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: 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!

Startup Challenge Semifinalist: VisiPlate

VisiPlateLogo
Visiplate team

Team Leader:
Rui Jing Jiang, W’18
Team Members:
Adarsh Battu, W’18
Brandon Kao, ENG’18

2016-17 Y-Prize Winners

elevator pitch: VisiPlate is a nano-scale drainage implant to defend against blindness induced by open-angle glaucoma (OAG) by reducing intraocular pressure. It consists of a tube connected to a curved, ultrathin alumina nanoplate that is thinner, stronger, and more reliable than existing lines of defense.

Where did the idea for your venture come from?
Our idea came from thinking of an application for the ultrathin plates provided in the 2017 Y-Prize Competition. We personally know people who suffer from open-angle glaucoma, and thought that this nanotechnology can effectively be used as an implant in the eye, where small variations in size can lead to large consequences.

How will your venture change the world?
VisiPlate will provide a life-changing product for patients with OAG, as it will prevent irreversible blindness in a long-term, cost-effective way. With glaucoma prevalence worldwide expected to reach nearly 80 million people within the next 3 years, we hope that VisiPlate will make a difference by protecting people’s vision all over the world.

Fun Facts:

  • Adarsh likes to make shirts
  • Rui Jing has The Halal Guys following her on Instagram
  • Brandon knows how to unicycle

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!

Startup Challenge Semifinalist: Twine

Twine team pic cropped

Team Leader:
Joseph Quan, WG’17
Team Member:
Nikhil Srivastava, WG’17

elevator pitch: Twine makes internal mobility seamless. Our algorithms recommend the best internal employees to fill open roles, helping companies boost retention and significantly reduce hiring costs by efficiently hiring from within.

Where did the idea for your venture come from?

Twine evolved from our side project, ClassmateMatch, which was a professional networking service to help people identify and meet the most relevant people in their organization. Our strategy was to sell this technology to large companies to build mentorship and networking programs.

After speaking to 30 potential customers (HR executives), we got consistent feedback to focus the matching technology on internal recruiting instead.

As we started learning more about this problem, over and over again, HR leaders we spoke to complained about the broken state of internal recruiting. We’ve put our prototype in the hands of recruiters at our current corporate client, who have called it the future of internal hiring.

How will your venture change the world?

Companies are fighting a war to attract top talent, spending billions to recruit the best external hires. Yet every year, the average Fortune 500 company loses $100M in undesirable, preventable employee turnover. And employees, especially millennials, are leaving their jobs faster than ever.

Twine helps employees build careers that grow with, not out of, their companies. By bringing efficiency to internal job markets, Twine unlocks a tremendous amount of value for both companies and employees.

Fun Facts:

  • Joseph once met Travis Kalanick at a bar and asked him about Uber.
  • Nikhil once walked around the entire island of Manhattan (32 miles).

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!

Startup Challenge Semifinalist: Splaced

Splaced Logo
Splaced team pic

Team Leader:
Emily Smith, WG’17

Team Members:
Ruchi Banka, WG’17
Jake Kramer, WG’17
Dan Norelli, WG’17

Matt Panas, WG’17
Trang Pham, WG’18

elevator pitch: Splaced is an innovative, online marketplace – the Airbnb of commercial space. We connect guests who need affordable, hourly, and on-demand spaces with hosting businesses who have unique but underutilized spaces.

Where did the idea for your venture come from?
The idea for our venture came from Emily’s experiences as a Wharton student searching for a quiet, inspiring work spaces. Often, the available spaces were busy, noisy coffee shops or very expensive spaces catering to large groups. At the same time, from her work in the commercial real estate industry, Emily encountered many businesses whose high-rent spaces were unused for most of the business day. She recognized the opportunity for businesses to meet peoples’ space needs while recovering and monetizing the high cost of the business’ idle spaces.

How will your venture change the world?
Our venture will change the world by making more unique spaces available to the average person for living, working and collaborating. It will make the commercial real estate market more efficient and truly address pain points – affordable, hourly spaces for guests and maximum profitability for hosts.

