Entrepreneurship Blog

Launch Pad: Danny Cabrera ENG’14, Founder of BioBots

BioBots, Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship

“The promise of biology is to do incredible things. Like cure different diseases, eliminate the organ waiting list, push life to other planets, or even begin to remediate our own planet.”

So says Danny Cabrera ENG’14, Co-founder of BioBots, a 3D printing company unlike any other, because they print in “biocompatible materials.” Danny explains: “think of these as different colored cartridges on your inkjet printer, only these are for tissues instead of printing in colors.”

That’s right, BioBots prints tissues that can mimic the human body, or pieces of it, and this is an incredibly powerful tool for researchers. “We’re seeing a lot of scientists who are using our devices to develop 3D tissue models for different disease models, or for different organ systems, things like liver, kidney, heart.” This allows these scientists to understand the function of these organs or systems better, and to model diseases, and their treatments, in ways far superior to current methods.

And this is just the beginning. Danny has a sweeping vision of all that biology can do. He’s convinced that biology is going to “become the engineering discipline of our generation, that we were going to be able to use biology to build all of the useful products that we’re used to, and also a lot of new products that we weren’t even aware of yet.” He sees BioBots as “the first tool in a whole new stack of tools that need to be built to transition—to take biology from being 2D into being 3D.”

Listen to Danny talk to Karl Ulrich about how the BioBots printer works (Karl makes sure he gets it in terms for the intelligent layperson), the current and future applications of an amazing tool like this—and some of the business aspects, like what an MVP looks like for an entirely new thing like BioBots, and how Danny figured out how to price it.

Read more Launch Pad: Danny Cabrera ENG’14, Founder of BioBots

Never do a live demo! – We did.

Neuroflow cofounders Chris Molaro WG'17 and Adam Pardes GR'19, shortly before their pitch at SXSW.
Neuroflow cofounders Chris Molaro WG’17 and Adam Pardes GR’19, shortly before their pitch at SXSW.

By Christopher Molaro WG’17, Founder of NeuroFlow

Bill Gates famously crashed Windows 98 in a live demo.  In fact, there are numerous examples of such failures—no one is safe from a live demo disaster!  There is just so much that can go wrong that is out of your control, and if Murphy has anything to say about, he will make sure that if something can go wrong, it surely will.

The other week, the NeuroFlow team was headed to Austin, TX as we were accepted into the pitch competition at the SXSW Interactive Conference.  Two weeks before our trek to Texas, we were finalizing the specifics of the pitch—a pitch we have done for the last 10 months, probably hundreds of times, and were merely polishing.

Read more Never do a live demo! – We did.

Launch Pad: Brad Hargreaves, Founder of Common

Common logo

You’ve got a great new job, and you move to a new city—say, New York or San Francisco. You don’t know anyone. You don’t know the neighborhoods. You don’t have a community. Where do you live?

The new answer is Common.

Founded by Brad Hargreaves, former co-founder of General Assembly (listen to a great show about that venture here), Common is creating a new kind of residence: co-living.

In Common’s co-living apartments you get your own bedroom, then you share the kitchen, living areas, and “a whole long of common space,” according to Brad—all at a lower price point than a studio apartment. Plus cleaning of all common spaces, utilities, wifi, and furnishings are thrown in, making it a very good deal indeed. The intangible, of course, which also comes included with the rent, is the community.

Basically, with Common, you get to “keep the fun things like having potluck dinners, hanging out with friends, meeting new people, but take away all of the annoyances.”

Do people want this? Well, according to Brad, they’ve had about 12,000 applications for the approximately 150 rooms that they’ve opened so far. Their median age is 30, median imcome $98,000/year. They’re in the tech and creative industries, finance and government, law—and just a few students. Unsurprisingly, 70% of Common’s residents are new to the city.

Ultimately, what Common is doing is bring “a spirit of technology, of innovation, of good user experience design, of community,” into residential real estate.

Listen to Brad and Karl Ulrich talk about how Common scored the domain name Common.com, the complexities of financing a startup that also needs to raise VC money but also buy real estate (they own their buildings), and the surprising amount of overlap between General Assembly and Common.

Read more Launch Pad: Brad Hargreaves, Founder of Common

Launch Pad: Davis Smith G’11/WG’11, Founder of Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi logo, Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship

With Cotopaxi, founder Davis Smith G’11/WG’11 is “looking to build a world-class example of how to have social impact through a company.”

He and Karl Ulrich had a fascinating conversation about ventures that integrate social impact into their business models, as Cotopaxi does–a certified B Corp, Cotopaxi designates 2% of revenue “to help alleviate poverty around the world,” (as the website explains). Want to know more? Hear Davis dig in to why the social impact piece is crucial to him as a founder, and the several ways he’s tried out for implementing it.

