CEO of Bitmark Sean Moss-Pultz: Working with Fung Fellows
Fung Fellow team Soteria Health, Hamilton Chang, Alejandra Leynez Chantres, and Yanna Gong (left to right)
The best learning often comes from outside of the classroom. With this belief as a founding principle, the Fung Fellowship for Wellness and Technology Innovations gives undergraduate students access to real-world experiences in the health and tech sectors. Fung Fellows apply their knowledge to impactful projects, collaborating with real customers and working directly with industry partners from many fields.
Bitmark, a startup that focuses on creating tools that enable ownership and property rights to digital assets through blockchain technology, has been an industry partner since 2017. Bitmark sponsored two Innovation Lab projects — Soteria Health, a blockchain-based health data exchange for research and Peerlocity, a transportation data exchange platform using blockchain. We got a chance to learn more about these collaborations and talk with Bitmark’s CEO Sean Moss-Pultz about his experience working with Fung Fellows.
Sean Moss-Pultz, CEO of Bitmark
Bitmark first began working with UC Berkeley through a collaboration with doctoral-level researchers in the School of Public Health (SPH). Using a blockchain-based data-donation app from the company, the researchers were able to crowdsource health data for their studies. Through the success of this project, Sean was connected with Director of Fung Fellowship, Joni Rubin, and Lead Faculty Instructor, Jaspal Sandhu, initiating the Fung Fellowship partnership.
The Bitmark Health app with School of Public Health
“It’s like getting a second brain. The Fellows have a totally different set of perspectives and skills from us,” Sean said.
Team Peerlocity poster, Fung Fellowship 2018
The Fung Fellows particularly emphasized human-centered design — something that the Bitmark team had not focused on previously. In the project focused on the creation of a data economy around bicycle sharing, the Fellows interviewed key stakeholders. Their interviews revealed interesting insights into how local governments could participate in similar programs. This led the Bitmark team to reevaluate their approach and consider local governments as key stakeholders in making the system sustainable.
“We learned a lot about how they look at what’s important for new projects from their process,” Sean said.
The Fellows also learned a great deal through this partnership. One of the Fellows and member of Soteria Health, Hamilton Chang, was offered the opportunity to travel to Taipei and work with the Bitmark team in person.
Poster stand from Soteria Health at Fung Institute’s Winter Spotlight 2017
“I had the chance to learn not only how the software development cycle runs in a small tech startup, but also got to do so in Taiwan, which was an entirely unexpected and invigorating experience,” Hamilton, a Philosophy major with an interest in data, reflected.
Diversity is another big part of the partnership and area of synergy for Bitmark and the Fung Fellowship. Bitmark’s team is very diverse — with 25 employees from six different countries and a 50/50 gender ratio. Similarly, the Fung Fellows come from vastly different academic and personal backgrounds, representing 22 unique majors and hometowns ranging from the Bay Area to Malawi.
“I wanted to learn from the Fung Fellowship how to structure teams with very different backgrounds and make something coherent,” Sean said.
Equipped with intentional teaming curriculum and Fellowship staff directly supporting team dynamics, Fung Fellows began their industry projects with skills and strategies to work across disciplines.
“I learned that a lot of product work is quite similar to what I was doing in my philosophy classes at Berkeley: taking incomplete, sometimes outlandish ideas and systematically breaking them down into tangible pieces. Looking back now, I realize that the Fellowship gave me the space to combine my own strange way of thinking with others to tackle real problems that required creative, interdisciplinary answers,” Hamilton said.
Working with Fung Fellows has made Sean realize how much the youth have to offer businesses like Bitmark.
“By integrating their perspective into product development, as early as possible, I believe we can make better products for everyone,” he said.
Fung Fellows Léa Tran-Le and Omar Muhamed presenting the project
Inspired by the future use cases proposed by Fung Fellows working on the health data exchange project, the Bitmark team is now working on a health app to help people digitally aggregate and control all their health records. This app acts like a “health data trust” that crowdsources data directly from individuals. Not only does it free people from the hassle of keeping different paper documents, but it also decentralizes the oversight of data. The system is governed by a public blockchain which avoids any third-party institution, making the transfer of data more transparent and secure.
“We’re absolutely looking forward to doing more with Fung Fellowship in the future,” Sean said.