On a mission to power cryptocurrency economy with low-cost renewable energy, Soluna aims to be the backbone of the current blockchain revolution. I talked to John Belizaire, a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Soluna, as he shared his inspirational journey that many people don’t know of.
Having a technological background, John shared his early life story and growing up in a relatively violent city at that time and how he was introduced to technology, he said:
John: “I am a technologist at heart. I grew up in New York city and my family were immigrants from Haiti. I came to the United States when I was somewhere around preschool and spent a better part of my childhood in Brooklyn, New York but it was that time when the city was not nearly as safe as the Disney world that it is today. I was growing up in the city at the time when movies like ‘Escape from New York’ were coming out, depicting the city as a war zone but I found solace in technology and personal computing.
I was introduced to tech in junior high school by a teacher of mine, who believe it or not was legally blind and as you noticed that I have a keen interest in the technology, they effectively took me under his wing and started exposing me to a whole host of different interesting concepts. I saved a lot of my after-school and snow-shoveling money to buy my first personal computer. I started doing programming on that computer in my spare time and wrote this text-to-speech program. I showed my aunt how I can type text and the computer would speak it and she said; that’s very impressive show me a speaking French one, that’ll be more impressing and from there sort of energized me. I enter a high school that had an information technology program, continued to deepen my interest in technology and computing and got a bachelor’s and later master’s degree in computer science from Cornell University”.
Talking about his professional career at Intel and how that unique experience lead him to entrepreneurship John stated:
John: “I started my professional career with Intel Corporation. While I was at Intel, they had a relationship with the computer science program and the university to identify high potential students at the university that they can invite to go into the Intel Scholars Program. The Intel Scholars Program was designed to find bright young students at the undergraduate and graduate-level that had a keen interest in computing and can become part of the Intel family. I traveled to the west coast to learn what a computer scientist actually does. It’s very rare that what you learned about all the theory in school and then get the opportunity to see what a real person do with that theory. Intel had a very large software group of about 1,500 people, that was when Andy Grove was the president. I worked at Intel when one of the original first CEOs of the company was there and under his leadership, Intel was focused on using software to drive the demand of the computer processing for the company. It was because they built multi billion-dollar fabrication plants and it was really important that there was demand in the personal computer market for those new and advanced processors.
I completed my graduate work and started working at Intel and joined that software group after completing this graduate rotation program. The program was basically designed for different parts of the business where one learn sales, marketing, product development, customer relationship and a host of other types of things that sort of prepare one to become a fast-rising executive at the company. I had the opportunity to work on some pretty exciting projects there including this technology called the reservation protocol and we built some of the core technology that enabled things like WebEx”.
John then shared his amazing entrepreneurial journey and how he successfully co-founded companies, he said:
John: “A few years later, I left Intel and moved to Boston and formed a company with my friends from Cornell. I slept on the floor of one of my co-founder’s apartment and our first company was called ‘Theory Center’, named after the computing center at Cornell. The company was focused on e-commerce application technologies and we built that company for several years to the tune of about 15 million dollars in revenue. The company was subsequently acquired by BEA Systems, which is considered to be one of the fastest companies to ever reach billion dollars in revenue, they acquired our business for over 150 million dollars and formed a new division at BEA, focused on e-commerce and component based software. I stayed with them for several years, moved to California and continued to grow the business inside BEA. They had 53 offices around the world, I probably visited 90% of them and I used to say ‘I technically live in San Francisco but I really live on United Airlines’ as I was flying all over the world selling our product. We basically 10x the size of our business in a three-year period, we had 600 sales people all around the world selling the product. It was a very huge success for the BEA and for me personally because I learned how to scale a business, see large operations and build a team. I learned a lot of my management expertise primarily from Intel, it was probably one of the most well managed companies in the world.
Several years later, I did it again and we formed an incubation company which was investing in companies in preparing them for VC and then I did it again and formed an insurance software company that was right at the cusp of the whole insure tech wave that’s happening right now”.
Talking about how he came to Soluna, John said:
John: “I took a break for sometime and that is when Michael Toporek, the General Partner of Brookstone Partners, who himself has been an investor in my companies since the late 90’s, invited me to this interesting opportunity to combine renewable energy and blockchain computing called Soluna”.