Blockchain: Iowa’s crypto community is educational

Illustration by Nathan Wright Illustration by Nathan Wright

When Brock Hager saw a story about bitcoin in the Marshalltown Times-Republican earlier this year he realized digital currency had gone mainstream.

Hager is a member of the Iowa Blockchain Network, a group of Iowans that meet monthly in Des Moines to discuss digital currency and blockchain technology. Hager—who works in information technologies—first was introduced to the concept of digital currency in 2013 when there were less than 10 people in the Iowa Blockchain Network.

Now the group has nearly 300 members across its social media platforms.

“People in crypto think it’s going to take off,” Hager says. “A lot of people compare it to the internet, where nine years into the internet it was only in government and education. But as it becomes more user-friendly, I think more people will start looking into it.”

During their monthly meetups members of the Iowa Blockchain Network discuss the latest news, provide education and invite guest speakers to host open discussions on digital currency.

The crypto magnet

It was 2011 when Tim Spencer first heard about digital currencies as he searched various online forums for information. Nearly three years later Spencer would come across the Satoshi White Paper and after reading that study, he started investing in it.

Now he’s known as the “crypto magnet” to his fellow members in the Iowa Blockchain Network. He says a lot of the activity in their group depends on the price of Bitcoin, which has fallen the last few months.

“People aren’t as excited about it,” Spencer said. “As the price goes up, people get more excited and I think it should be the opposite. As the price goes down, we should get more excited and get more people into this.”

Spencer says he likes to trade and mine Bitcoin and last year alone, he made enough money to put himself into a position to build a $6,000 computer dedicated to mining.

“The easiest way to explain mining is you are approving transactions on a blockchain,” Spencer says. “And you are getting rewarded for it with bitcoins. That’s really the basics of how it works.”

But as more miners come on board, the harder it is.

“It’s more like a lottery,” he explains. “Your computer figures out a math problem and you get rewarded for it if you are the first one to figure it out. And now because more miners are coming on board, the math equation becomes harder and harder. So people are starting to pool together, so you get paid based on what your computer is capable of.”

How Iowa stacks up for mining

Some developers believe that because of Iowa’s commitment to alternative energy, it will attract more people to the state who want to mine. Cheaper electricity is good for mining bitcoin.

“Iowa has a lot of green electricity so that’s a good thing,” Hager says.

Spencer—who lives in Ankeny—said his mining operation goes through Alliant Energy, which charges eight cents per kilowatt hour.

Do any companies accept bitcoin as payment?

Both Spencer and Hager hadn’t heard of any Iowa companies who accept bitcoin as payment, but it’s not uncommon to see items posted on Craig’s list that do.

The website CoinMap offers a map that shows locations that accept digital currency. But when Clay & Milk reached out to several of the places in Iowa, they either said they don’t anymore or never have.

Regardless, it’s something that is on the horizon.

“There’s so much technical stuff that people don’t understand and a lot of people want to get in and make money,” Spencer said. “Until that is more simplified I think it will take a little bit longer to become more mainstream. It’s got to be easier for people.”