Fun Facts:

  • Emily Smith is an encyclopedia of knowledge, who informed her parents when she was five years old that she wanted to work in real estate.
  • Ruchi Banka loves air activities. When she’s not serving as the calm negotiator that her “middle child” personality entails, Ruchi is out skydiving and hot air ballooning. Heads up!
  • Jake Kramer served in the U.S. Army. During his Army service, he was on their mixed martial arts (MMA) team, representing Colorado in the all-Army MMA tournament.
  • Dan Norelli loves beaches. On days when he’s not suited up as the director of financial planning and analysis at Trinity Real Estate, he is bumming out, we mean touristing, in charming Montauk, New York.
  • Matt Panas is an ardent admirer of the Oxford comma. It’s a small but significant aspect of his thorough, methodical thinking – a characteristic that he brings to analyzing people and problems.
  • Trang Pham is an avid mountain climber, who has scaled major summits in America, Europe, and Africa. Her fear of heights hasn’t stopped her from looking out at 20,000 feet above sea level.

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!

Startup Challenge Semifinalist: Slice Capital

Slice logo
Slice team photo

Team Leader:
Rohan Shah, ENG’19

Team Members:
Krish Dholakiya
Jeff Wang, C’17
Dan Stepanov

Christian Butts, W’18
Michael Raevsky, C’17, W’17
Parker Odrich

elevator pitch: Slice Capital is democratizing Venture Capital, by allowing everyday individuals to invest in pre-vetted startups at the tap of a button. They’re challenging the way that people think about equity crowdfunding, through their breakthrough low-minimum, mobile-first platform.

Where did the idea for your venture come from?
From an early age, Rohan has been investing in various asset classes, from stocks to commodities to even Bitcoin (which is how he’s been able to bootstrap the company to this point). He’s also been very active in the hackathon scene ever since sophomore year of high school, which originally brought him into the startup scene. Eager to invest in the early stage companies he read about, he looked for a platform to do so, to no avail… thus, Slice Capital was born and the team was assembled!

How will your venture change the world?
Slice Capital will help provide much needed capital to companies that need it most and will offer unprecedented access to this brand new asset class to everyone, rather than to just the top 1%. Currently, the other 99% has over $30T in banking and brokerage accounts. However, by giving non-accredited investors the opportunity to allocate just 1% of their assets to equity crowdfunding, Slice will push an additional $300B into the Venture Capital space. This is more than 10x the total amount of funding allocated by professional investors in all of last year. Slice’s unique platform will allow thousands of new investors to help fund companies that have the power to make a dramatic impact on our collective future.

Fun Facts:

  • Rohan played Young Prince Zuko in Avatar The Last Airbender when he was 14 years old.
  • Krish was the youngest PennApps Fellow and has very strong ties to the Philly tech scene, even though he’s from Colorado.
  • Jeff is one of four quadruplets.
  • Dan never wears shoes while in the office – he either goes barefoot or wears bunny slippers.
  • Christian can speak Spanish and Swahili and has been singing in both languages since 4th grade!
  • Michael only has nine toes.
  • Parker has perfect pitch.

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!

Startup Challenge Semifinalist: RightAir

RightAir Logo
Right Air team pic

Team Leader:
Thomas Uhler, C’19, W’19

Team Members:
Jacob Brenner
Marek Swoboda
Perry Dubin
Michal Swoboda

elevator pitch: Severe COPD, popularly called emphysema, causes 2 million Americans to feel like they are suffocating every time they move around during the daily activities. RightAir creates a wearable device that relieves this terrible shortness of breath and allows COPD patients to engage in life again.

Where did the idea for your venture come from?
In the Penn COPD clinic, most of our severe COPD patients constantly ask for any new treatment that will allow them to live their lives without the feeling of suffocation.

How will your venture change the world?
We will relieve the suffering of millions of Americans who feel like they are suffocating whenever they move around.

Fun Facts:

  • Thomas Uhler: My smooth baritone has led to many requests for me to cover Barry White’s classics.
  • Jacob Brenner, MD, PhD: Jake has done research on diseases affecting many different organs, including heart, brain, and even the anorectal canal.
  • Marek Swoboda, PhD: I was born and raised in Upper Silesia, a region of Poland that is largely German-speaking.
  • Perry Dubin, MD: My boyfriend is an actor on Broadway.
  • Michal Swoboda: My dad is also on this team, and working with him is actually really fun.

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!