Ever since he was a young boy, Kulvinder Lotay found himself submerged in every aspect of technology. He was often found curled up with a book, whether it be one on physics from his father’s library, one on innovative gadgets, or the newest Artemis Fowl novel. His hobbies included messing around with a circuit board or jailbreaking his new Android phone. His best memories from family vacations to Egypt and Greece were of the architecture and learning about the processes at which these ancient structures were built.
“Everything keeps going back to technology,” he recalled.
BACKGROUND—Kulvinder grew up in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. He lives with his father, mother, and fraternal twin sister, who he describes having grown very close to. His father owns a family construction business and Kulvinder would frequently travel with him to countries like South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, and Sudan to observe his work with various projects.
Throughout his life in Uganda, Kulvinder regularly encountered various cultures through the schools he attended. He went to an international school that combined British curriculum with some elements of IB programs. The student body represented 60 countries, leaving Kulvinder with senses of relating to global citizenship and a fearless togetherness that exceeds borders.“I feel like I don’t define with one culture,” he recounted. “I don’t feel like I’m just a Ugandan. I feel like we’re all human.”
While he did have hobbies like playing soccer, watching the newest Top Gear episode, and learning guitar, Kulvinder admits he was, “more fascinated by science rather than interactions with people.” He took great pleasure in constructing a hovercraft for the school science fair and coming up with a business model for classmates to play video games during school time. He also did community service projects for a school in rural northern Uganda that desperately required renovations. But in the twelfth grade, right before his IB exams, Kulvinder had undergone something that changed his outlook on life forever. He was in an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down for three to four months, causing him to take a gap year before entering college.
Kulvinder explained the accident made him a much more resilient individual and gave him the ultimate motivation to make the most of each day. “I don’t like people sympathizing. I don’t want to use that as an excuse for me not doing well for something.” It also gave him the opportunity to land his first job at a software company, Enterprise Resource Planning, or ERP, Systems.
“I am a very future-oriented person. When something happens I reflect on it, take lessons from it, and move on. I just think, ‘What is next?’”
PROBLEM SOLVING—Enrolling at Marist College marked Kulvinder’s first visit to the United States. At Marist, he declared a major in computer science and a minor in cybersecurity. He took part in clubs such as intramural soccer, Toastmasters, and the Marist Ambassadors and continues today to be a member of the Marist International Club, the Marist College Computer Science Society, the Honors Program, and “Marist Business Review,” where he serves as the Tech & Innovation Editor. Kulvinder is fascinated by the idea of combining cutting-edge technology with the highly-competitive world of entrepreneurship. He is interested in a broad range of industries such as artificial intelligence, space travel and going to Mars, and, most recently, blockchain.
A story that has inspired him to act on these interests is a publication titled Why Explore Space? Penned by NASA’s director of science Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, the letter explains the necessity to invest in technological advancement just as much as helping those who suffer since these innovations lead to a better quality of life.“It is worth [going] into something in science rather than just being a person who’s just going to help out people who suffer,” said Kulvinder. “I don’t just want to do a career that’s going to be for me. I want to be able to contribute back and improve the lives of everyone.”
One of the ways in which Kulvinder hopes to achieve this goal is through his research with blockchain, a database system that allows for any asset to be represented digitally and automates any transaction system. He began his work with the system as part of his Honors by Contract project, and was able to present his findings at the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference in Atlanta, GA.
This research has come to transcend a required project. Kulvinder continued his work on blockchain in the past summer of 2016 through his internship with the Ventures department at Vertex Inc. Additionally, he is currently expanding the work from his Honors by Contract and applying it to his Honors Thesis. For this project, he is developing a decentralized energy grid and utilizing blockchain to automate the buying and selling of electricity.
His enthusiasm for how BlockChain might change the world is infectious,” stated Dr. Casimer DeCusatis, Marist professor who helped Kulvinder with his project. “His interest in developing BlockChain for alternative solar energy farms in Brooklyn, NY goes far beyond what I would expect from a typical undergraduate student.” Kulvinder anticipates the continuation of his work with blockchain in the future and hopes it will benefit those who are less fortunate. “I don’t want to go into entrepreneurship just for making money. I want to go into entrepreneurship because I feel that technology entrepreneurship has the most potential to make an impact on any sort of problem you’re trying to solve globally.”
Kulvinder Lotay is an international student from Uganda. He continually defines himself as a technology entreprenuer in all of his work—his most recent being his research on blockchain. Kulvinder placed first at the Mid-Hudson Regional Business Competition and went on to compete in the finals in Albany. He also had the opportunity to present his blockchain research to the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference in Atlanta, GA in 2017.
APPLICATION—Kulvinder confirmed that his heart lied in technology entrepreneurship when he entered the New York Business Plan competition in 2017. Partnered with Marist student Francesco Galletti, he created a consultancy that uses gamification, which takes decision theory from video games and incorporates it into the real world, to develop incentive-based templates for different businesses to use to make employees more productive and to make the work environment more fun.
With their business plan, the pair won the Mid-Hudson Regional Business Competition and went on to compete in the state finals in Albany. Most of the other competitors in the state finals were masters students. Galletti recalled, “He did not show much of his nervousness while I was truly freaking out, but I will never forget his smile when we finished our pitch as we managed to, for the first time, not make any mistakes in the presentation.”
An international student himself, Galletti stated he admires one of his first friends at Marist for his high standards in programming, concentration, work ethic, and self-discipline. “He is the best programmer I have ever had the privilege to work with and his strong work ethic pushes you to work even harder. He can recognize talent and opportunities, and focus on projects that can truly make the world a better place.”
As for the next step, Kulvinder is currently applying for masters at prestigious universities such as at UC Berkeley, NYU, and MIT, but is also considering joining the startup industry after graduation in May. “I’m a very future-oriented person,” he said. “When something happens I reflect on it, take lessons from it, and move on. I just think, ‘what’s next?’”