School News

FinTech Challenge 2022: Using Cryptocurrency and Technology to Find Innovative Solutions to Real-World Business Problems

By Hannah Shapiro

For the third annual FinTech Challenge, Business+Tech at the Ross School of Business allowed more than 180 students across the University of Michigan to increase their understanding of fintech entrepreneurship and technology by challenging them to create a cryptocurrency-based venture.

Throughout the month of February, the FinTech Challenge required participants to develop an innovative fintech startup using cryptocurrency technology to solve a present business problem. The students worked in 49 interdisciplinary teams, with a mix of undergraduate and graduate students from Michigan Ross, the College of Engineering, and the School of Information, to design prototypes with both technical and financial considerations in mind.

FinTech Challenge organizer Alaina Gregory, BBA/BA ‘22, said they chose cryptocurrency for this year’s focus because of its growing interest on campus and to help students improve their financial and technical knowledge. 

This emerging space is the future of finance and we are working to create bilingual students who understand both business and tech considerations. Having an event like this allows Michigan Ross to be on the cutting edge of the newest financial and technology trends.

Alaina Gregory, BBA/BA ‘22

One of Business+Tech’s main goals is to increase tech literacy across Michigan Ross and U-M, and the FinTech Challenge welcomed students with varying knowledge of the fintech space. Throughout the challenge, students were given the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of blockchain and cryptocurrency by completing workshops, attending industry panels, and pitching crypto-based prototypes.  

“We truly wanted everyone to learn and grow in the challenge regardless of winning,” Gregory said. ‘It can be that one connection or one job you apply to through an event that changes the trajectory of your career path, and I wanted to make those connections as organic and seamless as possible for students.” 

In fact, Gregory said her favorite part of the FinTech Challenge was hearing crypto industry leaders Shilpa Deshpande, data scientist at Chainalysis Inc., and Colleen Rozanski, director of operations at Apex Crypto, speak at the event. “To have high-level women paving the way in a male-dominated space, and to show our students that type of representation, was incredible,” she said.

Sponsored by the Michigan Ross FinTech Initiative, Ripple, PEAK6, and PwC, the FinTech Challenge concluded with seven team finalists pitching their fintech solutions and business models to a panel of expert industry judges. Judges and panelists ranged from Michigan Ross faculty members and alumni, including Matt Schaar, MBA/MPP ’10/BS ’03, a partner at Accion Venture Lab, to industry experts in venture capital and engineering. 

After a tough competition, a team of Michigan Ross MBA and BBA students were selected as the winners. All winning teams took home thousands of dollars in cash prizes, and the first-place team earned the chance to continue working on their startup through the Living Business Leadership Experience course at Ross. 

Meet the 2022 FinTech Challenge winners from Michigan Ross

William Bonner, MBA ’23, Julien Faro, MSE ’22, Mustafa Cagil Isik, MBA ’23, Bryce Rajabian, MBA ’22, and Andrew Yang, BBA/BS ’25, were members of the first-place team and recipients of a $5,000 cash prize. The team’s venture, Relic, leverages non fungible tokens (NFTs) and the Ethereum blockchain to support university athletic programs through ​​commemorative tickets for purchase. 

The team shared that participating in the FinTech Challenge made them realize how prevalent fintech solutions, and especially blockchain, will become in the future. 

“It was amazing to watch the diverse ideas that other teams developed by incorporating blockchain in fields ranging from real estate to even medical information systems,” Yang shared. “I realized the potential and opportunities that were up ahead for fintech entrepreneurs, and it’s exciting to see how we are at the forefront of this upcoming field.” 

Similarly, the students expressed that the challenge helped them develop the skills necessary to be successful in the business tech industry. 

I came to business school intending to hone my finance skill set and be exposed to an emerging field. The FinTech Challenge was one of the most meaningful and fun hands-on learning experiences, during which I learned so much from my peers.

Mustafa Cagil Isik, MBA ‘23

Bonner said the challenge helped validate his career interest in the fintech industry. “The FinTech Challenge allowed me to understand what it feels like in an early-stage startup within a supportive, fail-safe environment,” he said. 

For Yang, the entrepreneurial aspect of the challenge was particularly beneficial and relatable to his post-graduation career interests.

As someone who’s interested in entrepreneurship, this challenge was a big help towards my goals and a valuable experience that has opened doors for opportunities that I would have otherwise not encountered.

Andrew Yang, BBA/BS ‘25

Keys to the Ross team’s victory

The students said that working in interdisciplinary teams helped them be successful in the competition and gain practical experience to excel in the workplace. 

“Our team did well because we had team members from diverse backgrounds, bringing different perspectives and skill sets to the table,” said Isik. “For example, we had an ex-consultant who knew how to effectively deliver a presentation and a team member studying computer science who educated us on the technical aspects of our idea.” 

The Michigan Ross team expressed that taking advantage of different resources throughout the challenge, such as the Business+Tech workshops, prepared them to present their business model and prototype. “I found the workshop with Dave Pugh, an Apple systems engineer, particularly helpful to our team as we finalized a minimum viable product,” explained Bonner. 

Rajabian said one of the most helpful resources during the challenge was office hours with Phil Brabbs, managing director of the Business+Tech Initiative at Michigan Ross. 

“He was able to provide us with a lot of words of encouragement, as well as insights into what others are doing in the industry,” said Rajabian. “We were really able to refine our pitch after those meetings.” 

Fintech and tech at Michigan Ross

The Michigan Ross Business+Tech Initiative provides a variety of programming and resources for students to explore the relationship between business and technology, including fintech, and develop skills to navigate and lead in this important domain. In addition to Business+Tech, Michigan Ross is also home to the FinTech Initiative, which is designed to prepare students to lead in the financial technology sector through research and curricular and co-curricular programming.

That includes courses such as FinTech: Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies, and Other Technology Innovations; Artificial Intelligence for Business; Big Data Manipulation and Visualization; and Artificial Intelligence for Business, as well as undergraduate and graduate student clubs including the MBA FinTech Club and Michigan Investment Group

​​I think the FinTech Challenge and other Business+Tech initiatives are a great way to get introduced to a new field and make new connections that can potentially lead to a career opportunity down the road. I think Michigan Ross provides a great ecosystem to launch companies and build experience in new fields that you may be interested in working in after graduation.

Bryce Rajabian, MBA ’22

Learn more about the FinTech Initiative at Michigan Ross