Entrepreneurship Blog

Breakthroughs in Food, News, and Loos

From a life-saving app to a food delivery service with nearly a half billion in VC backing, keep an eye on these recent ventures with Wharton roots.

AlphaSense

It began with a conversation in a Wharton classroom about a particular problem—the endless hours financial analysts spend combing through reports, filings, transcripts, and news in search of specific data. Now AlphaSense is simplifying the process with a search engine that draws from thousands of public and licensed sources to find those essential needle-in-haystack details for the company’s client list of more than 500 and counting. Co-founded by CEO Jack Kokko WG08 and CTO Raj Neervannan WG08, AlphaSense scored $33 million in a funding round led by George Soros last year and was featured as one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies.”

Laugh.ly

Dave Scott, WG’98

In performing for a year as a stand-up comic opening for stars like Tracy Morgan and Nick Cannon, Dave Scott WG98 saw both an appetite for comedy and a need to improve its accessibility. To provide fans with a comedy-specific streaming service and comics with a platform to spread their material, Scott developed Laugh.ly, “the Pandora of comedy.” The free app features trending content, stand-up classics, and new releases, and makes it easy for users to find fresh acts. Scott and his team spent three years transcribing albums from hundreds of artists to create searchable content and thematic playlists. Visiting an in-law? Going through a breakup? Searching for something new? You can customize a stand-up playlist for that long drive—but listen while lifting heavy stuff at the gym at your own risk.

Full Harvest

Christine Moseley, WG’11

We’ve all chuckled at those memes of naughty-looking potatoes, duck-billed eggplant, and carrots shaped like feet—but have you ever seen such characterful vegetables in the supermarket? Each year in the U.S., some 20 billion pounds of produce go to waste because they don’t meet the perfectly straight or round or blemish-free ideal that grocery stores demand. B2B platform Full Harvest, founded by self-described serial social entrepreneur Christine Moseley, WG’11, helps farmers sell these imperfect crops. Moseley, who has 10 years of food- and logistics-industry experience, believes that aggregating the supply will help farmers boost revenue and let everyone benefit from more affordable healthy food.

Harper Wilde

Jenna Kerner, WG’17 and Jane Fisher, WG’17

MBA students Jane Fisher, WG’17 and Jenna Kerner, WG’17 bonded over their shared frustration with conventional bra shopping, with its embarrassing in-store fittings, pushy salespeople, and morass of expensive frills. After hearing the same complaints from hundreds of women, Fisher and Kerner confirmed their mission: to create beautiful, simple bras that people actually want, with a modest price point and home try-on to boot. And there’s more to feel good about: With every bra purchased, Harper Wilde—named after empowered women authors Harper Lee and Laura Ingalls Wilder—will donate towards girls’ education around the world.

POWTI Innovations

First responders like firefighters and military personnel don’t just save lives, they put their own lives on the line in the process. Co-founder and COO Thomas Cavett, G’18, WG’18—a former U.S. Army Green Beret and medic—created POWTI Innovations to improve access to life-saving aid for individuals suffering trauma and injury in the line of duty. The Point of Wounding Trauma Indicator (POWTI) device detects injuries and then transmits the user’s location to the nearest 911 dispatch or other preregistered location. With recent wins at the Lauder Pitch-It Competition and the Jacobson Global Venture Award, the company is on its way to saving lives.

PolarNews

Davis Filippell WG’18, Amelai Bell, G’18, WG’18, Matt Alexander, G’18, WG’18

In this brave new world of fake news and algorithm-driven social media echo chambers, how do we know that our favorite news platforms—whether CNN, the Guardian, or Fox News—aren’t just pandering to our views? Davis Filippell, WG’18 has a solution: read at least two sides of every story. He got together with policy analyst Matt Alexander, G’18, WG’18 and PR executive Amelia Bell, G’18, WG’18 to create PolarNews, a daily two-column email that presents contrasting perspectives on hot topics. Recent issues have covered President Trump’s cabinet selections, Verizon’s acquisition of Yahoo!, and Saturday Night Live’s political slapstick.

Magic Instruments

Attention, frustrated guitar players—Brian Fan, W’92 feels your pain. The Juilliard-trained classical pianist wanted to learn the instrument so he could sing to his newborn daughter but spent a summer trying with little to show. The experience moved him to create the Magic Instruments rhythm guitar, which replaces strings with buttons and simplifies playing chords to pushing a single button. A companion mobile app offers a library of thousands of songs to learn; built-in effects and a speaker eliminate the need for amps or pedals. The 2016 Y Combinator venture even earned a celebrity endorsement: Matthew Bellamy, lead singer/guitarist of Grammy-winning rock band Muse, calls it “the ultimate shortcut” and a “great tool for songwriting.”

