Morgan State University was awarded a three-year, $1.05 million grant this month from Ripple, a San Francisco-based blockchain and cryptocurrency solutions company.

The university is the only historically Black college and university in Ripple’s University Blockchain Research Initiative, which supports more than 50 universities internationally, many of them Ivy League and elite schools.

Ripple’s latest grant, which follows its first round of funding to Morgan in 2019, provides $350,000 annually for three years for research, programming and partnerships with other HBCUs. University officials say it will help Morgan and Baltimore advance its goals of becoming an emerging tech hub.

“We want to put HBCUs in the forefront of all of these cutting-edge developments,” said Ali Emdad, Morgan State’s interim dean of business and management and founding director of the National Center for the Study of Blockchain and FinTech, which will administer the Ripple money. “It’s not a huge amount, but we maximize it by bringing people to one place and then taking them through some learning experiences that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The university started its National FinTech Center in 2018, inspired by students’ desire to learn more about blockchain and cryptocurrency during a rise in its popularity that began in 2015, Emdad said.

Since then, Morgan has become the hub for the HBCU Blockchain and FinTech Network and its annual conference. Ripple’s grant will help fund that event by providing scholarships for students at Morgan and other HBCUs to attend.

The grant also will support faculty research on blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning through $10,000 grants, as well as provide funding for workshops on XRP Ledger, a public blockchain, and MorganHacks, a weekend hackathon showcasing students’ innovative software and hardware projects.

Ripple, Accenture and Hyperledger are among several companies that help fund Morgan’s FinTech Center, according to its website. The nonprofit Blockchain Association, a nonprofit crypto industry trade group, also provides funding.

Morgan State University started its National FinTech Center in 2018 and recently received a $1 million grant from Ripple. (Morgan State University)

Fintech as an industry has grown exponentially as the days of walking into a bank to deposit a check fade away. From day-to-day banking to investing in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, almost everything can be done through a phone app.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

These apps are powered by financial technology, or “fintech,” which improves, evolves and automates digital transactions such as payments, investing, banking and lending. Fintech also encompasses blockchain, cryptocurrency and some aspects of cybersecurity.

The industry accounts for $150 billion to $205 billion, or 5%, of the global banking sector’s more than $6.5 trillion net revenue, according to McKinsey & Company, which also says it has the potential to reach $400 billion in revenue by 2028.

The demand from companies and consumers for this type of technology is expected to grow. Morgan’s quick design of its fintech center has allowed it to be the only HBCU keeping pace with other universities and the industry.

Tech and entrepreneurship advocates are hoping Baltimore will become an emerging tech hub. There are nearly 500 startups in the Baltimore metro area, with more than 300 in the city itself, according to UpSurge Baltimore’s 2024 Tech Ecosystem Report. UpSurge promotes startups, fosters diversity and tries to create business capital opportunities for tech businesses and entrepreneurs.

Last year, the Baltimore area was among 31 communities designated a federal Regional Innovation and Technology Hub. Startups focused on health care and information technology dominate in Baltimore, in line with the tech hub’s focus.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

But advocates hope fintech will grow in Baltimore.

“I’m really elated that Morgan State is one of those research universities,” said Kory Bailey, CEO of UpSurge Baltimore. “My hope is that students and faculty participating in that research will have great ideas we can commercialize and grow into companies and startups right here in Baltimore.”

In 2019, Morgan received a multiyear, multimillion-dollar grant from Ripple through the company’s University Blockchain Research Initiative. Neither Ripple nor Emdad disclosed the initial grant amount.