July 31, 2023

This Black Founder, 23, Dropped Out Of College Then Raised $23M To Create A New Internet Economy

Pryce Adade Yebesi is the 23-year-old co-founder and COO of Utopia Labs, a startup on a mission to bridge the gap between crypto and traditional payment systems, and ultimately, create a new internet economy.

Recently, Utopia Labs raised an impressive $23 million, making Yebesi one of the youngest Black founders to achieve such a milestone.

Driving the adoption of crypto payments

Utopia Labs’ founders Pryce Adade Yebesi, Kaito Cunningham, Jason Chong, and Alexander Wu first met on Discord and Twitter. The quad was brought together by an interest in Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), collectively-owned, blockchain-governed organizations working towards a shared mission.

“Historically, marginalized communities have been left out of most technological revolutions,” Yebesi told Decrypt. “The scale of the upside of engaging with [DAOs] is massive, and no one is barred from it. People from all over the world can work together to build these communities that can change the lives of many.”

Utopia Labs initially focused on providing payment services to DAOs but has since expanded its scope to serve more types of crypto payments and bridge the gap between crypto and traditional financial systems.

Democratizing access to financial systems

Observing the challenges faced by marginalized communities sparked Yebesi’s initial interest in a career in politics. However, he eventually shifted his focus to business and finance as a way to uplift underserved communities.

In 2019, during a college internship with Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square, Yebesi learned about the financial technology to transform lives.

“The Square card reader was such a simple tool,” he told Afrotech. “It could allow so many people from such a diverse array of backgrounds to finally be able to take credit cards to build their businesses in a way that was previously only available for bigger businesses.”

Inspired by the impact of such tools, 21-year-old Yebesi made the bold decision to drop out of college and co-found Utopia Labs.

In 2021, Utopia Labs raised $1.5 million in a round led by Kindred Ventures, and last year closed a $23 million Series A funding round led by Paradigm.

Bridging the gap between crypto and traditional payment rails

Utopia Labs recently announced its first product tailored to individuals: Utopia’s Off Ramp which lets you easily convert and send USDC to your bank account.

Utopia Labs’ new product rollout is part of their vision of a “new internet economy.”

“When value can pass so easily without so many middlemen and fragmented settlement systems, we have so many new opportunities to raise funds for causes people care about, start projects with people from all over the world that might end up being fantastic and powerful mechanisms for impact, but also can become billion-dollar companies,” Yebesi told Afrotech.

“Crypto enables so many interesting and novel ways of coordination and also just fixes so many of our fragmented value transfer systems and settlement systems across the world.”

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Samara Linton

Community Manager at POCIT | Co-editor of The Colour of Madness: Mental Health and Race in Technicolour (2022), and co-author of Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography (2020)