Pitching the Next Big Thing, Virtually

At Stanford Venture Studio’s annual Demo Day event, student groups presented their ideas to Stanford GSB alumni, industry experts, and investors.

June 04, 2020

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A woman giving a presentation online from her home. Credit: iStock/chabybucko

MBA students pitched their ventures at a recent virtual Demo Day event. | iStock/chabybucko

The benefits of speaking multiple languages are no secret. Yet, about 80% of the U.S. is monolingual, while the majority of the world is bilingual. Ana Leyva, MA Education/MBA ’20, wants to change that.

Leyva started Lelu, an integrated Spanish + STEAM activities program to help families embrace bilingualism together. “This is truly a case of me being my own customer,” Leyva says. “When my husband and I became parents, we realized it was incredibly hard to raise bilingual kids in the U.S.,” she says. “There were no resources that were tailored for families learning together.”

During her MBA summer, Leyva joined Stanford Venture Studio, an entrepreneurship hub that connects graduate students to resources, entrepreneurial expertise, and a community of peers and alumni. There, she built the plan and launched an initial prototype, which she continued to iterate through Startup Garage and Launchpad. Leyva was among the 10 student teams that pitched startup ideas at Demo Day, an event cohosted by Stanford Venture Studio and the Center for Social Innovation.

Normally held on campus, this year’s Demo Day kicked off virtually, with each group presenting their big idea in a remote space with nearly 130 participants in attendance. Organizers had to be thoughtful about how to ensure that the pitches were engaging and that the students and audience were still able to network effectively. This year, Demo Day didn’t come without its glitches, but in the line of the many events that have had to go virtual for the first time, this year’s was a success.

Here’s a sampling of the students’ ventures and how they have pivoted in the wake of COVID-19.

ZICO

Shelter-in-place was turning the world upside down, and like many people Natalia Levit, MBA ’21, was feeling anxious. Being a native Spanish speaker, she wanted to connect with a mental health professional in her native tongue. Finding one in the U.S. wasn’t easy. “I reached out to my psychologist in Argentina, and I realized the experience of online therapy was just as effective,” she says. Levit teamed up with Lorena Ostos Rangel, MBA ’21, to create ZICO — therapy for U.S. Latinos offered via video calls at an affordable cost by leveraging Argentina’s oversupply of mental health care professionals. (Argentina has the highest number per capita in the world.) “Once we started doing more research, we found a barrier was cost,” Ostos Rangel said. “So we thought that this could be an opportunity to tap into this market.”

The women also felt timing was on their side. “Due to shelter-in-place, people have jumped from maybe knowing how to use Skype to doing everything online. Through our research we’ve found that people who have transitioned to online therapy find it super convenient.”

Levit and Ostos Rangel plan to apply to Startup Garage, a hands-on, project-based course at Stanford GSB, to continue working on ZICO.

Prairie Health

Aaron Kappe, MBA ’20, along with Benson Kung, BS ’20, Jin Woo Yu, BS ’20, and Maurice Chiang, BS ’19/MS ’20, feel that psychiatry is stuck in the 1980s. It’s not uncommon, Chiang says, for psychiatrists to use a trial-and-error approach when prescribing medicine and treatment, often leading to severe side effects for patients. With support from Stanford Venture Studio, the student group built a data-driven telemedicine platform for mental health.

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Being a part of the Venture Studio feels like a slice of entrepreneurial heaven ... this ethos of positivity, and scrappiness that makes you excited to get up in the morning and tackle whatever crazy tangles the world throws your way.
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Jayce Hafner, MBA ’19

“Our goal is to leverage the latest in psychiatric research to get patients the right care the first time, improving remission rates by three times in three months,” Chiang says.

Prairie Health is a data-first company and will provide psychiatrists with the information they need to make the best possible decision regarding a patient’s health. Prairie Health also sends genetic testing kits directly to patients’ homes, to help tailor the medication dosage suitable for each individual based on their biology.

Prairie Health is now in fundraising and the students will work on the venture full time after graduation this month.

FarmRaise

Jayce Hafner, MBA ’19, and Sami Tellatin, MBA ’20, found that less than 5% of farmers are using funding resources available to them. Hafner and Tellatin started FarmRaise to make accessing capital easier for farmers by creating an eligibility quiz, straightforward online application, and consultations. As COVID-19 took hold, Hafer and Tellatin expanded their focus from long long-term operational investments to the short-term need farmers are currently experiencing. They plan to continue forming partnerships to further their mission. We have our hand on one part of the elephant that is ag finance,” Hafner says. “But we can achieve so much more in collaboration with crucial partners who understand other parts of this beast.

Stanford Venture Studio helped them think strategically about FarmRaise moving forward. “Being a part of the Venture Studio feels like a slice of entrepreneurial heaven: a responsive community of other entrepreneurs ready to help you; mentorship and wisdom from seasoned innovators, professors and investors; and this ethos of positivity, and scrappiness that makes you excited to get up in the morning and tackle whatever crazy tangles the world throws your way.”

— Jenny Luna

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