More than 60 people crowded into the Startup Grind Princeton event on January 3, at the Tigerlabs coworking space, on Nassau Street in Princeton. They came to see featured guest speaker Roz Stengle, Princeton native and current University of Wisconsin‒Madison student, who discussed her experiences in building a blockchain community.
It was the largest crowd that Startup Grind Princeton has gathered since it began holding meetings in 2015, organizers said. Attendees included people of varied ages, stages and identities who networked over beer, bottled water and pizza for about an hour before Roz and David Stengle, Startup Grind Princeton host, began the main conversation.
David proudly introduced Roz, who is his daughter, and listed her many roles and achievements, including: founder and president of Badger Blockchain, a student group on the UW‒Madison campus; former employee at Ripple (San Francisco and New York) and OmiseGO (Bangkok, Thailand); and one of the top 25 innovators under 25, according to Wisconsin Inno.
The conversation between David and Roz, who is a computer science and economics double major, explored her self-taught skills in blockchain which culminated in her creation of the on-campus group. She also elicited the assistance of a professor in starting a class on the topic.
The on-campus group started with three people, but as Roz focused on the interdisciplinary nature and potential of blockchain, the members quickly expanded to over 60 people. “I wanted people to know this technology is about more than just finances or money,” Roz said.
David asked Roz how she went from blockchain enthusiast to employment in the field, and she responded, “I listened to the Blockchain Show [podcast]. I would listen to motivate myself while I was preparing for a race I was running, and my interest just grew from there.” She said that she earned employment at places like Ripple and OmiseGO the good old-fashioned way. She showed up to events in person, like the Grace Hopper Conference for women in tech, and handed out resumes.
Roz also shared her insights about attending events like DevCon, an Ethereum conference for developers, designers, researchers and artists in Prague; and Consensus, hosted by CoinDesk (New York). She commented how Consensus changed from a very niche conference during its first year into a major event with triple the attendance, featuring yacht parties for the rich and famous. “It’s less focused on the technical, and more on the commercial and marketing” aspect of blockchain, she said.
When asked how she chooses which events to attend, Roz said, “I lean toward events for hackers and developers versus hype about the theory of blockchain,” referring to the different subcultures within the blockchain space, which range from the financially focused to the idealistic, who are optimistic about blockchain’s potential to change society in general, particularly economically. For further reading, Roz highly recommended the book, “Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society,” by Eric A. Posner and Glen Weyl.
Throughout the conversation, Roz focused on the interdisciplinary potential of blockchain and how the power of the decentralized open-source nature of the technology makes it so accessible right now. “What matters most in the space is your technical know-how and the skills you bring, not a Ph.D. If you can prove you can do the code, you get the credit.”
During a pre-interview conversation with David, Roz said, “The average person doesn’t need to know much about blockchain to feel included. They should just know it exists and has the potential to really innovate our culture. Any person should feel a part of it at whatever level they want to engage because the community is really open to everyone.”