Mimi St Johns couldn’t wait to drop out of Stanford University.

The 24-year-old computer science and German double major, former Thiel Capital intern and software engineer had the pedigree to land a coveted role in the upper echelons of Corporate America. But last fall, as the so-called crypto winter started to thaw, she hatched a plan to launch a blockchain company. She dropped out of school, two quarters shy of a degree, in January and decamped to Miami to go into into stealth mode for her startup, Verbum Labs.

“The only thing I regret is not doing it sooner,” she said.

With the comeback in Bitcoin prices this year, the career calculus is changing for students at top colleges. Digital-asset exchanges like Coinbase, Kraken and Gemini are hiring, as more favorable conditions make it easier to fundraise and add headcount again. Even mainstream financial firms like Fidelity are expanding in the space, as the introduction of spot Bitcoin ETFs in January increased the need for talent.

In some ways, this is a shift to the time before the recent crypto downturn. The industry was once a buzzy destination for the smart kids on campus, drawn by the chance to hit it rich in an exciting new industry. But hiring and investment slowed dramatically during the two-year crypto plunge that began in 2022 and wiped away billions in market value, pushed companies into bankruptcy and saw Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX and a poster child for the pandemic-era froth in the industry, sentenced to 25 years in a prison for fraud and related crimes.

Bitcoin is down around 15% since it hit a new high in March. Still, a new wave of risk-on young crypto entrepreneurs say they’re aware of the industry’s volatility and risks. And they’re willing to leave some of the country’s most prestigious schools to launch their careers in what they hope will be a new crypto boom.

Edison Siu, 33, recently put his studies on hold at the Yale School of Management to launch a blockchain company. He’s been through two downturns before and knows that bull markets are the time to launch. He didn’t feel he could launch his bot-fighting blockchain firm, Solo, just part time as a student at Yale. So he is moving to San Francisco in May to go all in.

“Before, when crypto winters kicked in, people kept saying, ‘OK, Blockchain is over,’” he said. “Now people know that winters will come, but crypto will still be there.”

Students approaching graduation this year are faced with a challenging job market that is making crypto more appealing. At first glance, the US job market is booming, with the latest report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing the biggest rise in payrolls in nearly a year. Yet that growth was led by health care, construction, leisure and hospitality. Meanwhile, white-collar employers have been slashing jobs, including at the large Wall Street banks and management consulting companies that typically recruit on top college campuses.

University recruiting analytics and research firm Veris Insights found 62% of professional services firms said entry-level hiring volume for full-time positions decreased for the current academic year from the year before. That figure was 30% for finance and 29% for banking, according to the firm’s survey of over 100 large companies, including the likes of BlackRock Inc., Bank of America Corp. and McKinsey & Co.

At the same time, interest in crypto is percolating at colleges and universities across the US. At Columbia Business School, a recent recruitment event for Coinbase drew some 70 or 80 students, according to a representative at the school’s career management center. Meanwhile, at Williams College — known as the “West Point of Wall Street” for its history of sending graduates to major financial institutions — interest in the industry is starting earlier than ever.

“Students, when they talk about crypto and blockchain, they’re really excited and they’re really inspired by the risk,” said Dale Osef, assistant director of STEM and health careers at the Massachusetts-based college. “I’m seeing them come in with all of this really vast knowledge about it, even as first-year students.”

Getting a job in crypto has typically been more ad hoc than it is for banking or consulting, industries that can start interviewing students for structured programs as early as sophomore year. But Coinbase announced in November that it will increase the percentage of hires it makes from internships, with a goal of having 20% of all new full-time hires in its engineering, product and design departments having gone through its internship program.

“We’re getting a great uptick in interest in all of our events,” said L.J. Brock, the cryptocurrency exchange’s chief people officer. “We feel very confident that we’re going to hit our recruiting goals.”

Today’s renewed candidate interest in cryptocurrency poses some challenges. Coinbase wants to hire people who are interested in the technology and who believe not just in its long-term potential, but who will stick with it in a downturn, Brock said. Many firms may avoid traditional recruitment channels often used by banks and consulting companies, and instead look more at student involvement in open-source projects or participation in on-campus blockchain clubs.

Charlie Ambrose, the 21-year-old president of Dartmouth’s blockchain club, first looked into Bitcoin when he was 15. His uncle bought him and his cousins a bit of the cryptocurrency, and they all thought it was funny when it crashed a few months later. But that was a couple winters ago now. Crypto for Gen Zers like Ambrose functions almost the way the early social internet did for Millennials; it was funny until suddenly, it became a serious part of life. Now Ambrose, a philosophy major, is preparing for a career in crypto after launching a blockchain firm called Anthias Labs with his club. As far as jobs go, he “really just can’t imagine anything else.”

That’s how St Johns feels, too. She first started going to crypto parties in San Francisco early in college, when Covid had shut down much of life and nothing else was going on. She says those parties felt like what the early days of the internet must have felt like, when people were building on the edge of something big and new. Now, she is building a crypto company called Verbum Labs, a platform for consumers to more easily buy viral, real-world products like Stanley cups and Trader Joe’s tote bags through tokenization.

“What would I tell people who think I’m crazy?” she said. “No cross, no crown ... You don't bear any risks, you don't get any reward.”

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.