You’ve probably heard the terms bitcoin and blockchain but have no idea what they mean. Don’t worry, when I met up with Helen Disney, founder of Unblocked Events, I had to politely ask her explain it to me (really simply). In layman’s terms bitcoin is a digital currency and blockchain is a public ledger listing all bitcoin transactions. Helen is a female entrepreneur in an industry dominated by men, but she’s on a mission to make blockchain technology accessible for a non-technical business audience with her new company Unblocked Events, which is a hub for events, education and information.
Tell us about your career and how you became interested in blockchain technology
My career has been largely based around influencing ideas and generating public debates. I started off working for a think tank in Westminster, looking at how to reform public services like the NHS, education and welfare to try to make them more responsive to their users. I then used that experience to go into journalism as a leader writer for The Times and a contributor to other newspapers and magazines. I wrote about everything from pension reform to the MMR jab, drug courts and the ‘Metric Martyr‘. After leaving The Times I took the leap into launching my first business which was a pan-European hub connecting think tanks and policy institutes. But after I had my children I started to crave a change into something new so I took a break from being a full-time CEO to think about what I wanted to do next. Into this gap, fell an opportunity to work on content and fundraising for a major European conference about the digital currency, bitcoin. It was during that project that I first started learning about what blockchain was and becoming excited about its innovative potential.
Can you explain to the uninitiated what blockchain is and what it can do?
Blockchain is the technology that underlies digital currencies like bitcoin. But it’s also more than that. You can think of a blockchain as a bit like a gigantic secure, decentralised database – imagine a Google spreadsheet shared by multiple users all able to access an accurate, real-time shared version of the information. This is useful because it allows many different sorts of innovations and improvements in existing business operations, but also opens up the chance for completely new business models. Imagine, for example, that you could access a hotel room using a smart key and never need to check in at the front desk or that you could trade excess energy from your solar panels automatically with local neighbours who need it and earn money from doing so, or that charities could automate responses to humanitarian crises and get money or supplies directly into the hands of those who need it at the touch of a button. All of these applications will become possible thanks to blockchain in combination with other new technologies like smart devices and smart contracts.
What prompted you to setup Unblocked Events and what are your plans for the future?
Three years after first learning about bitcoin, I founded Unblocked Events to share my learning and connect with other professionals wanting to gain an accessible understanding of this technology and build the new business services of the future. I felt that I had experienced a steep learning curve, as someone who is neither a programmer nor a financier and that most events out there about blockchain were aimed at these two groups. I see blockchain as too important not to be talked about at a level that the so-called average person can understand. By creating Unblocked I am building a wider community of interest in blockchain outside of simply financial services and acting as a bridge between the technical and non-technical worlds. Blockchain has a variety of applications in different sectors from healthcare, to energy, to philanthropy, to provenance of goods and so on. To me, it makes more sense to bring in real world examples and help people to understand what this technology can do for them, rather than getting overly bogged down in jargon.
Which women in business inspire you?
I’m particularly inspired by women who are pioneering in traditionally male-dominated fields, especially those who are honest about the difficulties of managing a personal and professional life, and having an online presence in the era of trolling. I tend to prefer Twitter for technology and political news and Instagram more for the creative side of life.
In tech, I follow Meltem Demirors who is an expert in the digital currency and blockchain field.
In politics, I love the ever-ballsy Jess Phillips MP.
On Instagram l I follow Type Tasting which was founded by my friend Sarah Hyndman.
Healthcare Unblocked Event: 13 October in London. It will look at how blockchain is set to transform healthcare in a whole variety of ways from improving the integrity of clinical trials, to changing the way healthcare insurance operates and allowing us to take charge of our own medical data.