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‘Breaking into Fintech’ conference planned for Dec. 3

The Haas Fintech Club is gearing up to host its first conference this Saturday, reaching out through the event to educate students, provide networking opportunities, and attract more diverse voices to the industry.

The conference, called Breaking into Fintech, will be held Dec. 3, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum.

The event includes speakers from Stripe, Chime, JPMorgan Chase, and Citi Impact Fund. Peggy Mangot, managing director of fintech partnerships and commercial banking at JPMorgan Chase, is the keynote speaker.

The Fintech Club, founded in 2016, now has more than 250 members, including 182 students in the full-time and evening & weekend classes. Each year, the club hosts the popular Fintech Speaker Series, treks to fintech companies, industry primers, and networking events. But this is the first year they decided to host a full conference to explore fintech’s range—from mobile banking and automated portfolio managers to peer-to-peer payment services such as PayPal and Venmo to  cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. 

Jennifer Tran, MBA 23

 “Fintech has such a wide spectrum, which is why we want to break it down,” said Jennifer Tran, MBA 23, vice president of the club. “MBA students are always looking for what’s next, and fintech has had a huge buzz in the last five to 10 years, in particular.” Tran, who interned last summer at Apple in worldwide product marketing, said fintech holds  incredible possibilities for financial inclusion and empowerment. 

“As a child of refugees to the U.S., I saw firsthand how my family struggled to navigate the financial system and how that impacted their livelihoods and opportunities,” she said. “I want to make this space more accessible and responsive to the needs of those who have been historically excluded from it.”

Petra Nelson MBA 23, vice-president of the Fintech Club, said that while the industry dates back to the invention of the credit card in the 1950s, the Great Recession of 2007 helped push fintech into new territory. Nelson, who interned at PayPal in partnerships and development, said fintech is making the movement of money cheaper and faster for consumers and businesses alike. 

Petra Nelson
Petra Nelson, MBA 23

“Before Haas, I worked in nonprofit fundraising and microlending, and saw how difficult it can be for some to gain access to affordable financial services and build intergenerational wealth. I’d like to be a part of changing that.”

“After the financial crisis is when we saw that there were problems with the way that our financial system was working,” Nelson said. “A lot of startups were born in that era, trying to fill in gaps and figure out how they could innovate upon the sector.”

Conference panelists will discuss payment infrastructure, as well as the crucial role of fintech startups, founders, and investors in the industry.

“We’re seeing a lot more players in spaces that hadn’t existed before,” Tran said.

There have been calls inside and outside the fintech industry to diversify leadership. Conference organizers are hoping to reach more underrepresented students and women, and provide plenty of opportunities for networking with Haas alumni and industry leaders. 

Register for the conference here: Events List (campusgroups.com).

Meet the 2022 Berkeley Haas Finance Fellows

Berkeley Haas Finance Fellows
(L-R clockwise from back row) Teo Gumusoglu, Yining Yan, Elias Mufarech, Nick Goomer, Adebola Adeniyi, John Graft, Xan Wood, Didi Pritakinari, Daniel Billostas, Xavier Jefferson, Meredith Albion, Hoi Wong. Photo: Jim Block

Xavier Jefferson, MBA 24, worked as a general analyst in wealth management before arriving at Haas, where he planned to narrow his focus to land a job as a securities analyst concentrating on stocks and bonds.

“When I looked in the mirror, I saw a capital allocator, someone responsible for making investment decisions,” Jefferson said, “And I came to a point in my career where I needed to find ways to be exposed to the next level of investors and thinkers outside of books, podcasts, and blogs.”

That ambition led him to Haas, where he is now among the 2022 Finance Fellows, first-year, full-time MBA students pursuing careers in finance fields that include investment banking; private equity and investment management (including quantitative finance); and entrepreneurial finance (which includes VC, fintech, and impact investing).

Students receive a $5,000 cash award, and are assigned mentors, who are Haas alumni working in finance, including recent graduates and senior executives.