To those who think that social impact and running a business should remain separate, Davis says: “I believed I could have a bigger impact on the world by creating a business that had core values that inspired the world than I could if I just did something on my own.”

Beyond the social impact piece, listen for a fascinating analysis of why the right domain name is key–and for some clever ideas for how to get/finance the one you want. Also: how Cotopaxi is getting customers to essential pay them to get acquired, which is very nice model if you can pull it off.

Read more Launch Pad: Davis Smith G’11/WG’11, Founder of Cotopaxi

A Student Founded Accelerator

By Calista Dominy C’20, Co-founder of Pre-Med 

Calista Dominy presenting at YouthHack
Calista Dominy presenting at YouthHack

Being part of the YouthHack Ventures Accelerator, founded by David Ongchoco C’18, has been a beyond rewarding experience. As a team of two freshman entrepreneurs starting a patient education app company, my co-founder, Eash Aggarwal C’18, and I have found it immensely helpful to have a network around us to support and help us through the ups and downs of growing a business.

Read more A Student Founded Accelerator

Launch Pad: Trina Spear, Founder of FIGS

FIGS logo

Scrubs that fit well. Scrubs that flatter your body. Scrubs with antimicrobial fabric, to stop bacteria and infections from spreading. The medical apparel industry is a $10 billion industry in the US alone—so where have scrubs like these been?

That’s what Trina Spear asked herself, and her answer was FIGS, which she calls the “highest quality medical apparel in the world.” FIGS has the potential to turn the medical apparel industry upside down. As she explains: “it’s a commoditized industry that we are de-commoditizing. It’s an unbranded industry that we are branding.”

Listen to Karl and Trina talk about why FIGS is a B-Corp that gives away a set of scrubs to a healthcare provider in need for every set they sell. And just how many meetings it took for Trina to raise their first $2 million in funding. (Spoiler: about 100. Which Karl points out is totally normal, for you entrepreneurs out there who are feeling discouraged about heading out to meeting #43.)

Read more Launch Pad: Trina Spear, Founder of FIGS

How To Be A Lean Retail Entrepreneur

By Daniel Meurer WG’17, Founder of Laguna Beach Towel Company

Today, retail entrepreneurs have a major opportunity to build lean, profitable businesses and capture share from large retailers.

Changes in distribution, advertising and freelance outsourcing accessibility have created the opportunity for entrepreneurs to offer equivalent value at lower prices. Smaller, newer, and nimbler companies can organically build brands and narratives that resonate with consumers and can do this using low cost, but high impact, advertising channels. This has pressured margins across the industry, but has simultaneously offered creative entrepreneurs the opportunity to create successful retail businesses.

Legacy retail companies can ride this trend by aligning themselves through partnerships, investments, or acquisition with smaller, upstart consumer brands. Retailers can also gain through association with smaller, more narrative focused brands and leverage brick and mortar stores, and established brand equity to play a greater role in curation, aggregation and distribution.

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Read more How To Be A Lean Retail Entrepreneur

Launch Pad: Uma Valeti, Founder of Memphis Meats

Memphis Meats

Meat grown directly from animal cells. It sounds like science fiction, but like so much else in this age of marvels, this hopeful fiction is turning into actual science, at Memphis Meats.

A former cardiologist, founder Uma Valeti was part of a study that was trying to inject cells into patients’ hearts to regrow heart muscle, and he took that idea of growing muscle cells… and ran with it.

Meat grown in a laboratory, rather than raised as livestock, addresses the environmental, ethical, and health issues that plague our current means of getting meat on the table. As Uma explains: “We’re detaching slaughter from meat production.”

This is a true moon shot, a potential disruptor of global proportions. According to Uma, 90% of the world’s population eats meat, and in order to supply that meat, 57 billion land animals are slaughtered every year. What if that all just—stopped?

Listen to Uma and Karl dig in to the scientific, cultural, and business challenges that Memphis Meats faces. And keep an eye out: Uma’s goal is to get Memphis Meats products on the market, in grocery stores and restaurants, within five years. Will you try it?

Read more Launch Pad: Uma Valeti, Founder of Memphis Meats

Leveling the Playing Field

By Kumar Dhuvur WG’08, Co-founder of PowerScout

Kumar Dhuvur WG'08, Co-founder of PowerScout
Kumar Dhuvur WG’08, Co-founder of PowerScout

I am a Co-Founder of PowerScout, a big data-enabled online marketplace where consumers can research and purchase clean energy products such as rooftop solar systems. Before I became an entrepreneur, I spent 10+ years at big companies with big brands and thousands of employees.

It has been two years since we founded PowerScout and, looking back, I am amazed that despite a limited budget and a small team we have been able to accomplish goals faster and cheaper than any of the big companies I have seen operate. This is in large part due to the proliferation of software tools & platforms that make launching key business functions efficient and simple.

Read more Leveling the Playing Field