Founder of the Week: Peter Chen

If you only learn one thing from Peter, it should be that:

Persistence is key. Challenges are inevitable, but it’s the mindset and method with which you tackle these challenges that really defines what an entrepreneur is.

Growing up in a shop that sold bare computer parts after his parents moved into the city from a rural village in Eastern China, Peter (Baile) Chen, the adults around him told him to take jobs that were common for his area. That means aiming low and becoming a waiter or a truck driver. However, Peter knew that that was their ceiling, not his. Today, he channels his experience with a lack of support and mentorship in his youth to become the co-founder of Peer, and has grown to fit his true potential.

Peer is a peer-to-peer mobile app that connects high school students with qualified college student mentors with similar experiences and interests in order to bridge the knowledge and opportunity in the Asian youth demographic. His company addresses the scarcity for mentorship for a large portion of youths in America — ⅓ to be exact — which can greatly impact these individuals lives. The advice that engaged high school students may receive include anything from academic advice to career guidance to general life tips.

As a freshman, Peter is already an accomplished entrepreneur, but he also notes that time management is a challenge at this point in his life. His academic course load may make balancing his entrepreneurship responsibilities difficult. This doesn’t stop him from achieving numerous prestigious accomplishments, though. Peer has secured funding from both the Penn Wharton Innovation Fund, and landed a place in the WeissLab Accelerator’s current cohort, along with winning several prizes.

Founder of the Week: Melina Flabiano

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

Done is better than perfect! Don’t be afraid to put your ideas or products out into the world just because they’re not perfect. Giving your customers the opportunity to react early can be extremely valuable insight for you as an entrepreneur. There’s a lot of wiggle room in the early days of a startup, and getting feedback can guide you to improve later.

During a successful career in retail, Melina Flabiano noticed something that bother her: her workwear. Some of them were not machine washable; some had pockets so unreasonably small they were practically useless, if any at all; some wrinkled after a long flight. She was definitely not the only one who ran into these issues — most women echoed her frustration with having to choose between functional or fashionable workwear. So Melina turned these pain points into her startup, Keaton.

Keaton is the solution to women’s workwear problems. Its first product, a pair of thoughtfully designed work pant whose design is informed by interviewing 300+ professional females, solves all the issues that products currently on the market have. It’s machine washable, it has large pockets, and it doesn’t wrinkle. This means that a woman no longer has to spend a lot of money  on dry cleaning or show up to a meeting with wrinkled clothes. Keaton’s work pants strive to be both a functional, stylish, and reliable staple in a working woman’s closet. Finally, it’s an article of clothing designed by women, for women.

Being any entrepreneur is challenging, but for student entrepreneurs especially, the leap from idea to action can be even more difficult. Ideas may be easy to generate, but when is an idea worthy of pursuit? For Melina, her confidence in Keaton came from large amounts of thorough consumer and industry research. Her participation in WeissLab Accelerator’s Fall cohort last semester allowed her to pave tremendous progress, and she is currently part of the VIP Xcelerate program as well. Keaton has officially launched about three weeks ago, and their pants are now available for purchase at wearkeaton.com. Other exciting upcoming events for Keaton include on-campus trunk shows and the beginning of fundraising for its first round of pre-seed investments.

Founder of the Week: Nadir Bilici

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

Listen to your entrepreneurial calling early! Diving right in once you have an idea can really foster accelerated growth as an entrepreneur. Pursue your idea relentlessly. Also, getting involved in the Penn community is a great resource for getting started. Learn from the problems that others are trying to solve across this campus.

Eating healthy can be tough with individuals having to balance calorie count and meal prep along with the rest of their life. Through his journey as a medical student, Nadir Bilici noticed that among patients who suffered from chronic diseases, their healthcare providers don’t receive much nutrition education and as a result, patients don’t receive much instruction in this area either. To end the revolving door of this information gap, Nadir decided to create Sage.

Sage is an app that customizes meal plans for users through a few questions about their health information and desired health goal. Once that information is available, the app browses through hundreds of recipes to generate a diet regimen targeted towards that goal. With a couple more clicks, users can even have those ingredients delivered to their doorstep.