William Rindfuss of the Haas Finance Group

“The one-on-one mentoring by alumni in the field provides high-level perspective and advice, which the Fellows capitalize on in seeking opportunities, and then succeeding on the job in these fields,” said William Rindfuss, executive director of strategic program for the Haas Finance Group.

The 2022 Fellowship recipients, all MBA 24, include:

Investment Banking: Nick Goomer, Didi Pritakinari, Daniel Billostas, Adebola Adeniyi

Private Equity & Investment Management: Xan Wood, Xavier Jefferson, Meredith Albion

Entrepreneurial Finance: Yining Yan, Elias Mufarech, Hoi Wong

C&J White Fellows (selected in the spring before matriculating): John Graft and Teo Gumusoglu

The mentor edge

The Finance Fellowship program launched 17 years ago, expanding over the years as more MBA students pursued finance careers. All Fellows are chosen based on their experience and preparation in their stated area of interest, the clarity of their goals and career plans, and interviews. They all receive priority enrollment for finance electives.

Finance Fellow Nick Goomer said the program has given him the opportunity to learn directly from his Morgan Stanley mentor. 

“Despite his busy schedule and responsibility, he has taken a hands-on approach to help me curate my unique story, and learn about how the tech world is shifting in our new market landscape,” Goomer said. “He is a force of nature within the tech investment banking industry, and I am incredibly grateful to have him as my mentor.”

Yining Yan photo
Yining Yan worked in blockchain venture capital in Singapore before coming to Haas.

Yining Yan, who worked in blockchain venture capital in Singapore before coming to Haas, said that a mentor will play a critical role in her career development in the Bay Area.  

“Having a mentor who is deeply rooted in the industry will be the most effective approach for an international student to plug into the local entrepreneurship and VC investing ecosystem,” she said.

Making venture capital more equitable

Fellow Hoi Wong, who was a business operations manager at fintech startup Bluevine before he arrived at Haas, is driven toward entrepreneurial finance for reasons that hit close to home.

“My parents were immigrant small business owners who leveraged a loan to start and grow their business, despite only having a grade-school level of education,” Wong said. “Entrepreneurship was one of the major levers that helped my family rise from poverty.” 

Wong plans to pivot from the operating side of fintech to the investing side by joining a fintech-focused venture capital firm. He’s also exploring venture capital investing within major financial services firms.

“As a first-gen student, I believe one way to make venture funding more equitable is by changing who is in control of the money, and one way to do that is to become a VC investor myself,” Wong said.

Haas MBA student featured on new season of hit Netflix dating show ‘Love is Blind’

Sikiru (“SK”) Alagbada, MBA 22, in front of Chou Hall on campus
Hoping to meet the love of his life, Sikiru “SK” Alagbada, MBA 22, joined the Season 3 cast of “Love is Blind.” Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small.

Hoping to meet the love of his life, Sikiru “SK” Alagbada, MBA 23, joined the Season 3 cast of “Love is Blind,” the hit Netflix dating show.

The show asks 30 single people to spend 10 days inside “pods,” where they interview potential love matches from behind a wall that separates them. Couples who agree to get engaged during the experiment exit the pods to see each other for the first time. 

In this interview, Alagbada, who plans to work in early-stage venture capital investing after graduating, discusses his Netflix adventure, life before Haas, and juggling the demands of the show with the MBA program. The first episodes of the new season—which features Alagbada—airs October 19.

Haas News: The Season 3 “Love is Blind” cast promo came out yesterday. How do you feel? 

SK Alagbada: It’s a mixture of excitement and feeling anxious because this remains the craziest, most out-of-place thing I’ve ever done—crazier than moving to Poland from Nigeria by myself when I was 19. I’m a little worried about how the show will be edited. We filmed so many hours and you don’t know what will make it to the final cut. 

Do your classmates know yet?
I kept this secret from my classmates even though so many of them watch the show. I haven’t stepped into a class since the announcement so I am just preparing myself for the 21 questions. I kept this from them because of the confidentiality agreement, and also to try to have as normal a first-year MBA experience as possible.

