The insider's guide to the Jerome Fisher Program at the University of Pennsylvania

My StartUp Summer: Blockchain Networking, VC Pitching, and Maximizing my M&T Brain

In the city of the radioactive spider, I met its the well-fed cousin: the entrepreneurial bug. Many times, when I should have been studying for a math midterm, I’ve indulged in the fantasy of starting a company. This summer, as a member of blockchain startup elphi, I embarked on an educational experience unlike any I’ve received in a classroom setting.

I came on as a full stack developer, wearing the appropriate geeky t-shirt and trainers. After a week of pitching my proof-of-concept to potential investors and partners in shirts reading “You had me at ‘hello world’”, I finally embraced my new responsibilities and dug out the button-ups. I was now a developer, fluent in the language of VC funding propositions and strategic partnerships.

elphi leverages private blockchain technology to streamline the mortgage process, from loan origination to securitization. We worked out of blockchain software firm R3’s headquarters, as we were using their Corda platform for building our solution. Understanding R3’s unique network structure was a technical challenge, and I was thankful to be surrounded by the network’s experts. I learned about everything from node communication to fault tolerance, carefully examining each aspect and gaining a wealth of experience in network functionality. Each whiteboarding session helped me better formulate questions to advance my understanding of not only Corda but other blockchain networks such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. This knowledge benefited me later as I answered requests for blockchain network comparisons at the end of my client-facing demos.

In parallel, I also had to rapidly understand the company’s business model. The mortgage loan origination process in the United States, I discovered, is laden with inefficiencies. Whether it’s an order for a refinance or purchase, too many intermediaries extract excessive value, resulting in poor due diligence and lengthy procedures. During our meetings with those in the industry, I took rapid notes on terms to investigate later. Lynda (an educational platform that is FREE with your Penn tuition) was a valuable resource. Armed with the business model and technical architecture, it was relatively straightforward to build and test a CordApp (app on Corda) that I went on to demo in front of several investors and partners.

Lastly, my holistic summer experience included exposure to valuation and partnership strategy. I briefly studied these terms in my finance and management classes, so it was unreal to implement my knowledge. I learned the syntax of this language was “discount rates”, “caps” and “strategic investor”. All the while, I generated new tactics for my eventual entrepreneurial venture. It was exhilarating to sit across from talented and knowledgeable individuals in the ecosystem, and I can only hope that my company is of a similar caliber in the years to come.

Vibhav Jagwani is a Computer Science major concentrating in finance and a member of the Class of 2020. After graduation, he plans to work with innovative technology in some capacity. His favorite this about the Jerome Fisher Program is the free coffee and expansive lounge.

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