Founder(s) of the Week: Christopher Lee and Robert Zhang

If you only learn one thing from Christopher and Robert, it should be…

Pick your team well! They should be people who are just as passionate about your startup as you are. Working with a team also means that you have to be flexible. While being firm in your ideas is important, compromises are very necessary at times to build a better product and company.

Inspired by a family member’s experience with illness, Christopher Lee (E’22, W’22) and Robert Zhang (E’22, W’22) talks about their concern with the danger of opioid overdose in prescribed medications. Often, the only thing stopping patients from overdosing on these highly addictive medicines is the cap on the standard pill bottle, which they believe is ridiculous. The current landscape makes the only guard against addiction to opioid prescriptions to be the patient’s self-control, which may waver in the face of addictive substances. Together with another co-founder, they created their startup, PillBot, to alleviate the threat of overdose.

Their product is an automatic, miniature pill dispenser. A LED indicator alerts the patient to take their medication, and the correct dosage is given at the push of a button. But this is only a part of their company. The other part is a comprehensive database that allows third parties—clinics, physicians, etc.—to access information for a specific group of patients and monitor possible signs of addiction. By using a business-to-business model, this group of entrepreneurs are truly trying to find an intelligent and effective solution to medication and opioid addiction.

The team reflects that at first their product-oriented beginning presented some challenges, as it was difficult to build to product first and then try to fit a market. However, they have now successfully refocused around market research to create a product around. As the company continues to grow, the PillBot team is also becoming more and more well-versed on their target market and potential consumers. They are involved in many entrepreneurship programs on campus including WeissFund and WeissPitch, just to name a few. Through these programs, they have received mentorship and funding to facilitate their journey. Not only that, but they’ve had great success in competitions, recently taking second place at Elevator Pitch.

Founder(s) of the Week: Vikram Krishnamoorthy and George Pandya

If you only learn one thing from Vikram and George, it should be…

Don’t be an aspiring entrepreneur; be an entrepreneur. Make the necessary mistakes for future success, because you learn best by doing. Instead of thinking about starting a company, just go for it! Starting to talk to people and building a startup will teach you a lot more and faster than just reading secondary sources. Also, having a good combination of persistence and flexibility is critical on the entrepreneurship journey.

When Vikram Krishnamoorthy (C’20, W’20) and George Pandya (E’20, W’20) saw the first FDA approved cell-therapy technologies come out of Penn, they were excited by the possibilities this breakthrough could have. However, the treatment was not without a cost—in fact, it came with a rather hefty price tag. They used this as inspiration to create a better way to reengineer cells, and that technology turned into their startup: CytoFoundry.

 

CytoFoundry uses a new method of genetically engineering cells for cell therapy to make cures that are unique on the market for a variety of diseases. There are many problems in the currently existing abilities of cell therapy, such as a limitation on the number of lines of biological code that is able to be inputted. The two founders have dedicated themselves to unlocking the full potential of this type of innovation as well as to allowing patients to overcome the inhibitive expenses of this technology.

 

As student entrepreneurs, one of the biggest challenges Vikram and George have to face is time management. Both startups and school are very time-consuming, and trying to coordinate these two at a reasonable pace is in no way an easy task. However, the founders mentioned that it is definitely doable. In the biotech industry, capital is an essential part of the startup process. The demand for funding to invest in materials creates a barrier entry that companies in this field must overcome. Vikram and George have effectively utilized new technologies, ones that may speed up the prototyping process or cut corresponding costs, to maneuver around this. They said that the Weiss Tech House has also provided great resources, mentorship, and funding opportunities to help with their startup. Even though they have only worked on CytoFoundry for one year, they have already accumulated multiple notable accomplishments, such as being finalists in the Y-Prize Competition and winning second place at Pennvention, just to mention a few.

Check out the full interview here: CytoFoundry

Founder of the Week: Hunter Liu

 

 

If you only learn one thing from Hunter, it should be that…

Passion is the most important thing an entrepreneur should have. His and his brother’s passion for educational reform has helped them overcome the obstacles that arose on their journey in creating infinity2o. If an entrepreneur is passionate about their vision and their company, they will give whatever they can to that project, thereby helping the most people possible in the process.

 

Many Penn students have had encounters with online courses—and the difficulties that come with taking them. These courses are an amazing resource, but the experience is very independent and the student must be self-motivated in order to reap the full benefit. Hunter Liu (SEAS ‘22) learned a plethora of skills using Coursera, but it was only last summer, when he took an online robotics course with his brother, that he first enjoyed this learning method. From that summer, Hunter and his brother would go on to develop infinity2o to help others connect with fellow online learners.

 

infinity2o is an online platform that connects people who take online courses together. This startup hopes to break the social barrier between online learners, who usually take classes alone. Through voting and asking questions, users are able to connect with those that share similar learning objectives, beliefs, and experiences. Because the online courses industry is fairly open, infinity2o has been able to tailor their platform to best fit users’ needs and desired experiences.

 

For many student entrepreneurs, time management is a constant challenge and Hunter is no exception. He says that he sometimes feels that he should be allocating more of his time towards classes, meeting people, or coding instead of running his startup, but he finds work-life balance by prioritizing his family and friends. Because infinity2o is constantly trying to improve its interface, Hunter and his brother are always trying to find the best way to implement new features with code that runs fast and is aesthetically pleasing.

 

The Weiss Tech House has been a resource on Penn’s campus that Hunter has utilized on his entrepreneurial journey, both as a space to work on his company and as a mentorship source through its WeissLabs, WeissFund, and WeissPitch sectors. Hunter has also used the Tech House’s events as opportunities to meet others with the same passion for entrepreneurship that he has. Since they first started in January, the two founders of infinity2o have used this resource, along with others, to build and grow their company, as well as to optimize the online learning experience. Looking back on his experience, Hunter wishes that he had started his entrepreneurial journey earlier so he that could help more people than he already has.  