Watch the “Love is Blind”  cast announcement.

 

Had you watched “Love is Blind” before you were on the show?

No, but my mom had. She loves the show.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I left Nigeria as an international exchange student to study in Poland. I still speak some Polish and three other languages. I lived all over Europe for a few years before moving to the U.S. 13 years ago by myself, and settled in Texas, attending Baylor University as an undergraduate. My brothers and mom are in the U.S. now. I am from the Yoruba tribe in southwest Nigeria, so I take my African culture, food, and Afrobeat music with me everywhere. 

So how did Netflix find you?

Every season is scouted in a certain city. This one was in Dallas, where I lived. Someone reached out after they saw my Instagram account. I initially thought it was a scam and didn’t respond for several weeks. One day, I responded. From Instagram we did FaceTime auditions and interviews during COVID. They’re looking for responsible, emotionally stable people in their 20s to mid-30s. They look at your interests, your career, your lifestyle, and whether you are an eligible bachelor.

Why did the reality show idea of finding a wife appeal to you?

I was at the point in my life when I wanted to settle down. I didn’t want to hear my mom’s constant reminder anymore about getting married. Also, in the past couple of years I’ve lived in different places where I haven’t had stability in my life. I tried the conventional ways of finding partners, through friends and family introductions and dating apps, but nothing seemed to stick. But a lot of things in my life happen in unusual ways, most unexpected ways, so this was not foreign to me. It’s the story of my life.

I was at the point in my life when I wanted to settle down. I didn’t want to hear my mom’s constant reminder anymore about getting married.

How did you juggle filming “Love is Blind” with your MBA program schedule? 

We finished filming the season before I started my first year of class, but I was still working at JP Morgan as a senior data engineer during my first year to cover the higher Bay Area costs and occasionally support my family back in Nigeria. Juggling that first year was tough. I’m so grateful for my classmates at Haas. They’re very gracious and were especially understanding when I had so much going on, willingly volunteering their time to help me understand unclear concepts in class. As a community, we are always there for each other.

I’m so grateful for my classmates at Haas. They’re very gracious and were especially understanding when I had so much going on, willingly volunteering their time to help me understand unclear concepts in class. As a community, we’re always there for each other.

 

Sikiru (“SK”) Alagbada, MBA 22,on Haas campus
Sikiru “SK” Alagbada, MBA 22, is co-chair of the LAUNCH startup accelerator program at Haas and president of the student-run Africa Business Club. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small.

In the show promo they asked about your most annoying habit and you said “snacking.” Snacking doesn’t seem so bad! 

I work from home and study a lot and I always have a snack with me. My favorite snacks right now are Smartfood popcorn and Walkers shortbread cookies. My girlfriends in the past learned to accommodate it—or they picked up snacks for me when they went shopping.

You are very involved with the LAUNCH accelerator program. How does the student-led startup accelerator program align with your career goals in venture capital?

Prior to Berkeley, I worked at large companies like General Motors and JP Morgan, but I wanted an immersive startup experience and to learn the business of technology, grow my network, and boost my startup pipeline. Serving as LAUNCH co-chair of strategy and partnerships helps me to achieve this goal. I’m responsible for shaping the vision by managing and growing our relationships with investors, raising funds for our startups, and developing initiatives to strengthen our program experience. To date, LAUNCH startups have raised over $700 million and LAUNCH remains completely student run.

You are also president of the Africa Business Club. Can you talk a bit about investing in African startups?

This is very personal. I left Nigeria at the onset of a tech revolution that’s led to one of the fastest growing ecosystems in the world. I’ve stayed connected to home, but still have major FOMO from leaving the country at such a pivotal time. That’s why I’ve been dedicated to helping connect startups on the continent to capital, mentorship, and resources in Silicon Valley. In April, my team and I hosted the first in-person Africa Business Forum at Haas since COVID. This event laid groundwork for new connections and startup investment in Nigeria. 

