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: 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: Rob Sadow W’08, Founder of Scoop

Scoop green

Hate your commute? Scoop, founded by Rob Sadow W’08, has a solution for you: a “fully automated carpooling solution for commuters.”

Scoop partners with enterprises, office parks, and cities to make it easier for coworkers and neighbors to share trips back and forth to the office.

Here’s how it works: You book your carpool trips one way at a time, based on your needs. Why one way? Rob explains: “By unbundling it so that you can book one way at a time we make it possible so you can actually go to work with one person and come home with somebody else, and so it unlocks flexibility in your schedule so you don’t feel locked in to having to go or commute on somebody else’s time.”

And if for some reason Scoop can’t match you in a return trip that day, “you can take public transit, or a taxi, or another alternative and we’ll actually cover the cost of the alternative to make sure you can get home.”

Listen to Karl Ulrich and Rob talk through more of the nitty-gritty of putting together a carpooling app that works, plus, get a sense of how being a consultant can be great preparation for founding a company. Rob was with Bain & Company for six and a half years, and throughout the interview, Karl noted Rob’s impressively thorough analyses of the problems and possible solutions.

Read more Launch Pad: Rob Sadow W’08, Founder of Scoop

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

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

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

Launch Pad: Nat Turner W’08, Founder of Flatiron Health

Flatiron logo

What’s a guy supposed to do when he sells his first startup to Google for over $80 million, just 2 years after graduation?

Found another company, Flatiron Health (which has so far raised $228 million from, among others, Google Ventures) that is working to cure cancer using big data.

This is the life story, so far, of Nat Turner W’08. Listen to hear him talk with Karl Ulrich about choosing your funding strategically (“taking investment is much more than just capital”), the benefits of being an industry outsider (“I think, honestly, it’s an advantage that we did not come from the industry”), rising healthcare costs (“maybe this crisis, maybe this opportunity will actually give rise to some innovative thinking and some better solutions. We can all be hopeful for that.”), and more.

Read more Launch Pad: Nat Turner W’08, Founder of Flatiron Health