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.

Founder of the Week: Smita Mukherjee

This week’s #FOTW is a special edition summer post. You can get to know more about the founder of Nimbus Care Hub, Smita Mukherjee, first-hand from the email interview we conducted this summer.

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. (Name, major, school, age)

My name is Smita Mukherjee, a second year MBA student at Wharton majoring in Healthcare Management and Entrepreneurship & Innovation. I also did my PhD at Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences in Biophysical Chemistry.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your startup?

Currently in the USA more than 16.1 million family members provided 18.2 billion hours of unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias (ADRD), at an economic value of over $232 billion. Nearly 60 percent of those caregivers rate their emotional stress of caregiving as high and report symptoms of depression. To reduce caregiver burden, Nimbus Care Hub provides accessible, affordable and holistic services to caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD).

 

What inspired you to create this company?

I got interested in entrepreneurship when as a postdoc scientist I was chosen to take two extensive courses on innovation commercialization. I learned about the entire process of getting a medical product from the laboratory bench to the bedside. This was a rare opportunity for a hard-core scientist to be exposed to the business and entrepreneurial aspects of scientific discoveries and I was absolutely fascinated! After those courses, I was motivated to sign up for an online Coursera course on Social Entrepreneurship from Wharton where I came up with the idea for Nimbus Care Hub, a platform to provide support services to caregivers for people with ADRD, a disease area I researched during my PhD and postdoctoral training. As a postdoc student, I got introduced to the human and clinical aspects of Alzheimer’s Disease and through numerous personal interactions and firsthand experience concluded that in the global dementia epidemic, the caregivers are the neglected population who have very little personalized or community level support regarding how to take care of their loved one and themselves. I wanted to make a positive impact on the lives of the dementia caregivers and that is when Nimbus Care Hub was born. Fast forward a few years, and I found myself applying to Wharton for my MBA. I started working on Nimbus from my very first semester and continued refining my business model and reached out to friends and faculty on campus for advice and help to execute on the business plan for Nimbus. As my time at Wharton is coming to an end, I am filled with immense gratitude for more than 40 people on campus who contributed towards making Nimbus Care Hub a reality. I sincerely could not have done it without their feedback, support, and motivation.

 

What advice would you give to budding student entrepreneurs?

  1. Entrepreneurs are not risk takers but risk mitigators. Successful entrepreneurs understand the core issues that threaten their business and they take very calculated steps to minimize or eliminate those risks.
  2. You know you are ready to become an entrepreneur when the solution you are working on to solve a problem is so meaningful, exciting, and inspiring that you cannot sleep at night.
  3. Entrepreneurship is hard, so surround yourself with family, friends, and advisors that will guide, mentor, motivate, and push you to hustle relentlessly. Every time you get rejected, analyze why it happened but also know that one person’s rejection does not mean the end of the world.
  4. Be resilient and persevere, but also know when to pivot. Be mentally and financially prepared to fail early and fail fast and move on when there is no product-market fit.
  5. Always have an entrepreneurial mindset, which means that you are creative and resourceful, and you get things done. This type of mindset is useful whether you are building your own company, working at a big corporation, solving personal issues or hanging out with friends!

 

Tell us one fun fact about yourself!

I am a mother of a 4-year-old son!

Founder of the Week: Zhuoroui Fu

This month’s #FOTW is a special edition! Hear first hand from Zhuorui Fu, a current student at Penn who has created a recipe sharing platform.

Tell us a bit about yourself (Name, school, major).

Name: Zhuorui Fu
School: SAS
Major: Behavioural Science & Decision-Making

 

What is your start-up?

Recipicious is a recipe-sharing community for pro food-lovers and cooks to help them find out how to cook unforgettable dishes from their favourite restaurants. Pro users can upload their version or interpretation of a recipe, and modify the recipes according to a double-vote & comment system. Aggregating wisdom of the professional crowd, Recipicious finds the recipe that’s closest to the restaurant’s original. Recipicious is restaurant based and location based. It links the virtual experience of viewing the recipe to the actual location or cooking experience.

 

What inspired Recipicious?

