MIT undergrad Jeremy L. Rubin and Sloan School of Management student Daniel B. Elitzer have convinced about 25 donors to donate more than half a million dollars (half from MIT alum and co-founder of the high frequency trading outfit Hudson River Trading Alexander Morcos) so that they can give MIT undergrads $100 each in Bitcoin in a project meant to kickstart innovation.

Bitcoins Fraud

“Everybody has access to the Internet, right, so you want to launch a webapp? Everybody can do that. You want to launch a bitcoin or cryptocurrency app? That’s a little bit harder,” explains Rubin, report Austin Hess and Leon Lin, editors for MIT student paper The Tech. “You can’t test it in your immediate friend group. But hopefully [that’s] what we’ll enable.”

Bitcoin a long way off from mainstream use

While the protocols behind Bitcoin have impressed members of the crypto community for years, and some investors have started speculating on Bitcoin and other digital currencies in the last year or so, it has always had a few major obstacles to widespread acceptance. The first is that Bitcoin are still more difficult and risker to use than banks. Supporters might argue that the Mt. Gox meltdown was an isolated incident, but there is no equivalent of the FDIC looking out for individual depositors. And if you’re not tech-savvy your options for spending Bitcoin are limited to just a handful of websites – most people will just end up exchanging back for dollars.

MIT project meant to create a local Bitcoin economy

It’s safe to assume that MIT students are both tech savvy and ambitious. Even if some of the students just cash in the free Bitcoins (or sell them to other students), Rubin and Elitzer hope that most of them will spend them through other students’ projects so that the total value stays within an MIT Bitcoin ecosystem. Brick and mortar businesses could also get into the act to tap into the $500,000 burning a hole in MIT students’ digital wallets.

“What I’m hoping is that infrastructure gets sufficiently built around MIT that bitcoin actually becomes a useful commodity to have,” says Rubin.

If that happens it could act as a guide for how to make Bitcoin more useful in a broader context, and direct some particularly sharp minds toward digital currency at the earliest stage of their careers. There’s plenty of skepticism about Bitcoin, but if anyone can surprise us with novel uses for digital currencies this is probably the group to do it.