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

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

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

Launch Pad: Blake Scholl, Founder of Boom

 

XB-1: a one-third scale realization of the Boom passenger airliner. It will demonstrate in flight the key technologies for practical supersonic travel. XB-1 is the first independently developed supersonic jet and history's fastest civil aircraft. It is under construction now and will fly in late 2017. Photo courtesy of Boom.
XB-1: a one-third scale realization of the Boom passenger airliner. It will demonstrate in flight the key technologies for practical supersonic travel. XB-1 is the first independently developed supersonic jet and history’s fastest civil aircraft. It is under construction now and will fly in late 2017. Photo courtesy of Boom.

Karl Ulrich’s enthusiasm for Boom comes out in every syllable of this interview, and for good reason. Boom is, as founder Blake Scholl describes, “picking up where Concord left off. We are building a new generation of supersonic airplane that is significantly more efficient and significantly more affordable than Concord. So New York to London could be three hours and 15 minutes instead of seven—but for the same price you pay now for a business class ticket. So this is dramatically more affordable high-speed travel.” Read more Launch Pad: Blake Scholl, Founder of Boom

Launch Pad: Neel Premkumar WG’08, Founder of Stur and Forto

Forto and Stur

With a background at Nestle, starting a company in packaged foods was a natural fit for Neel Premkumar—but it wasn’t until his pregnant wife needed something more fun to drink than water to keep her hydrated that he got the idea for Stur.

She wanted something truly natural and organic, but also tasty, so Neel developed Stur, a liquid concentrate that uses real fruit extracts and some stevia leaf extract for sweetness; 2 ml flavors an 8 oz glass of water.

However, the way Neel built his company didn’t match the Nestle model. He explains: “how I built the business was more like a software company, less like a packaged goods company.”

Read more Launch Pad: Neel Premkumar WG’08, Founder of Stur and Forto

Launch Pad: Nadine McCarthy Kahane WG’12, Founder of Stone & Strand

 

Stone and Strand earrings

Valentine’s Day is coming! Whether you’re shopping for your sweetie or indulging in a gorgeous piece for yourself, Stone and Strand has the jewelry you want.

Elevator pitch: “Stone and Strand is the leading online jewelry retailer for stylish millennial women. We are founded for women by women and our mission is to empower the female self purchaser and really modernize what has traditionally been a very stuffy overpriced shopping experience and turn it into a fresher value driven fashionable and importantly include our sassy take on it as well.”

Read more Launch Pad: Nadine McCarthy Kahane WG’12, Founder of Stone & Strand

Launch Pad: Slava Rubin W’00, Founder of Indiegogo

Back in 2006, Slava Rubin and his Indiegogo cofounders had some very interesting ideas for a company: “So we had this very naïve concept which is, if YouTube, which was very new at the time and wasn’t owned by Google yet, is doing this democratization of content thing, it’s quite interesting, anybody can put up any content. People can watch it if they want. And eBay was already quite established as democratizing this auction concept. Why is it that access to capital is all about the gatekeeper, knowing the right investment banker, knowing the right VC, knowing the right loan person, knowing the right person at the grant institutions?”

In short: “Why not just maybe use that ultimate democratization tool, which is the internet, to create a marketplace?”

Unfortunately, the Securities Act of 1933 made that impossible–then. So they found another path forward, and kicked off the crowdfunding industry (Kickstarter, in case you were wondering, launched in April 2009).

A decade later, the rules have changed, and Indiegogo is finally doing what Slava and his cofounders first envisioned: equity crowdfunding.

Listen to Karl Ulrich and Slava talk about equity crowdfunding, how Indiegogo is implementing it, and where he thinks companies will meet with the greatest successes using it. Plus everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the beginnings of crowdfunding.

Read more Launch Pad: Slava Rubin W’00, Founder of Indiegogo

Launch Pad: Alex Furmansky ENG’07/W’07, Founder of Budsies

Your kid draws a picture (or you do). Or you take a picture of, say, a half eaten breakfast sandwich. You send that picture in to Budsies, and in just two weeks you get back a stuffed animal of the picture.

You can imagine how adorable this gets. And if you can’t, check out Budsies.com, and you can see how awesome it truly is.

As Alex Furmansky puts it, “the concept is quite simple, we take people’s drawings and we turn them into one-off custom, handmade stuffed animals. We literally bring to life people’s characters.”

While Budsies started as mostly for children, where “parents would send us their kid’s doodles, from robots to unicorns to self-portraits to portraits of mom and dad, which become quite funny at times.” Lately, it’s expanded so that “about half of our Budsies are actually made by designers, illustrators, manga, anime, even furries, you know, the folks who dress up in furry costumes and have personas. They’re awesome, great customers. And so basically anything you can draw, anything you can send us as a photo, we can turn into a real three-dimensional stuffed animal.”

Can you really send them anything? Furmansky says, “If you can take a photo of it or create a digital image of it then we accept it.”

Listen to Alex Furmansky and his former Wharton prof, Karl Ulrich, talk about where the idea for Budsies came from, how he tested it—and what happened when, a month before Budsie’s first holiday season, the factory making the Budsies closed.

Here’s what Furmansky has to say about that experience: “I often tell people I mentor that when things go really badly, that is actually a great time for you as a founder, because that is how you turn a sad situation into the most loyal fans and evangelists ever.”

Read more Launch Pad: Alex Furmansky ENG’07/W’07, Founder of Budsies