My mum really likes cooking. She went home and often tinkered how to make a specific dish from her favourite restaurant at home, too. (Recipicious comes from this concept, although now it is quite different from just replicating restaurants’ recipes. At a high level, it meant to unite the English-speaking recipe world, as the recipe-sharing sites are quite scattered apart now.)

 

What advancements have you seen with your platform?

We sent out surveys and obtained 30 interests, and 20 people left their email address for us up keep them updated. We made changes to the double-vote system and identified competitors according to the comments potential users left us. We have the full UX design, and now we are applying for funds to support us to hire a front-end engineer to code the prototype per our instruction. Meanwhile, we are taking the time to look for a front-end engineer equity business partner. (My tech co-founder is a back-end & UX engineer).

 

What challenges have you faced in the development of your product?

Coding the product.

 

How has Penn helped you succeed in your entrepreneurial venture?

Through my engagement with Wharton and Wharton entrepreneurial activities in general, I obtained kind helps & advice from Wharton angel invesotrs, interested students, and resources from entrepreneurial centre.

 

What advice do you have for young entreprenuers?

Keep on. Persistence. Tweading your products.

Founder of the Week: Derrius Quarles

Derrius Quarles (M.S. Ed ’18) is the CTO and founder of BREAUX Capital, the first fintech company created to enhance the financial health of black male millenials. BREAUX Capital is a software program that combines community with automation and savings, as well as peer-to-peer investing.

 

Derrius is a serial entrepreneur: BREAUX Capital is his third company. When he was developing his first company, he realized how difficult it was for him to raise capital, especially with no family or friend resources, despite having shown traction and post-revenue post-capital success. Loaners often told him to obtain capital from his friends and family, and he wondered what factors contributed to why the people in his life didn’t have those resources.

 

5 out of 10 people could not afford a $1000 emergency if they needed to tomorrow- and that number raises to 7 out of 10 if you’re black. These financial emergencies can be debilitating to families, and Derrius had seen it operate in his own community and life. One factor that contributes to these stats is peer accountability.

 

Derrius aimed to make financial services and banking more social and transparent. In his financial health and education research here at Penn, he learned that black males are doing the worst in America in terms of financial health. He also learned that you are 30% more likely to complete a goal, such as saving a lump sum of money, if you do it with a friend. Combining these findings, he developed BREAUX Capital’s unique social aspect. By connecting with your friends over the platform, you can hold each other accountable to your savings goals and ensure the financial health of your family and friends.

 

Derrius advises new student entrepreneurs to remember that “fundraising is not entrepreneurship,” and that you should be prepared to build a company that can survive off its own revenues and doesn’t need outside capital to remain viable.

 

To learn more about BREAUX Capital, check out their website here. To watch the full interview, click here.

Founders of the Week: Jeriann Gumilla and Coco Wang

It all started with an eyelash curler. Coco Wang (W ’21) had purchased 4-5 different brands, with no success from any of them. Later on, she discovered that those brands made their curlers to fit the Caucasian eye shape. After wasting both her money and her time, Coco finally found a brand that made curlers targeted to Asian women.

 

This experience inspired Candid Beauty, a synthesized beauty platform that provides users personalized information on beauty products and suggestions. In the app, you create a beauty profile with your preferences and characteristics, and Candid Beauty does the rest. You can see reviews from customers with similar profiles and preferences, ingredient lists, and more.

 

Candid Beauty was founded by Jeriann Gumilla (W ’21) and Coco Wang (W ’21). Jeriann is studying Finance and Management-Entrepreneurship, and Coco is studying Finance and Statistics with a minor in Spanish.  They hope to tackle the lack of transparency in the makeup industry, which is filled with inaccurate reviews, false advertisements, and inconsistent information. Candid Beauty has already received multiple awards and recognition across campus, and the young founders say that it has been a humbling experience, but that they are always moving forward.

 

What should the rest of us entrepreneurs strive for if we want to succeed like the Candid Beauty team has? Jeriann says to take risks, and that “you have to believe in your idea when no one else does.” Coco says not to give up just because one person challenges your product, and urges that entrepreneurs take feedback objectively and as constructive criticism to help grow and improve.

 

Fun fact: Coco can speak six languages, and Jeriann taught herself how to play the ukulele, guitar, and yoga!

