Innovator Profile: Mike Yeung

Dan Ward
Research Assistant, SFU Public Square

Innovator Profiles highlight extraordinary community members that are making a difference.

Mike Yeung is investing in the future.

After hearing about the digital currency known as Bitcoin a couple of years ago, Mike Yeung’s interest turned to action when he saw the value of Bitcoin shoot up earlier this year. This led to the establishment at SFU of Canada’s first and only university Bitcoin Club (the only other such club in North America is at Stanford University in California).

Bitcoin was introduced to the world in 2009 by a person or group known as Satoshi Nakamoto (the origins of the alias remain an enigma). Bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency sent directly from one person to another through something akin to an email. Unlike conventional online transactions, Bitcoin transfers can be done without a third-party processor and are not beholden to online commerce regulations. This is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of Bitcoin, Yeung contends: “There is no central authority.”

In a nutshell, “Bitcoin is like having cash, tied to gold, and putting a teleporter on top of that," Yeung said during our interview. By cash, Yeung of course means what people commonly accept as payment for goods and services; the teleporter metaphor refers to the way Bitcoin can be easily transferred and sent throughout the world via the web; and the relation to gold refers to Bitcoin’s finite quality.

Bitcoin’s production is limited by design, where “coins” are produced at a predictable algorithmically-constructed steady rate—so consistent that we can say with a strong degree of certainty that “mining” (production) will stop by the year 2140. “This is to protect against inflation," says Yeung. 

In Vancouver, there are a handful of merchants that accept Bitcoin as payment, but the number is growing. Yeung remarks, "There is much intrinsic value/utility in Bitcoin: instant and feeless international remittance, microtipping and donating directly to recipients, crowdfunding, allowing people in developing nations to conduct global trade, and much more. These are attributes that not even gold can provide."

Like many others before him, Yeung spent his early twenties feeling a little uninspired, testing out history, archaeology and a variety of social sciences at different colleges. All this exploration left him still unsure about his future. “In terms of actual direction, I didn’t really have any." This all changed the moment he discovered Bitcoin.

The SFU student is currently working towards a Bachelor in Business Administration (BBA) at the Beedie School of Business, crediting his program “with opening his eyes to new opportunities.” Yeung says he feels inspired by the rest of his class, who he says are “very bright” and “make me want to do something with my time [at SFU].”

Not surprisingly, Yeung is interested in questions surrounding Bitcoin and its future. This might be why the Bitcoin Club hosted four of SFU Public Square’s 2013 Community Summit “100 Community Conversations”. The 100 Community Conversations concept invited anyone to host a small gathering, at which the discussion was focused on questions about the B.C. economy. “We have a lot of paths that cross," Yeung said, speaking about the Bitcoin Club and this SFU Public Square initiative. Both are interested in discovering what the community thinks about B.C.’s economic future, “and of course for us more specifically, how Bitcoin can affect future economies." He says Bitcoin is “poised to change businesses, politics, the economy and everyday life.”

While the tone was “generally optimistic” at the Community Conversations Yeung hosted, participants had widespread concern regarding oil pipeline expansions, high tuition costs and the impact these features could have on the B.C. economy. Attendees agreed they would like to see Bitcoin grow as a currency for community projects—unsurprising considering the democratic and wiki-like culture of Bitcoin supporters.

When asked what was next for him and the Bitcoin Club, Yeung responded definitively: “Transforming SFU." He highlighted an ambitious goal of developing the club to a point “that will transform the university campus into one that is very innovative… [one that is] really forward thinking.” One of Yeung’s first major goals is to help make SFU the first “completely Bitcoin-friendly” university campus. He envisages everything from food, schools supplies—even tuition—to be paid for with Bitcoin.

Yeung plans to continue growing the Bitcoin community at SFU through a continuation of the inter-faculty and community-oriented dialogue he has initiated since the start of the club earlier this year. Indeed, the recent introduction of a Bitcoin ATM-style kiosk in Vancouver will only add another interesting layer to this conversation—one Yeung, of course, is eager to have.