Dollar for dollar, the best pitch at this year’s Bobcat Ventures competition was a startup that seeks to take cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin mainstream.
Described as a “next-gen payroll provider” by Justin Soh ’22 of Singapore and partner Shaun Wong, their startup, Stable, aims to solve a major obstacle preventing the widespread adoption of decentralized cryptocurrencies: how to convert them to a centralized currency, like the U.S. dollar, for practical purposes, such as a business needing to pay its employees.
Soh and Wong’s successful pitch took home the $10,000 first prize.
More than strictly a pitch competition, the student-run Bobcat Ventures program works in partnership with the college’s Center for Purposeful Work to provide year-round, wall-to-wall support for student entrepreneurs. A loyal group of alumni serve as mentors and competition judges. This year’s panel comprised Ben Schippers ’04, Chris Barbin ’93, and Emma Sprague ’10.
Soh and Wong “had an incredibly clear value proposition,” said Schippers.
The competition, which featured six pitches, was a step up from 2021, when the entire thing was held online. This year, the competition was a hybrid effort, with the judges and some of the students on Zoom and the rest in Pettengill. Even with this hybrid model, the teams effectively connected with the judges, said Emma Sprague ’10. “Across the board, we were just so impressed, excited and energized” by the student pitches.
Soh and Wong “had an incredibly clear value proposition,” said Schippers. “As we look into this year and next year, it’s really dialed-in, and as a result of that, we feel that the success of the product is going to have a lot of momentum.”
Soh and Wong met in middle school, and have been friends ever since. A shared interest in digital currency and non-fungible tokens — NFTs — became Stable, an idea to solve the banking problem in cryptocurrency. The duo say that Stable will require no transfer or processing fees, making the platform compatible with networks operating off the blockchain. It will support over 300 decentralized digital currencies.
While Bitcoin and other digital currencies are nearly household names, their “mass adoption remains far in sight,” says Soh. But like any startup, the duo are looking to anticipate and stay ahead of the curve. “We as Gen Z will — and should — partake to engender a financially inclusive borderless world that accepts all forms of payment.”
The runner-up prize of $5,000 went to a pitch by Ben Aguilar ’22 of Belmont, Mass., and his partner, Bob Ranalli, a Tufts student, for an online platform aiming to do what an in-person campus tour or overnight visit does for a prospective college student: connect them with current college students. The site promises to do what a subreddit can’t: provide expert curation of expert insights.
The idea comes as many U.S. colleges, including Bates, work to integrate relatively new online offerings forced by the pandemic, such as online tours and “ask me anything” Zoom sessions, with more traditional in-person approaches to recruitment, such as high school visits and college fairs.
“The college application process is pretty anxiety inducing — it’s just considered normal to be completely lost,” says Aguilar. “This has resulted in a lot of people making this major life decision on pretty superficial factors. I’ve even seen someone legitimately choose a school for their colors.”
Their website, Nescacguide.com — which is unaffiliated with the athletic conference — features a network of students who attend NESCAC schools and have volunteered to answer questions from curious prospective applicants, as well as an advisory board that has helped guide the venture.
“I think what we were most impressed with was the ability to tell a great, compelling story and lay out not only a problem, but also a solution,” says Chris Barbin ’93. “And having it already active, and solving a real-word problem.”