social sciences alumni SUPERCONNECTOR
Blake Baxter ’04, Social Sciences Board of Councilors member and Alumni Network founding chair, builds bridges between alumni and their alma mater
In 2017, Blake Baxter joined the social sciences dean’s Board of Councilors and, in 2019, he was named founding chair of the UCI Social Sciences Alumni Network with the goal of helping alumni reconnect with each other and the school.
Blake Baxter ’04 splits his time between Los Angeles, New York, and Singapore, as he runs an international venture capital firm and two startups based on blockchain technology. While some have called him a “supergeneralist,” he’s a “superconnector,” too, who brings together people, ideas, and capital everywhere he goes – including at his beloved alma mater, UCI.
Baxter’s tendency to dabble in a little bit of everything started young. Growing up in Calabasas, California, he played every sport he could – soccer, basketball, golf, tennis, track, and ballroom dance. He also played instruments, and was an especially good bass trombone player, so it was originally the arts that brought him to UCI, where he planned to major in music.
But he was hooked on sociology from his first class, where the professor sent students to conduct social experiments – like facing backward in a crowded elevator or standing still to observe people in a crowded gym.
“I thought, ‘This is fun, studying people and figuring out what makes them tick,’” Baxter says. “And people are weird; I’m weird, you’re weird, let’s all embrace our weird.”
Baxter would learn a lot about people beyond his classes, too. The fraternity he joined, Kappa Sigma, was hugely influential in his life.
“The fraternity took groups of people from every single walk of life and put us together,” he says. “My roommate is one of my best friends to this day, but we were so different that people called us the odd couple. There were other odd couples, too, and that led to respect and helped build lifelong friendships.”
Connections he made through the fraternity led to a plethora of other opportunities on campus, as well. “The fraternity enabled a wide range of experiences for all its members,” he says. “It created connections to other aspects of campus, and made it seem like every pathway was available – if you took the initiative.”
Baxter served as a counselor for the Student Parent Orientation Program, helping freshmen – and their often anxious parents – ease the transition to college life. He also volunteered with an after-school program in Santa Ana, where he and fellow students provided homework support to kids whose parents worked late and needed after school care.
“Seize every single opportunity,” Baxter advises current Anteaters. “There’s such a huge network of opportunities at UCI that it doesn't matter what you’re into, there’s something to dive into. The campus community out there is so important and impressive.”
While a student, Baxter’s job was the epitome of turn-of-the-century college cool: he worked at Abercrombie & Fitch. After graduation, he earned his real estate license and led the West Coast expansion of his fraternity for its national headquarters – while also maintaining a steady stream of side projects. Ultimately, networking in Los Angeles led him to become the right-hand man to an ultra-high-net-worth, globe-trotting investor. Baxter was soon applying socioeconomic theory from classes to the real world, advising and consulting for international companies to help expand their networks and partnerships.
On a trip to Korea, Baxter noticed exorbitant prices on wines that could easily be found in a grocery store back home. So, he and a fellow UCI alumnus and fraternity brother founded BW Global to export fine wines and spirits to Asia. The business allowed him to soak up knowledge of wines, as well as their marketing – choosing labels and bottle shapes that would appeal in specific markets.
After the export business was absorbed by bigger companies, Baxter became executive director of Blackrun Ventures, a private equity and venture capital firm based in Singapore that invests in a range of startups in financial technology, healthcare, renewable energy, and artificial intelligence industries.
Buying into blockchain
When bitcoin launched in 2009, Baxter was a naysayer. But a few years later, as blockchain and financial technology, or fintech, became a hot topic in investor circles, Baxter took a closer look and started realizing its potential.
“The way I see blockchain and cryptocurrency is that it’s not one business, it’s a technology that can grow and push forward other industries,” Baxter says, pointing to the metaverse and non-fungible tokens as examples of industries enabled by blockchain technology.
There’s such a huge network of opportunities at UCI that it doesn't matter what you’re into, there’s something to dive into.
“Blockchain enables high frequency transactions to occur so that someone can, for example, enter a metaverse, and have a frictionless experience buying tickets to U2 in concert at the Rose Bowl.”
“Not only are you going to be able to buy something in the real world, and your character in the metaverse is going to be able to use it, and vice versa,” he adds.
But the potential isn’t only for consumers. Businesses, too, will change the way they interact and exchange goods and services by leveraging blockchain technology. He shares an optimistic view on how blockchain, Web 3.0, and the metaverse will transform almost all industries.
Baxter continues to serve on several corporate and advisory boards because he enjoys strategy and building and growing businesses. Currently, he advises multiple companies on blockchain technology, including a real estate company using blockchain to handle escrow, title, and other parts of the purchase process; and an agriculture company that uses digital tokens to track its food sources and verify authenticity.
“All companies should, at a minimum, understand this space and how to position themselves appropriately,” he says.
In 2018, through what Baxter describes as kismet, he met his newest business partner, Antonio Collier. Their company, Olive Limited, is developing patents to “tackle future world problems” such as solving the scarcity issue of rare-earth elements and precious metals we’ve come to depend on for current and emerging technology. And, yes, it definitely involves blockchain.
Advocating for alumni Baxter stayed in touch with the campus through the years, but he realized that wasn’t the case for all of his friends.
“Everyone has that story of the time they went back to campus, and realized how much had changed and grown,” he says.
“I personally know a lot of alumni doing amazing things who want to reconnect with the school and enjoy the social aspects of the alumni network. There’s got to be a way to create those pathways for reconnecting to our shared experiences.”
In 2017, Baxter joined the social sciences dean’s Board of Councilors and, in 2019, he was named founding chair of the UCI Social Sciences Alumni Network with the goal of helping alumni reconnect with the campus that holds so many of their favorite memories, and network with each other.
“The effort that Dean Bill Maurer, Tracy Acuri, Liz Codispoti, Ian Delzer, and Melissa Churlonis have put into supporting the Social Sciences Alumni Network, to the benefit of all 58,000+ alumni of the school, shows just how important this is to the school to engage with social sciences alumni and reconnect them to campus and their fellow Anteaters.” says Baxter.
Undeterred by COVID-19, Baxter and fellow organizers focused on a series of Be Bold virtual events, including a virtual homecoming featuring alumni who have gone on to succeed in fascinating jobs – from driving race cars to opening a bakery. The group also supported initiatives such as collecting donations for the FRESH Basic Needs Hub food drive and raising money for UCI Giving Day. Although alumni missed being together on campus, the virtual events have the silver lining of being easy for alumni to join from anywhere in the world. As things open back up, Baxter expects the momentum to grow even stronger.
“It’s been really fun and I’m really looking forward to where the Social Sciences Alumni Network goes as things start to open up – happy hours and coffee meetups,” Baxter says. “We’re going to continue that cohesion, magic, and energy that we all experienced at UCI.”