While balancing a full course load, this Business student co-founded a blockchain tech startup that could revolutionize the aviation industry

Headshot of Phong Nguyen Dang

A recent Villanova School of Business graduate recounts letting his entrepreneurial spirit soar as the co-founder and chief product officer of Aerotrax, a company he helped launch while earning his degree as a full-time student and that was just named by Analytics Insight magazine as one of its "Top 10 Most Revolutionary Blockchain Cloud Storage Companies in 2021."

The Launchpad

Collaborating with David Bettenhausen ’20 on a winning idea for a global university pitch competition sponsored by the blockchain giant R3, Phong Nguyen Dang ’21 found inspiration in his high school job working for a Florida aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul company. It was there he observed that the industry was reliant on outdated, manual operations, and he now saw an opportunity to improve efficiency using blockchain technology.

Winning Isn't Everything

The two undergrads devised a platform to digitally track every part and component throughout the life cycle of an aircraft (think Carfax but for airplanes). Chosen from more than 90 global submissions, their team—Aerotrax—finished in the top four of R3’s 2019 pitch competition, but walked away with something much more important than first place: a viable idea. The overwhelmingly positive reaction from professors and connections within the industry fueled their drive to get their startup idea off the ground.

Doing the Homework

After participating in an entrepreneur-in-residence program at R3, Phong returned to Villanova with a full course load and a new business to develop. “I always thought coming up with that million-dollar idea was the hard part, but it was easy compared to the execution,” says Phong.

Fast Forward

Since graduating in spring 2021, Phong has devoted himself full time as chief product officer for Aerotrax, which has grown to include a head of product design and 10 software engineers. They’re now working toward their fundraising goals while simultaneously preparing to pilot test their product in both North America and the Asia Pacific region. The pressure is on, but Phong remains confident.

“The classes I’ve taken and the conversations with advisers and experiences I’ve had while at Villanova helped me to understand that the most important thing is market fit,” he says. “Knowing I helped build something that provides a real solution for a real problem that delivers real value to customers keeps me going.”