How an Aussie blockchain business became accidental technology leader

Austin Lewinsmith, Co-founder of Blockchain Collective

A globally recognised tech training hub on Queensland’s Gold Coast has emerged as a vital link taking blockchain technology to new heights. Producing education curriculums was never on the to-do list for Blockchain Collective co-founders Austin Lewinsmith and Nathan Burns.

Yet the Blockchain Collective’s world-first, fully accredited blockchain courses have students flocking to the Gold Coast where the city is carving a reputation as a new tech powerhouse.

Offering Diploma and Advanced Diploma of Applied Blockchain, and a soon-to-be-released course that merges blockchain with machine learning, the courses are not just producing in-demand graduates but projects that are advancing how blockchain is being used globally.

What was the business turning point?

“We were doing stuff in the blockchain space, and we realised that no one anywhere had any sort of accredited curriculum, it was pretty much all cowboys,” Lewinsmith said.

“We didn’t really decide to get into education. We were just trying to solve our problems, which included coming up against people who didn’t really know what they were talking about but sold themselves as a blockchain strategist or a blockchain planner, only to find the reality was that they’d really only watched a lot of YouTube videos,” Lewinsmith further said.

“We realised we could create a standard. Blockchain is going to be used as the spine that interconnects a lot of the other emerging tech like AI, big data, internet of things, machine learning and cyber. There needs to be rigour and governance and standards around that.”

Students seek out high-tech capital

Lewinsmith said students were lining up to join the growing list of job-ready graduates from the courses, as borders opened allowing international students to travel again.

“Australia is highly regarded around the world for its standard of education and the Gold Coast is an amazing place for students to come to, mixed with a very vibrant start up hub here on the Gold Coast that is evolving in the tech scene specifically. I believe the Gold Coast has the potential to be the tech hub for Australia. We’ve got a lot of the right support coming in from industry and gov’t and players in the space who are making an impact. It’s exciting.”

Having identified the skills gap and then created the training courses, Blockchain Collective has partnered with public and private training providers such as established Queensland registered training organisation Saltera Training on the Gold Coast and TAFE Queensland.

Minister for Training and Skills Development Di Farmer said TAFE Queensland had partnered with Blockchain Collective to deliver the Diploma of Applied Blockchain and had added the course to JobTrainer Fund priority course list. “The JobTrainer Fund is funded by Queensland and Commonwealth Gov’ts to support people through no-fee or low-fee training in areas with strong employment prospects and will help drive our economy forward,” Farmer said.

“Offering cutting-edge training without a significant cost barrier is a fantastic way to make Queensland a workforce leader on how to adapt or develop business models to take best advantage of blockchain’s potential and navigate the planning and implementation process.”

Blockchain links to industry innovation

Lewinsmith said the courses, along with the projects being produced by graduates, together with the backing of industry, were producing a groundswell of innovation.

Innovative Gold Coast and Queensland organisations such as the award-winning AgUnity which is changing agricultural practices across the globe, or Everledger’s track and trace platform for ethical diamonds that was founded and operated by Queensland Chief Entrepreneur Leanne Kemp, showcased how blockchain could be applied.

“Every day you wake up excited, you never know what a student is coming up with as an innovation for the project they will develop. There’s a lot of very good firms coming out of the Gold Coast, great ideas and founders. We have even more great project innovations.”

The blockchain transformation

Lewinsmith said blockchains, best known for their role in crypto, securely stored information electronically in digital format. A blockchain collects information together in groups, known as blocks, that hold sets of information. When they reach their storage capacity, they are closed and linked to other blocks, forming a chain of data known as the blockchain.

The key innovation of blockchain is that it guarantees a secure record of data and offers transparency and traceability of the information. “Where the internet was the beginning of the transfer of information, blockchain is really the beginning of the transfer of value,” he said.

“Blockchain and DLT (distributed ledger technology) is a record of who owns what.” He said many people didn’t even realise how much blockchain had infiltrated modern tech processes.

“There are so many areas being impacted by blockchain as a tech. It is becoming more and more part of our world. When blockchain is working really well, people don’t even know it’s working in the background, all they know is that the processes became a lot simpler.”

Lewinsmith said beyond Bitcoin, the applications for the tech were exploding. “There are two clear sides to blockchain – the technical side and the applied side. The technical side moves very quickly and is the coding. The applied side is the business thinking around application.”

What is the blockchain terrain like today?

Accounting, legal, engineering, and even transport and logistic firms are now among the industries embracing the power of blockchain tech to help their businesses efficiently and securely transmit and transact. “What we realised was it wasn’t just one area or one industry that the applied side of blockchain was going to affect, it was all industries,” Lewinsmith said.

“So, from a student’s perspective, it travels. Some students who come in might be accountants, they are already highly skilled in accounting, but they might want to work out whether blockchain is a viable solution to a problem. We have got other students who are barbers, some who in mining, some who are lawyers,” Lewinsmith further commented.

“Every student’s outcome is completely different because it is about the critical thinking around the application because they are mapping a project from inception, their own idea, to being able to hand over an executable project. When you’re talking emerging tech business model, you can’t use business thinking from 10 or 15 years ago, because it’s no longer relevant. It means every student is creating innovation,” Lewinsmith concluded.