“I'm always humbled by how Cornell has helped shape my life,” says blockchain entrepreneur John Wu ’92, president of Ava Labs and a graduate of the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. Recalling several instances when faculty, staff, and alumni opened doors for him, he draws a clear connection between his experiences as a student, his Wall Street career on the buy side as a tech investor, the Cornell connections that led to him becoming a tech entrepreneur, and why he’s happy to come back to campus to give students a practitioner’s perspective.
One professor who was an early guide and mentor was Deborah Streeter, now professor emerita of the Dyson School. “She taught a markets class that was very commodities-focused,” says Wu, “and she helped me get a summer internship on the New York Cotton mercantile exchange, where I gained so much experience in how marketplaces work and how to create a two-sided marketplace.”
When he decided he wanted to learn more about Wall Street markets and how the financial services industry worked, Cornell Career Services connected him with an alumnus who was a senior managing director at a well-known Wall Street firm and who welcomed Wu to shadow him for two hours, then answered questions over lunch.
After graduating from Cornell, Wu became a buy-side investor at Tiger Management, a hedge fund, and worked as a buy-side technology investor throughout most of his career. For him, finance and technology have always been intertwined because, he says, “I love innovation of all kinds—not just from a pure technology perspective, but innovative ways to govern, innovative business models, how to be creative and do new things as society changes.”
Now, Wu is working to change how the financial services technology infrastructure works via Web 3 and the Avalanche blockchain — technology developed at Cornell by Emin Gün Sirer and two of his PhD students. Sirer, then associate professor of computer science at Cornell University, stepped away from his faculty role at Cornell to focus full time on developing the technology’s applications, founding Ava Labs in 2019.