To Alina Liao, the need is urgent: A quarter of city youth witness a murder by age 17, yet most of these youngsters don’t receive adequate counseling. To help them heal, Liao has co-founded MindRight, a nonprofit providing mental-health coaching via text message to youth affected by violence and poverty.
Unlike a crisis hotline, “we’re proactive,” says Liao, who received her MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2016. Through texts, “we reach kids every day, reaching them on their good days and bad days” to help them build skills to prevent future crises down the road, she adds.
Liao was one of the entrepreneurs who spoke at B-School Disrupt SF, an event showcasing eight startups to potential funders and advisors. Held Sept. 18 at Galvanize, an entrepreneurship center in San Francisco, the event drew an audience of about 200, including business school alumni, company founders, and investors.
Entrepreneurs presented their startups and heard feedback from a guest panel, which included Bonny Simi, three-time Olympian, president of JetBlue Technology Ventures, and a Stanford GSB Sloan Fellow in 2007. The event was co-hosted by Stanford GSB, the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship program, the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Babson College, and Silicon Valley Bank.
Keynote speaker and moderator Jessica Herrin, an alum from Stanford GSB class of 1999, who co-founded WeddingChannel.com and launched Stella & Dot Family Brands, emphasized the long road that entrepreneurs must travel. Finding investors, for instance, is a major accomplishment, but “funding is not profitability; funding is not value creation,” she says.
Herrin added that entrepreneurs must realize and accept that they’re sure to encounter obstacles repeatedly. To cope and persevere, entrepreneurs need passion about their companies and their missions. “You need to believe so deeply that this thing needs to exist,” she says.
Below, meet the other business school startups that presented at the event:
Certain individuals, such as entrepreneurs and professional athletes, are in jobs that are inherently financially unstable, says Charlie Olson, who graduated from Stanford GSB in 2017 and co-founder of Pando Pooling, which aims to provide a financial safety net to those in such “high-variance” fields. Pando Pooling groups people with similar career prospects into “pools,” with each member pledging some of his or her future earnings to the pool. If one member succeeds by, say, selling his company, then everyone in the pool receives a payout. The setup lets members gain some financial security, invest in others, and create a network of peers, Olson says.
Currently targeting only entrepreneurs and professional baseball players, Pando Pooling ultimately wants to expand into other industries. “The world is risky and getting riskier,” Olson says.
Companies dislike seeing their best people leave, and a good way to retain them is to offer a promotion or a lateral move at the right time, says Joseph Quan, Wharton ’17. Twine Labs, which Quan co-founded, creates software allowing employers to predict when an employee might leave and to identify other roles within the company that the employee might want. “Better internal mobility is the single most powerful thing a company can do to improve retention,” Quan says.
Twine Labs’s software aggregates data about the employer and employees, including salary and work histories, titles, skills, and certifications, to create personal profiles that form the basis of its recommendations. Employees can also use the system to seek out potential roles and career paths within a company.
DropZone for Veterans
When people think of veterans, they think veterans are all similar, says Courtney Wilson, Babson ’17. But Wilson, who herself is a veteran and the daughter and granddaughter of veterans, notes that “what will help me is not the same as what will help my dad.”
Wilson’s company, DropZone for Veterans, connects veterans with benefits and opportunities that reflect their specific needs and interests. Veterans, who aren’t charged any fee to use the service, submit personal profiles to the company, which in turn suggests appropriate schools, businesses, and other organizations. The system avoids generic, impersonal advice. “Rather than the veterans having to adjust to the resources, we adjust to them,” Wilson says.
Home ownership overall is at a low, largely because it’s too expensive for many individuals to buy property, says Anna Roumiantseva, Haas ’17 and co-founder of HomeSlice. “Half the population is locked out of the market in big cities,” she says.
HomeSlice lets groups of individuals pool money to purchase real estate jointly. The company helps potential buyers connect with each other, find a property, and work with lenders. HomeSlice also plans to operate an online marketplace where co-owners can seek buyers for their portion of a home. All co-owners have to contribute to a mortgage-payment insurance policy so that if one co-owner in the group defaults on his or her share of the mortgage, the insurance will cover that portion for six months, Roumiantseva says.
Both companies and nonprofits alike accumulate data about customers or donors, but neither type of organization always makes the best use of it. By combining private and public data and analyzing behavioral patterns, Gravyty predicts which are the best prospects to contact and when, says co-founder Richard Palmer, Babson ’16.
Gravyty’s system even creates a suggested draft of an email to send to prospective customers and donors. It doesn’t actually send the email itself; rather, sales teams and fundraisers are free to make changes to the draft and hit the send button when they want. Artificial intelligence “is best used not to take jobs away from people but to free them up to do things that are entirely human,” Palmer says.
In Mexico, seeing a doctor is expensive and inefficient, driving patients to self-treat or try other risky solutions, says Leon Rodriguez, Haas ’18. Employers are concerned about rising costs and access. To bring medical services to more people at a lower cost, NecesitoDoc allows on-demand video consultations with doctors, says Rodriguez, the company’s co-founder.
NecesitoDoc charges patients a per-consultation fee of $8, with the doctor taking 70% and the company keeping the rest. Currently, NecesitoDoc operates only in Mexico but aims to expand to Spanish-speaking immigrant communities in the U.S., which are frequently medically underserved.
Plastic works well for many uses, but most plastic is never recycled because processing and remolding it is difficult, says Miranda Wang, who received her Wharton undergraduate degree in 2016. Her company, BioCellection, is developing new ways to process difficult-to-recycle plastic and turn it into other products. BioCellection’s mission is “to focus on treating this plastic innovatively before it becomes pollution,” says Wang, the company’s co-founder.
BioCellection has developed ways to treat rigid plastic, films such as plastic bags, and plastic contaminated with food. Its first product is an artist’s paint made from plastic bags. Wang says the company is now preparing to launch the paint and is receiving input from artists.