As a student entrepreneur, Nadir identified that while there are many great ideas floating around, sometimes one’s technical skill isn’t quite able to make these ideas a reality. He overcame this issue when he spent a couple of months learning to code, consequently taking a gap year from medical school to pursue his venture. With his newfound talents, he feels that he is much better equipped with the skills required to integrate technology into healthcare. Nadir also used Penn’s resources to grow his company, as he joined the WeissLab’s Accelerator program last semester. Meeting with fellow entrepreneurs and mentors over his time in the program, he found the Weiss Tech House as an excellent channel to be more connected to the Penn community. Sage has already launched on the Apple App Store and is receiving increasing downloads.

Founder of the Week: Kenan Saleh

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

Start working on your ideas early! As a Penn student, you should maximize the amount of time during which you can utilize this campus’ diverse and robust resources. Of course, focusing on building a good team with complementary skill sets makes a strong and viable foundation for any entrepreneurial endeavor.

Over the past couple of decades, online advertisements have rapidly matured into sophisticated tools, efficiently targeting specific consumers groups. Offline ads, however, have struggled to keep up with these advancements, and look almost identical to those twenty years ago. Kenan (W’ 19) saw an opportunity to close the gap between the two advertising techniques with the creation of his startup, Halo.

Halo allows ad creators and marketers to place location-sensitive ads on the tops of Uber and Lyft vehicles via monitors, dynamically changing ads to tailor to the needs and wants of consumers in a specific location. For example, a rideshare vehicle passing through Beverly Hills would display ads for luxury goods and retail which appeal to the tastes of that customer profile. The technology of Halo increases the likelihood of customer response, thus increasing the conversion rate of offline advertisements and return on ad-dollars spent.

Kenan echoes the concerns of many student entrepreneurs – the balance between time spent on academics and that spent on his company is very difficult. Business-wise, the idea of impressions is hard to accurately measure and quantify. This is especially true for outdoor ads, such as the ones that Halo are showing, where traffic and tracking is not as simple as those of an online ad. To overcome this, they rely on the fact that their main competitors, billboards, have no impression tracking methods, and Halo’s technology allows them to stay above this inefficiency. Kenan also says that Halo is constantly innovating new ways to make their impression metrics more accurate and robust. The Weiss Tech House has been significant in creating a network for Kenan and his entrepreneurial endeavors, including introducing him to investors, giving mentorship, etc. Halo is pushing to launch a test group of ten drivers onto the market this year.

Founder of the Week: Evan Weinstein

Key Takeaways: Google everything! The amount of information available is vast and valuable, and it’s important to utilize this resource. Also, try to find someone else who is in a similar market or starting a similar company. It’s exciting to meet like-minded people and can stimulate some really interesting conversation!

Foodies and chocolate lovers rejoice! Evan Weinstein has taken the technology of 3D printing and applied it to everyone’s guilty pleasure: chocolate. Intrigued by the growth and advancement of 3D printing, Evan saw potential for the technology in the culinary world as this innovation began being used across many industries.

CocoaPress, a product that 3D prints chocolate, allows bakers and chocolate shops to minimize the cost of producing unique designs, thus creating a more efficient process for low quantities. This type of product opens up more possibilities for professionals in the culinary field to bring their ideas to life in the form of chocolate. Although it started out as a mere hobby project before turning into an entrepreneurship venture, the CocoaPress has already made appearances at the Rome, New York, and Philadelphia Maker Faire, winning three Editors’ Choice awards along the way.

Like many other student entrepreneurs, there are only so many hours in a week for Evan to balance his academic responsibilities, extracurriculars, and his business endeavors. Prioritizing his tasks on a week to week basis has set him up for success. In terms of challenges he faced along his entrepreneurial journey, Evan notes that the food 3D printing industry is not one that is very well-established or widely known in the United States, whereas progress in this area has been significant in other countries. To overcome this, he is trying to connect with these international companies that share his vision for this technology while also conducting market research in the US.

As a recent participant of the WeissLabs Accelerator, Evan reflects that it was a great experience to meet fellow entrepreneurs and knowledgeable mentors, while getting the support that he needed.

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.