Wharton Alum: From Chess Player to Entrepreneur

Alumni Ventures
3 min readMay 22, 2018

Wharton MBA grad Allen “AJ” Steigman used his chess skills and near-death experience to become a real estate entrepreneur.

Growing up, Allen “AJ” Steigman (WG’18) was a whiz at chess. He ranked #1 in the US for eight consecutive years, and even became a master at thirteen — a feat that Bobby Fischer didn’t achieve until he was fifteen years old. AJ even traveled around the world representing the US in international competitions. But everything came to a shrieking halt when his neurological functions were attacked.

At 16, AJ was bitten by a bug and in a fluke circumstance contracted Lyme disease, encephalitis, and meningitis. A lot of top doctors even told his parents that he would die or be permanently impaired. AJ lost his ability to walk and talk, his short-term memory was shot, and even doing simple arithmetic was a challenge. For a former chess pro unable to rely on his mathematical skills, it was his worst nightmare.

However, AJ made it through the ordeal, and applied his pattern recognition abilities from chess to start Steignet, an arbitrage platform for the single family residential housing market.

Chestnut Street Ventures caught up with this fellow Penn alum to ask him about his near-death experience, entrepreneurial career, and tips for startups.

What sparked your entrepreneurial drive?

I think I’ve always had an innate passion for entrepreneurship. Ever since I was a kid, I enjoyed building things from scratch. I was the one who built his own LEGO designs instead of following the instructions manual. Now I am excited to be able to use these skills to build a platform that will be a master pattern recognition system for the real estate vertical.

How does Steignet change the real estate sector?

You could think of our system as a tactical “Bloomberg Terminal” for the residential real estate market. We are developing proprietary technology to identify undervalued, distressed, or mispriced residential real estate assets throughout the US. With our machine learning and decision engines, Steignet will generate superior alpha for our real estate investors and partners.

Has being a Lyme disease survivor influenced you as an entrepreneur?

I’ve always been a fighter, and I don’t get fazed with the volatility of entrepreneurship because, for me, every day is a gift. I value just being alive. But I feel that the best way to spend my time is building something beneficial for society through entrepreneurship.

What are the three most important lessons that you’ve learned on your entrepreneurial journey?

Never give up, always believe in yourself, and surround yourself with positive people who support your dreams.

Chestnut Street Ventures is the smartest, simplest way for Penn alums to add venture capital to their portfolio. If you would like to learn more about investing alongside Penn alumni, click here.



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