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Aug 11, 2023 Accountancy Alumni Business Administration Faculty Finance Giving Stories Student

Mask Network invests in Gies blockchain education, research

Mask Network (MASK), a company focused on decentralizing the content on social media platforms, has donated 33,000 tokens of its cryptocurrency to invest in blockchain technology education and research at Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

MASK Founder and CEO Suji Yan and Chief Compliance Officer Katt Gu spoke at the College’s first Blockchain Summit in 2020 and have continued to expand their relationship with Gies faculty and leadership.

“Our goal is to encourage business students and younger law students to pursue this field,” said Yan. “We also hope our financial commitment inspires other companies to do the same.”

With their first donation in 2021 in the form of US dollars, Yan and Gu partnered with the University of Illinois Foundation to explore the best way to securely incorporate cryptocurrency donations into their fundraising efforts. Yan and Gu expanded their giving in 2023 to include cryptocurrency.

“Our latest investment using $MASK tokens is unrestricted so the College can decide how to best invest these resources to further students’ blockchain education through its curriculum and research,” said Gu.

Yan, a former journalist and entrepreneur, attended the University of Illinois from 2014 to 2017 as a computer engineering major before leaving school to launch the company. Gu earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and law degree from the University of Illinois.

While they knew of each other on campus, they did not meet until attending a blockchain conference in San Francisco in 2017. Gu eventually joined Yan on the West Coast, and later that year, they created their own compliance framework and founded MASK. In 2019 they married. 

Yan and Gu founded MASK to create a decentralized social square where security and privacy is paramount and owned by content creators, not big technology firms.

U of I alum and Solana blockchain co-founder Anatoly Yakovenko was an early advisor, and Yan and Gu are now working with a number of professors, including Jacob Kinsey, director of Gies Consulting, Robert Brunner, Gies associate dean for innovation and chief disruption officer, and Andrew Miller, a computer science professor whose research focuses on the design of secure decentralized systems and cryptocurrencies.

“We want to go beyond current technology,” said Yan. “Education is about inspiring future business leaders and future creators. We want to help students realize the beauty and potential of this technology and want to become a part of it. We want to show them the possibilities and give them ways to learn from our experience.”

Added Gu: “What Gies is doing is quite rare. We are looking forward to working more closely with the very talented U of I students and professors to help as we develop new technologies and ultimately create the MASK ecosystem.”