The Inadvertent Entrepreneur

Jern Kunpittaya ’23, co-founder of crypto startup Edge Protocol, took an unexpected path into decentralized finance

Apr 01 2022 | By Kyle Barr
Jern Kunpittaya

With help from mentors from Columbia, Jern Kunpittaya ’23 co-founded crypto startup Edge Protocol. Photo Credit: Time Charupaisankit

When Jern Kunpittaya BS’23 arrived at Columbia, he was excited to become an engineer. He never expected to become an entrepreneur. 

But a burgeoning passion for cryptocurrency and serendipitous meeting with the team at Columbia Engineering Entrepreneurship helped him discover latent talents—and a love of the entrepreneurial spirit.

“When I came to the U.S., it was so different, because I said, ‘Why don't I study things that I want to explore?’” Kunpittaya said. “It’s actually quite a lot for me, going right from being a silent and studious high school kid to jumping into something like this.”

“This” is Edge Protocol, a startup the undergraduate computer science major created as a new piece of infrastructure designed to enable crypto traders to create their own lending-borrowing money markets, AKA the online space where users can loan and acquire digital assets. 

Currently, folks who are looking to utilize their digital assets have to go through lengthy processes in existing protocols to enable their goods to be lent and borrowed; Edge Protocol promises to let users list, utilize, lend, borrow or monetize their digital assets. The company has now raised $1.75 million in initial seed round funding from a venture capital firm and multiple angel investors, and Kunpittaya released the first beta phase of his product in February.

“We're not a bank, and we're not a place to decide which assets get listed and which asset can be lent or borrowed,” the startup founder explained. “We allow people to actually come and create their own banks to list their assets themselves.”

When I came to the U.S., it was so different, because I said, ‘Why don’t I study things that I want to explore?’ It’s actually quite a lot for me, going right from being a silent and studious high school kid to jumping into something like this.

Jern Kunpittaya
Class of 2023

Reflecting on his journey from rural Thailand, Kunpittaya noted how far he’s come since first entering Columbia Engineering Entrepreneurship’s sphere just three years ago. He was born in Thailand, and attended the Mahidol Wittayanusorn School, an academy established by the Thai government for students specializing in math and sciences in grades 10 through 12. Unlike most of his classmates, who came from the capital city of Bangkok, Kunpittaya said he had grown up in the countryside. After graduation, many of his fellow students were planning to go on and become doctors, but he was still trying to figure out his place in the world.

After receiving a merit-based King’s Scholarship, which is offered to Thai secondary school students for undergraduate studies, he traveled to the U.S. in 2018 and started attending Columbia in 2019.

Kunpittaya landed a place in Columbia’s Residential Inc. program during his first year in 2019. The specialized dorm, which ran until Spring 2020, focused on helping students develop startup ideas in a collaborative space. Budding entrepreneurs could stay up into the early morning hours simply talking about their startup ideas, ironing out problems and devising solutions. Dario Vasquez, a program specialist with Columbia Engineering Entrepreneurship, said nurturing talent was the point. Their office routinely offered Res Inc. residents advice on entrepreneurship topics like pitching, or other advice from experts. It was during the group’s interactions with his office that Vasquez originally came to know the soon-to-be startup founder.

“The great thing about having that population of undergrads was that we had a direct line of communication with students and that we were able to say, ‘Oh, there's this opportunity, meet this mentor or apply to this available funding,’” Vasquez said. “I think that was a good part of the impetus for Jern to kickstart his startup entrepreneurship life at Columbia.” 

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Kunpittaya returned to Thailand, where the question of what he wanted to do with his life started to gnaw at him once again. In between internships and lab work, he joined an entrepreneurship camp and started working with some of his friends on blockchain projects, including a blockchain hackathon. 

All along, Kunpittaya stayed connected with his Columbia mentors. Even when events were all driven online by the pandemic, the entrepreneurship office continued to host events, startup bootcamps, and AMAs (Ask Me Anything) with successful alumni and other keynote speakers. Kunpittaya found himself in constant virtual communication with the entrepreneurship office, which proved a big help in getting the project off the ground.

“In some ways, I think Jern and others like Jern have made the best of the pandemic, where they've been able to just take some of that learning about how to pitch, how to grow their product and use it in the real world,” Vasquez said.

Ivy Schultz, director of the engineering school’s entrepreneurship programs, said whether their office stays actively involved with a venture project, via competitions and ignition grants, or if they simply offer founders advice or a new perspective, it’s all part of the bigger mission.

“In general, we meet these startups at an early stage in their development,” Schultz said. “To later watch engineers become successful, knowing we helped, is a great feeling.”

We meet these startups at an early stage in their development. To later watch engineers become successful, knowing we helped, is a great feeling.

Ivy Schultz
Director of Entrepreneurship

Working with his three co-founders Ohm Katekaew, Por Sriwichailumpun, and Poom Wachiramethakon, Kunpittaya said Edge Protocol’s first beta release in February has already generated significant interest. Crypto enthusiasts have put $50 million in cryptocurrency onto their protocol apparatus in its first few weeks. The team is planning to release their full product sometime in the middle of this year.

“Right now, we are partnering with protocols because we want to showcase how it is for actual people to create their own money markets,” he said, though added that, in the next few years, Edge Protocol will extend to community-owned money markets and beyond.

Despite the long hours spent on this product, Kunpittaya said he appreciates applying what he’s learning in the classroom directly to his work in crypto, whether it's finding new processes for organizing and formalizing his thoughts or boiling down big ideas into comprehensive, tangible products. 

It’s something that Vasquez said is a major part of what the entrepreneurship office hopes to achieve with the students who walk through their doors, whether virtual or otherwise.

“Entrepreneurship is considered co-curricular, which means some of the programming that our office does aligns with what students are learning, or helps some of the research happening in the lab to translate into real world impact,” he said.