 

Check out the full interview here: FOTW Infinty2o

Founder of the Week: Johnny Forde

If you only learn one thing from Johnny, it should be that…

You should talk to Professor Jeffrey Babin if you want to be inspired. Also, aspiring entrepreneurs should not be risk-averse, but rather have a keen eye for existing problems in today’s world and leveraging your skills to solve these problems. There will always be someone who can solve a problem, but the critical part is identifying it in the first place.

This founder created his first website only 48 hours after he decided to pursue the endeavor by watching Youtube videos . His inspiration stemmed from wanting to help his mother’s art studio gain more exposure after she mentioned that it would be really helpful to have a website. From this, Johnny Forde has taken his passion for inventing and creating to build a startup that helps turn the creative language of coding into a technical one.

Johnny’s company, Forde Design, creates functional and aesthetic websites for students and professional institutions, striving to mitigate the learning curve that customers face when using traditional website-building services. By building a virtual platform to showcase their services or work samples, Forde Design helps individuals realize the potential for their businesses or portfolios. He believes that this is especially crucial given the environment of our digital age. In his field, many build-your-own-website companies like Wix or Weebly don’t realize that consumers can find the initial starting stage difficult, and this is where Forde Design’s client-oriented model comes in to help alleviate that issue.

Like many student entrepreneurs, Johnny faces both business and academics responsibilities. He says that his biggest challenges stem from trying to strike a balance between these two types of duties, given that he is simultaneously pursuing a master’s in mechanical engineering alongside his bachelor’s degree in bioengineering. All of Johnny’s marketing has been executed in a word-to-mouth manner as of now, but this can still be overwhelming with his academic obligations. Speaking of school, he praised the Engineering Entrepreneurship (EENT) I and II courses at Penn and Professor Babin’s instruction. Johnny was also in WeissLab’s previous summer cohort, and received thorough mentorship in a variety of business areas like marketing, legal aspects, and pitching to investors. This has enabled Johnny to help noteworthy clients such as the head of Penn’s bioengineering department to promote his research.

Check out the full interview here: FOTW Forde Design

Founder of the Week: Braden Fineberg

Founder of the Week is back for the 2018-2019 school year! Check out Braden’s full interview here: https://youtu.be/pkVpXcJ7I0g 

If you learn only one thing from Braden, it should be this:

When it comes to advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, Braden considers the most essential characteristics of a founder to be optimism and the ability to be comfortable with failing. For the unpredictable experiences an entrepreneur faces, he believes that these two qualities will allow an individual to overcome any bumps in the road.

Being stopped—by friends, professors, or lost strangers—on Locust Walk is a familiar scenario for almost every Penn student. However, when people started stopping Braden Fineberg on Locust to ask for donations to their nonprofit, usually in amounts that would make the average college student wince and unwilling to comply, he evaluated why these organizations struggled to get donors. He realized it wasn’t because people didn’t want to support the cause. And that marks the beginning of Flourish.

Flourish is an innovative micro-donation platform that allows users to give small amounts, usually less than $5, to nonprofits and projects of their choosing. It operates both on the Flourish website and through an app on the Apple and Google Play store, enabling anyone to donate at anytime, anywhere. The company strives to help charitable organizations obtain sufficient donations, while also allowing donors to feel their impact. Gone are the days where the smallest amount a donor must give is $25, the equivalent of two lunches, as Braden says. Now, donors can “turn their pocket change into global change” every time they swipe their credit or debit card.

As a co-founder, Braden (SEAS ‘19) reflects that understanding an entirely new industry for starting their company has been a challenge in his journey. Balancing management and autonomy within the company is another aspect that he is learning more about as the company continues to scale and grow. The nonlinear trajectory of building a startup has led Braden to be more open to take advantage of opportunities as they come and be open to new frameworks and thought processes. The Weiss Tech House’s funding resources has assisted Flourish to become a successful revenue-generating company with a full-time team, a notable accomplishment for such a young company.

The Penn Innovation Conference 2017:

The Penn Innovation Conference was held on October 20, 2017 at Huntsman Hall in the University of Pennsylvania. The Penn Innovation Conference was hosted by the Weiss Tech House, a student-run tech incubator, aimed at fostering an entrepreneurial environment at the University of Pennsylvania. The Conference featured a variety of resources, opportunities, and networking sessions for its’ attendees.

 

It featured Dr. Kathy Crothall, the Chief Executive Officer of Aspire Bariatrics, numerous early to middle staged start-ups, and a venture capitalist panels. The venture capitalist panel was comprised of Genacast Ventures, Red and Blue Ventures, Seventy Six Capital, and Edison Ventures. Daniel Khasahabi, a graduate student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences discussed how he enjoyed hearing from the Keynote Speaker and the Venture Capitalist Panel. He adds that hearing from Dr. Crothall, the founder of four successful start-ups was incredibly inspiring and that the advice provided from the venture capitalists was additionally helpful for young entrepreneurs.

 

The early to middle-stage startups featured at the conference included Lupeer, Blackfyn, Exyn Technologies, and Burrow. TJ, the co-founder of Jefferson’s List, discussed the importance of being prepared in front of a venture capitalist and talked about his plans of licensing the data from Jefferson’s List next. Joost Wagenaar of Blackfynn, tells students that the most “important thing in being successful is the people you bring into the company”.

 

The Venture Capitalist Panel provided helpful advice to students, including the importance of networking early on and finding great co-founders. The conference concluded with a networking session to help students connect with each other.