RevoLOOtion

As company co-founder and CEO Nidhi Shah, G’17, WG’17 is quick to point out, you can’t have a discussion about poverty in India without mentioning toilets and hygiene. With roughly half of the country’s 1.3 billion citizens lacking basic sewage and sanitation infrastructure, the toll on public health and economic productivity is profound. Enter RevoLOOtion, which provides affordable no-flush composting toilets for India’s urban poor. The toilets essentially serve as septic tanks, and the collected waste can even be transformed into biogas fuel. The company is proving that bathroom talk is appreciated—RevoLOOtion was selected to participate in the Wharton Venture Initiation Program and recently won $10,000 through the Lauder Institute’s Jacobson Global Venture Award, which supports promising entrepreneurial ventures.

ChargeItSpot

There is perhaps no greater scourge of 21st-century human existence than the dead cell-phone battery. To ease the pain, Doug Baldasare, WG’12 and his company, ChargeItSpot, have created charging stations for retailers to set up in their stores. Unlike traditional hookups, these stations ask users to fill out a quick survey about their shopping experience. It’s a win-win: Patrons get their phones charged for free, while stores get extra foot traffic and deeper insight into their products, marketing, and customer experience. With more than 140 retailers already in the portfolio, ChargeItSpot has powered up more than two million phones to date.

Laguna Beach Textile Company

Danny Meurer, WG’17 got the idea for Laguna Beach Textile Company while spending a summer working as a cabana boy for one of Laguna Beach’s premier hotels. He was impressed with the plush, colorful beach towels he handed out, which were thick and soft and yet, unlike most towels on the consumer market, could withstand hundreds of washes without wearing down. In 2015 he founded Laguna Beach Textile Company with the goal of turning those exclusive resort-quality wraps into affordable luxury beach and bath towels priced from $22.

Advans Health

As international students from Spain, Antonio Muñoz Villanueva, G’17, WG’17 and his brother, Enrique, struggled to navigate the complicated and expensive U.S. health insurance marketplace. When they became insurance industry professionals—Antonio, a seasoned social entrepreneur, led the construction of a hospital and the management of a health care network in Cameroon—this particularly hurt. So they decided to streamline the way students purchase health insurance in this country with user-friendly plans targeted to their unique needs. While the Advans Health platform officially launches this summer—propelled by the Jacobson Venture Award—the brothers have already helped many Penn students save money and find the right health insurance fit.

Deliveroo

William Shu, WG’12

While working as an investment banker in New York City, William Shu, WG’12 ended most long nights at the office enjoying a delivered meal with his co-workers. When he was transferred to London, Shu was surprised to find that 24-hour, high-quality grub delivery was practically nonexistent. That led him to co-found Deliveroo, a U.K.-based online food delivery service company that specializes in shipping meals from premium local restaurants, including some that don’t otherwise offer takeout. The company—which earned $474 million in VC funding and got its footing in Professor Patrick Fitzgerald’s Venture Implementation class—now operates in more than 130 cities across 12 countries and was named the Top MBA Startup for 2017 by Poets & Quants.

TrustCircle

Illustrations by Cynthia Kittler

When Sachin Chaudhry, WG’13 was a teenager in India, his then-12-year-old brother was diagnosed with a chronic mental health issue, and Chaudhry saw how the health-care system was broken—brief appointments with doctors and no guidance between visits left his family scrambling for help. That’s why today, the CEO and co-founder of TrustCircle—a digital health startup designed to improve mental health care and reduce ER visits and hospital read missions—calls the business his “life’s calling.” Individuals can use the technology to assess their mental health, and organizations can identify high-risk patients and provide community support to patients and caregivers. TrustCircle became the first mental health app in Africa, launched pilot programs in India, and is in talks to debut in the U.S.

SeenIt

Ankita Sancheti, W’08, Vedanta Kumar, W’09, and Saksham Karlwal, C’11, ENG’11

Ever wonder where you could buy those cool kicks you saw somewhere in cyberspace? Ankita Sancheti, W’08, Vedanta Kumar, W’09, and Saksham Karwal, C’11, ENG1’1 are pioneering what they estimate is a $50 billion industry—guiding consumers from a “like” to a purchase. Their India-based startup SeenIt employs 12 designers and stylists who scavenge the Web for products based on user-uploaded photos, and then direct those users to retailers. The idea was born when Kumar and Karwal spent more than two hours trying to find a pair of sunglasses featured in a James Bond movie. Now the site is tracking the looks of Hollywood and Bollywood stars and has partnered with brands including Nike, Puma, and Moda Operandi.

