Engineering student takes the leap to launch Utopia Labs

Pryce Yebesi, a student studying computer science at McKelvey Engineering, has found success in the world of decentralized autonomous organizations

Danielle Lacey 
Pryce Yebesi, second from left, and his team founded Utopia Labs in September and have already earned $1.5 million in investments. Photo courtesy of Pryce Yebesi
Pryce Yebesi, second from left, and his team founded Utopia Labs in September and have already earned $1.5 million in investments. Photo courtesy of Pryce Yebesi

Life has been changing fast for Pryce Yebesi, a student majoring in computer science at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. In early September, Yebesi and three of his friends from outside WashU, Jason Chong, Kaito Cunningham and Alexander Wu, founded Utopia Labs, and the company has been growing at an amazing speed.

"We'd known each other for six months before we started the company,” Yebesi said. “It's cool to find people that you work well with and who come from awesome backgrounds for what we're doing.”

Utopia Labs helps decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) better track and manage their payments. DAOs are entities that are governed and managed by rules encoded into a blockchain, rather than a traditional limited liability company or C corporation. Instead of accountants and lawyers, the organization is managed through a shared treasury and “smart” contracts.

“One thing that’s really amazing about DAOs is they're a very transparent business model,” Yebesi said. “Because of what it means to build on the blockchain, anything you do is public knowledge. What is built in from the beginning is an inherently transparent business where anyone who works with you can understand how you're allocating your money.”

Utopia Labs has already raised more than $1.5 million through investors and been featured in a piece by TechCrunch. Recently, they’ve announced a new partnership with Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange platform, and are looking to add to their team of engineers.

While this is Yebesi’s first company, he has long had an interest in entrepreneurship and business. During his first year at WashU, he interned at Invisibly with Jim McKelvey Jr., who earned bachelor’s degrees in computer science and in economics from WashU in 1987 and went on to cofound Square Inc. among other companies.

“Getting to work under someone like Jim and his COO Matthew Porter was super helpful,” he said. “I have to make decisions on the fly, and I go back to previous experiences and reflect on things from people I’ve worked with. I’m surprised by how helpful that’s been.”

Yebesi said that he’s excited by the idea of helping other students who want to dive deeper into tech. He’s already done some of that work; he founded Code Black, a student group that provides support to students of color majoring in computer science, during his junior year. His advice for those looking to explore unconventional business opportunities is to dedicate themselves to a space they truly believe in.

“Meet people in that space,” Yebesi said. “Contribute to that space in whatever way you can; maybe that's writing, maybe that's contributing code, maybe that's working to provide value to people. Try things and see what sticks.”

As for what Yebesi plans to do next, he’s keeping things open. He’s currently on a leave of absence from WashU to build Utopia Labs. A scary move, he admits, but one he was eager to take.

“If the DAO is the next form of the LLC or the C corp, then the opportunity is really huge,” he said. “I’m really excited to delve into this field and to see where this market goes. It’s been a good time so far.”

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