why Dash is such a good fit for the university:

“First, the Dash Core team’s offices are at ASU’s SkySong Innovation Center in Scottsdale, which is also where the Blockchain Research is located, enabling an excellent level of interaction between Dash, ASU faculty and students in a variety of disciplines, including computer science, engineering, business and law. Second, ASU is focused on “building problem solvers and entrepreneurs,” with a large Research and Development budget. Dash is one of the most innovative digital currency solutions with breakthrough algorithms, network topology and services. It’s a natural partnership. Third, there’s been quite a demand for an online graduate course focused on Blockchain technology enablers and applications. The course will help ensure that Blockchain finds an accelerated path toward rapid, mainstream adoption.”

When asked what set Dash apart from other digital currency projects, Boscovic replied:

“After partnering with Dash this summer and evaluating the possibilities of expanded collaboration, scholarships, Blockchain specialization courses and an accelerated research and innovation effort were identified as ways to move Blockchain applications forward. This speaks volumes about Dash network governance and their capability to self-fund strategic initiatives such as this one.”