Editor’s Note: This post appeared originally in Wharton Magazine.

Launch Pad: Jason Wachob, Founder of MindBodyGreen

MindBodyGreen is the result of Jason Wachob almost getting back surgery.

The 6’7” serial entrepreneur traveled 150,000 miles domestic in one year—in coach—for his startup of the time, and aggravated an old basketball injury, resulting in excruciating pain. Two doctors in a row recommended back surgery.

Seeking something less extreme, Jason instead started doing yoga. And “that led me down a rabbit hole. I started to look at things like sleep and stress and nutrition, the environment, and made a lot of changes in my life.” He changed how he ate. Ultimately, “over the course of six months I completely healed, and I think yoga played a large role in that healing process.”

This was a life changing moment: “to me this idea of wellness was about living your best life, and it was nuanced, and it was this blend of mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, and environmental wellbeing. And no one was covering it, and—MindBodyGreen. That’s the idea, was to really spread this message of living one’s best life with our unique lens, and do that through content. So it started with the first blog post, with me, back in 2009.”

From that one blog post, it took MindBodyGreen about two years to monetize, and three years to cross the 1 million reader mark—and that’s when they raised capital. These days the website boasts of “a readership of more than 15 million worldwide.”

Listen to Karl Ulrich and Jason discuss the path of building a successful new media brand, and all the lessons Jason’s learned from founding four companies.

Read more Launch Pad: Jason Wachob, Founder of MindBodyGreen

Angel Investors Rely On Gut Feel Over Data

Laura Huang, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship

New research shows that early-stage angel investors rely on instincts over data when looking for their next home run.

As the first source of external financing for most entrepreneurs, angel investors play an important role in the success of burgeoning startups. But investing in young businesses is always a risk. So what convinces an investor a venture is worth betting on—the product? The market data? The confidence and charm of the entrepreneur?

According to research by Laura Huang, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship, the answer might be found in an unexpected place: the gut. In her paper “Managing the Unknowable: The Effectiveness of Early-Stage Investor Gut Feel in Entrepreneurial Investment Decisions,” coauthored by Jone L. Pearce, a University of California, Irvine, management professor, Huang examined the ways in which angel investors make decisions. When she was speaking to investors for her research, she says, one theme kept turning up: “They would talk about the size of the market; they would talk about the product. But they kept coming back to: ‘Well, then I rely on my gut feel,’ or, ‘Then I invest based on my gut feel.’”

Read more Angel Investors Rely On Gut Feel Over Data

Launch Pad: George Karibian, WG’93, Founder of PaymentSense and Serial Entrepreneur

“Technology, data, people, you put those three together you can work magic.”

George Karibian, WG’93, serial entrepreneur and founder of PaymentSense

When George Karibian was at Wharton, in the early ‘90s, people came here, in George’s words, “because you wanted to go into banking or consulting. And if you weren’t in one of those two areas you were a loser back then.”

Today, “I love coming back to campus and seeing the number of students, these are some of the brightest people on the planet, put so much energy into entrepreneurship.”

As a member of Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship’s Advisory Board, George was on campus for the Startup Showcase, and he took a few minutes to talk with Karl Ulrich about his fascinating life story, and in particular his takeaways from a tumultuous career as a serial entrepreneur, and currently the Founder and Director of PaymentSense (which George tells us processed about $6 billion of payments in the last year).

We love George, of course, for all he does for entrepreneurship at Wharton and at Penn. But also because he says things like this about us:

“Wharton has helped me out incredibly, much more than I ever imagined. Both the network and what I learned, it stays with you forever, and—and it continues, it doesn’t end there.”

And because, when he and his cofounder had the conversation that led to PaymentSense—at 4 am, in the courtyard of the Venetian Hotel, in Las Vegas—they decided they needed a manifesto (“This was at the time when Lars Von Trier, the film director had come up with this manifesto for films, so manifestos were very much in.”), and here’s the manifesto they came up with:

  • “We’re going to use our own money”
  • “We’re going to test and pilot everything”
  • “Technology is going to be at the core of what we do”
  • “We’re going to hire a head of HR as our first hire”

Why that last point? “In the past we’ve always been–the HR person was us. And so people were going to be at the center of everything we do in tech. And we built the perfect company with Paymentsense.” See above: technology, data, people.