 

To learn more about Candid Beauty, visit their website here. To watch the full interview, click here.

Founder of the Week: Thomas Cavett

This week, meet Thomas Cavett (WG ’18), an army veteran who (fun fact!) spent some time protecting Obama in his motorcade in Asia. Thomas Cavett is co-founder of POWTI Innovations, a company building wearable devices that detect when a traumatic injury has occurred and notifiy emergency personnel.

 

POWTI stands for Point of Wounding Trauma Indicator. The goal of this device is to increase response time to emergency traumatic events, both in the military and in civilian life. POWTI was inspired by Cavett’s time in the military as an Army Green Beret, where he had learned skills to treat his teammates and allies. Sadly, he saw many traumatic injuries where the response time just wasn’t fast enough, and he sought to alleviate this problem.

 

The device is still prototyping, and has undergone several iterations. However, Cavett says a launch will hopefully occur by the end of 2018.

 

Cavett’s most important advice to new entrepreneurs is to “find something you’re passionate about.” He says that entrepreneurship is complicated and chaotic, and working with something you’re passionate about will keep you committed even when things get tough.

 

To learn more about POWTI Innovations, visit their website here. To watch the full interview, visit our YouTube here.

Founder of the Week: Beni Shafer-Sull

Beni Shafer-Sull (SEAS ’21), founder of Loop Vehicles

If you thought you were slacking before, you’ll definitely feel like you are now. Beni Shafer-Sull and his company, Loop Vehicles, are here to save the world.

 

Beni is a freshman studying systems engineering, and has been interested in clean energy for a while now. Last year, he was inspired by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which focused on how carbon-neutral is no longer enough to ease the effects of climate change. It suggested that carbon-negative was needed, and that’s when Beni began thinking.

 

Loop Vehicles is hoping to be the world’s first fully carbon-negative electric car, which will reduce climate change and lead to a more sustainable, green future. According to Loop’s website, their vehicles are projected to have a range of 500 miles. The charging system is also extremely efficient: instead of waiting hours to charge your car, you can pop in a new metal battery cartridge, return the old one to Loop, and move on your way.  Currently, Loop Vehicles is working on small-scale prototyping, and within a few years they hope to have their first product ready for the market.

 

Beni’s company is a Weiss Labs team this year, and he hopes to gain input from other young entrepreneurs who can help with product development. Beni suggests that aspiring innovators take advantage of the multitude of Penn’s opportunities and venues to gain capital, all of which are essential to any successful college start-up.

 

Visit Loop Vehicles website here to learn more, and click here to watch the full interview.

 

Here at the Weiss Tech House, we celebrate, support, and create innovators and thinkers all across Penn’s campus. In the spirit of our mission to advance technological entrepreneurship, we’ve started our new series: Founder of the Week. Each week, look forward to new highlights, interviews, updates, and insights from Penn founders. If there’s anybody you’d like to nominate as a Founder of the Week, preferably Weiss Tech House member or alum, let us know here.

Founder of the Week: Nestor Solari

Being a Latinx student, I love meeting people who strive to make an impact in my community in innovative ways. Here at Weiss Labs, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting someone revolutionizing the insurance industry while aiming to “make being Latino in the U.S. a little bit easier.”

Meet Nestor Solari, a first year MBA student from New Jersey. Solari is a first generation student whose parents immigrated from Uruguay. He has worked in 20 different countries across Latin America and Asia in his previous work experience in micro-finance. His company, Sigos Seguros, is a tech enabled insurance brokerage start-up that hopes to make buying insurance, specifically auto insurance, easier for Hispanic Americans.

His goal goes past impacting the Latinx community, though. He noticed the insurance industry was “antiquated” and that a lot of people went through the process with difficulty. Through his start-up, he hopes to bring the insurance industry to a new age of technology.

Weiss Labs has allowed  him to bounce ideas off other entrepreneurs, directors, and mentors, as well as build a community. Solari advises new entrepreneurs to “have a bias for action.” In this industry, ideas are cheap, and Solari says those interested should move past the analysis stage and jump into the field.

Watch the full interview here, and click here to visit Sigos Seguros website.