What’s your favorite thing about Haas? 

Haas does a very good job of assembling a class of genuinely good people. In addition to being so accomplished and having done such interesting things in their lives and careers, they are genuinely good people.

What do you like to do outside of school? 

I love soccer, tennis, and Scrabble. I also like to cook. There is a dearth of African food in the Bay Area, so I usually find myself cooking a lot. My mom also ships me food sometimes. 

Have you picked up anything new since moving to California?
Recycling! I came from Texas. It’s a huge shift for me.

New fellowship to support scholars in war-torn Ukraine

A destroyed car in the courtyard of the economics department at V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University in central Kharkiv on Aug. 8, 2022. The Ukrainian city, 50 kilometers from the Russian border, has endured attacks since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion on February 24. (Photo by Richard Wright / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

A new academic fellowship program funded by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and the Department of Economics will help Ukrainian scholars persevere with their work through the hardships of the war.

Scholars located in Ukraine and affiliated with a university, college, or research institute can apply for $5,000 grants to continue with their research and teaching. The $140,000 fund, granted equally by Berkeley Haas and Berkeley Economics, will help sustain up to 28 Ukrainian academics.

“This is going to be a tough year for many Ukrainian scholars in terms of security, housing, and budgets. Many have lost their homes, offices, labs, and classrooms,” said Yuriy Gorodnichenko, the Quantedge Presidential Professor of Economics and a member of the fellowship committee. “This fellowship not only gives people the means to survive and to have some time to do research, but also serves as an important sign of solidarity against Russian aggression.”

“The barbarism of Russia’s war aims to destroy Ukraine’s people, institutions, and civil society,” added Anastassia Fedyk, an assistant professor of finance at Berkeley Haas, who is also on the fund committee. “Bolstering Ukraine’s education system at this critical time will help increase Ukraine’s resilience.”

“The barbarism of Russia’s war aims to destroy Ukraine’s people, institutions, and civil society. Bolstering Ukraine’s education system at this critical time will help increase Ukraine’s resilience.” —Assistant Professor Anastassia Fedyk

Since Russia’s invasion of the country last February, Fedyk, Gorodnichenko, and other economists with close ties to the region have been using their expertise support Ukraine—giving media interviews, writing op-eds, raising funds, and joining with others in the U.S. and globally to form the group Economists for Ukraine. The group has now partnered with Universities for Ukraine, raising funds from several universities for fellowships and providing a central clearinghouse for nonresidential fellowship programs.

“We are very pleased to join with Berkeley Economics to support this effort to preserve academic scholarship in Ukraine during this extremely difficult period,” said Berkeley Haas Dean Ann Harrison.

Many Ukrainian academics are unable or unwilling to leave the country—including all men between 18 and 60, who are prohibited from leaving. Yet many find themselves displaced and underfunded, without the means to continue with their work. The fellowship program aims to bridge some of the gap to keep scholarship moving forward and to minimize brain drain, preserving some capacity to rebuild the country, Gorodnichenko said.

In addition to Gorodnichenko and Fedyk, the UC Berkeley Ukrainian fellowship committee includes Berkeley Haas Associate Professor Dmitry Livdan and Berkeley Economics Assistant Professor Vira Semenova.

Scholars may apply for fellowships via Universities for Ukraine in English (preferred) or Ukrainian. Questions may be addressed to Gorodnichenko EconHaas4Ukraine@berkeley.edu.

Startup Spotlight: Bird plans to make banking easier for African immigrants

Startup Spotlight profiles startups founded by current Berkeley Haas students or recent alumni.

Photo of Joe Obeto
Joe Obeto, MBA 21, co-founded Bird to make opening bank accounts and sending money easier for African immigrants.

Joe Obeto, MBA 21, co-founded startup Bird to help solve a vexing roadblock he and other African immigrants face when they arrive in the U.S.: trying to open a bank account. We recently interviewed Obeto about what led him to become an entrepreneur and his big plans for Bird.

