Is One of These the Next Big Thing?

Stanford GSB students pitch their startup ideas to VCs, angels, and alumni.

May 26, 2017

| by Louise Lee



One of the startups pitched at “Demo Day” is a line of makeup for women of color. | Reuters/Finbarr O’Reilly

Startups are about solving problems and then finding the advisors and money needed to test and launch your concept. For Ashley Miles, an MBA student and CEO of startup Anthology Beauty, Demo Day at Stanford Graduate School of Business offered an opportunity to find help as she tries to build her business selling cosmetics designed for “brown-skinned women.”

“I’m looking for somebody with supply-chain experience,” Miles told an audience of about 100 venture capitalists, angel investors, and Stanford alumni at the May 4 event.

Miles was one of 11 students who pitched their startup ideas at the event co-hosted by the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and the Center for Social Innovation. Demo Day provides a window into what types of businesses students are pursuing.

Here’s a sampling of the startups and the problems they are designed to solve:

Making Mobile Payments More Available in Developing Countries

The Problem

Mobile money, or transferring money via cell phone, is widely available in East Africa. Using it is another matter. “The process is slow and inconvenient and prone to many errors,” says Benjamin Fernandes, co-founder of mobile banking startup NALA.


Mobile money, or transferring money via cell phone, is widely available in East Africa. Using it is another matter.

Using existing systems is also expensive. In Tanzania, for instance, 40% of consumers currently pay fees of 7% to 32% daily, says Fernandes, who aims to create a digital bank in Africa handling peer-to-peer money transfers and merchant payments.

The Solution

To build up a base of users, NALA wants to offer tech-savvy customers various loyalty programs and incentives to invite their friends to join the service. On the other end, NALA plans to recruit merchants, such as bus services and food vendors like university cafeterias, who would pay NALA a fee on every transaction. To attract merchants, NALA expects to offer incentives such as a fee waiver covering a merchant’s first 1,000 transactions. The startup has built six prototypes of its app and refined them based on consumer feedback.

The Ask


Putting Data to Good Use

The Problem

Consumers know that their personal data is valuable to marketers. That’s why they should be able to receive some value from it, says Scott Steinberg, founder and CEO of startup Data Does Good. “Consumers feel frustrated and taken advantage of by companies,” he says.

The Solution

Customers give their Amazon shopping history to Data Does Good, which strips out identifying information, pools the histories together, and sells them to market researchers or other consumer brands. Then, Data Does Good, a public benefit corporation (which is a hybrid of a nonprofit and for-profit company), in turn gives a portion of the proceeds to a nonprofit of the customer’s choice. The company has about 1,000 users and more than 25 nonprofit partners, Steinberg says.

The Ask

Advisors and $500,000.

Making It Easier to Learn on the Job

The Problem

Employees, especially millennials, want to learn on the job, because “the knowledge and skills you have as of this moment are not likely to be the same ones you need to be successful five years from now,” says DJ Dorff, CEO of GreyWire.

The Solution

GreyWire is building software that uses data analytics and artificial intelligence to help managers determine the best ways to help their staffers improve their skills. The software examines data from employee assessments and other sources. It’s designed to give highly personalized recommendations, so two employees with similar needs might be pointed in varying directions to reflect other differences between them, Dorff says.

“Companies will finally have the ability to optimize corporate learning,” adds co-founder David Rockwood. GreyWire is running pilots at AT&T and the Cleveland Clinic.

The Ask


A Solution for Operating Room Delays?

The Problem

One major bottleneck in hospitals is the operating room, where delays are frequent. “Every minute of delay is a minute the operating room is not being utilized when you’re paying overtime and patients are getting upset,” says Matt Hollingsworth, CEO of Carta Healthcare.

Inefficient scheduling leads to inefficient use of supplies and wasted time. When scheduling is poor, for instance, equipment often isn’t placed in the operating room when it’s needed, forcing a nurse to leave to track it down, says Hollingsworth.

The Solution

Carta is creating software that predicts patient flow and helps hospitals improve their surgery scheduling, thereby eliminating holdups and improving their use of resources, from surgical equipment to recovery beds. Carta is testing its software at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.

The Ask

Contacts at hospitals and $600,000.

Creating a Customized Makeup Experience

The Problem

African-American, Latino, and other women of color face the daily frustration of having to mix several eye shadows and foundations to create the shades they want, because makeup fitting their skin tone is limited.

The Solution

Under Miles’ plan for Anthology Beauty, customers would upload photos of themselves and view product recommendations and makeup application tips. Shipments would include a sample of the full-size product; if the customer isn’t satisfied, she can return it. So far, the company has tested its ideas among Bay Area women and created an awareness campaign through social media. Next up: launching a website.

The Ask

Co-founders, advisors, and $480,000.

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