Of course, as George also says, “I thought, third time around I know exactly what we need to do, I was wrong.”

Read more Launch Pad: George Karibian, WG’93, Founder of PaymentSense and Serial Entrepreneur

B2B vs. B2C

By Ajay Anand G’13, WG’13, Founder of Systmapp and Rare Carat

Life after graduating from Wharton’s MBA program went fast. And slow.

I turned down a full time offer to go back to the Boston Consulting Group, foregoing free dinners at Nobu and an office that looks like this, to work out of a food court in Hell’s Kitchen.

Mostly, it sucked. But lately it’s been more fun. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Read more B2B vs. B2C

Launch Pad: Startup Challenge Special

wep_startupChallenge_color

We’ve got a special edition of Launch Pad this week, featuring the top three winning teams from the Penn Wharton Startup Challenge!

Karl Ulrich talks with:

  • Perlman Grand Prize winners Joseph Quan, WG’17 and Nikhil Srivastava, WG’17, founders of Twine;
  • Second Prize winner Thomas Uhler, C’19, W’19, founder of RightAir;
  • Third Prize winners Mitch Gainer, WG’18 and Marc Giesener, WG’18, founders of CitySense.

Read more Launch Pad: Startup Challenge Special

Twine Wins The Perlman Grand Prize At The Inaugural Startup Showcase

Twine founders Joseph Quan WG’17 (L) and Nikhil Srivastava WG’17 (R)Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship is pleased to announce the winners of the inaugural Startup Challenge: Twine, founded by Wharton MBA students Joseph Quan and Nikhil Srivastava (both WG’17). The Showcase took place on April 28 on the University of Pennsylvania campus. Twine makes internal mobility within a company seamless by recommending the best employees to fill open roles, helping companies to boost retention and significantly reduce hiring costs by efficiently hiring from within.

Read more Twine Wins The Perlman Grand Prize At The Inaugural Startup Showcase

Startup Challenge Semifinalist: Pinch

Team Leader:
Sarah Budhiman, WG’17
Team Members:
Dylan Hooe, WG’17
Don Wang, IPD’18

2017 Pennvention winner

elevator pitch: For the modern consumer who wants to cook more and experiment with new recipes, Pinch is a revolutionary in-store machine that lets you buy the exact amount of fresh and organic spices, herbs, and seasonings that you need for your next meal.

Where did the idea for your venture come from?
Co-founders Sarah Budhiman and Dylan Hooe uncovered the need for Pinch while preparing a meal for 12 classmates in the Wharton Food Club. When 30% of the shopping bill total was traced back to the spice aisle, they knew there was an opportunity to eliminate a key friction in the grocery marketplace.

How will your venture change the world?
Home cooking is a special and unifying experience often enjoyed with friends, family, and/or significant others. Pinch aims to create more of these moments, one meal at a time.

Fun Facts:
Sarah, Dylan, and Don are all passionate foodies. Their all-time favorite meals so far have been Omakase Sushi in Tokyo, Blue Crabs from the Chesapeake Bay, and Matumbo Stew in Nairobi respectively.

Come to the Startup Showcase to see the best student entrepreneurs from across Penn demo their companies and compete for cash and prizes to launch their startups!

Launch Pad: Peter Weijmarshausen, Founder of Shapeways

Shapeways

“If you can’t find it anywhere else, then why not make it?” asks Peter Weijmarshausen, Founder of Shapeways, a 3D printing company that lets you do exactly that.

Peter explains: “Shapeways is a platform that is home to a vibrant community that enables them to make amazing products using 3D printing. So if you have a great idea, and you want it to turn in to something physical and a real product, you can go to Shapeways, upload your designs, and we make it for you.” If you’re not a maker, but want to buy unique pieces, Shapeways offers “a vast catalogue of amazing products. You can come to our site and you can find a very big variety of products ranging from toys and gadgets to jewelry, home décor, puzzles, and many, many more things.”

“In essence what we’re doing is we are giving people access to world class manufacturing capabilities, and giving them total freedom to make whatever they want.”

Listen to Karl Ulrich talk with Peter about how Shapeways has evolved over ten years, as the technology, and the company, have matured, and get his take on where 3D printing is at today: “We went through the completely unknown, and then super hype, and then after the hype typically comes a little bit of a time where people go like, really? Was this real? And we’re now starting to see real value creation.”

Read more Launch Pad: Peter Weijmarshausen, Founder of Shapeways