Describe your startup in 30 words or less.

We’re building a platform to enable non-US residents to open a bank account, a checking account, and do easy and frictionless cross-border transfers. 

What was your background before coming to Haas?

My undergrad degree was in computer information science. When I graduated, I had several options: to pursue the traditional technology route as a software developer or maybe go into finance. What really shifted for me was during a summer that I went to Wall Street to intern for Credit Suisse. My experience that year was very incredible, and that really pushed me toward finance. I came to realize that not only do I like finance, I really wanted to become an entrepreneur.

What was the problem that you are solving with Bird?

When I first came to the U.S., I learned that I had to be a resident of the country for about six months minimum before I could open a bank account. With most major banks, this is the policy. In addition, sending money back to Nigeria is very expensive or it takes several days for the money to get to the final destination because there are so many intermediaries. It also costs 10 times more to send $100 to Nigeria than what it would cost you to send to a place like the U.K. or Poland because they have stable currencies.

So you decided to address these challenges as an entrepreneur?

I thought we could build a solution to solve this. So we decided to build a platform to do two things: enable non-U.S. residents to open a checking account and also enable a frictionless, low-cost way for you to be able to transfer money cross-border. There are some regulatory processes that we need to complete before we can actually go live with the banking solution, but the cross-border solution is going to be ready soon.

How does a Bird service work?

We don’t have a banking charter, so we cannot actually hold your funds. What we’ll do is partner with a local bank so when you open an account on the Bird platform and deposit money, it will be held at the bank, so it’s FDIC insured, meaning your money is going to be safe. You can do a wire transfer and have a debit card from the Visa network or the Mastercard network. You can use the card globally, anywhere that Visa or Mastercard is accepted. In addition to that, you can also transfer money.

How will transferring money work?

Right now, we’re establishing a payment corridor between Nigeria and the U.S. We want to test this corridor out. Eventually, we’re going to expand to other corridors in Africa. We’re looking into Ghana, South Africa, and Kenya, as well as Rwanda.

Right now, we’re establishing a payment corridor between Nigeria and the U.S. We want to test this corridor out.

Will transferring money using Bird be cheaper than other methods?

Yes, it is cheaper because rather than having multiple intermediaries moving money from one end to the other, we will use a stablecoin on the blockchain to move money cross-border. Essentially, we convert dollars to USDC stablecoins (a cryptocurrency). When it gets to Nigeria, that USDC stablecoin is on-ramped to Nigerian currency. The same thing will happen when somebody’s trying to send money to the US. We’re able to cut out a lot of middlemen and drastically reduce the cost of sending money internationally, especially to Africa.

Have any Haas courses helped you build the company?

New Venture Finance with Professor Maura O’Neill.  She’s incredible. I learned a lot from that course, and even today when I’m talking to investors or negotiating a term sheet, the learnings from that course have been helpful; the entrepreneurship course taught by Kurt Beyer was helpful as well, and an operations course taught by Professor Terry Taylor showed me how to run operations of any firm. We went through lots of cases, analyzing different companies and what led to their successes, what led to their failures. As somebody building a company, you need to be able to learn from failures so you don’t repeat the same mistakes.

You also placed second last spring at UC Berkeley LAUNCH after going through the accelerator program. How did that help? 

LAUNCH gives you a framework for you to validate your idea. It uses the lean startup methodology to develop a very strong value proposition. You go out to talk to customers to challenge your initial hypothesis, test it, validate it. Ultimately, when you come out of LAUNCH, you realize that you have a stronger position for your customers and that you are building something that people actually want and need.

Did you always plan to get an MBA?

That has always been part of my strategy. An MBA is not going to necessarily make you a successful person or a successful entrepreneur. But it does reduce your chance of failure and increases the odds of your success. Building on that knowledge of having a structured approach to entrepreneurship, to starting a business, is what the MBA equips you with. Besides that, I think the network that I’ve been able to build here in the Bay Area has afforded me the opportunity to build something that I think will be a success.