After a highly competitive selection process, five student-led ventures were selected to receive the 2012 Wharton Venture Award (WVA). The WVA Program provides selected student entrepreneurs with $10,000 in funding to pursue the development of their ventures during the summer between their first and second years. WVA is one of several high-impact programs sponsored by Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs (WEP) as part of its ongoing mission to foster entrepreneurship and innovation throughout the Wharton community.
This year’s award recipients underwent a rigorous multi-stage application process that involved a written application and a live presentation in front of a panel of prominent Wharton alumni from the startup and venture capital communities. Members of the selection committee included Rob Coneybeer (WG’96) Managing Director, Shasta Ventures; Dean Miller (WG’99), Managing Director, Novitas Capital; Jay Minkoff (WG’83), President & CEO, First Flavor, and Nat Turner (W’08), Founder, Invite Media (acquired by Google).
The Wharton Journal recently caught up with this year’s award winners to learn more about their ventures, the inspiration behind their ventures, and the ways in which Wharton has helped them realize their entrepreneurial aspirations.
What: 1DocWay is an online doctor’s office. We connect hospitals with underserved patient populations, through our lightweight technology and implementation service. With 1DocWay, rural, elderly, disabled, and busy patients can schedule appointments online and see their doctor through our secure video chat platform. In doing so, we help hospitals expand their reach of services into underserved areas, building hospitals’ referral base; we work with underserved care facilities to increase access to specialist physicians and improve community health/wellness; and we help physicians improve scheduling flexibility and revenue by expanding their patient pool.
Inspiration: I had always been a start-up kind of guy. I had experience with a few prior startups and when I saw an opportunity to innovate in healthcare, from my perch as a healthcare consultant, I dove right in. Healthcare is a huge space in need of disruption.
Wharton: The HCM program has been a fantastic resource in that I have been able to connect to numerous brilliant colleagues who bring a wide range of perspectives on the healthcare space. My business has got many holes shot through it because of peers in HCM and that has made it stronger and more robust.
Editors Note: One student entrepreneur (Rajiv) applied and became a finalist with two different ventures for the first time in the history of the WVA Program. He has been offered one award which will be allocated across both ventures.
What: Catalogue is a better way to shop for furniture and home décor online. We scale the techniques of professional designers for the benefit of larger audiences, reorganize the search for similarly-styled items (rather than those that share similar descriptions) and provide a visually superior way to shop for large and often expensive furniture items. Unlike most other consumer-facing sites, we envision a far more visual strategy for displaying and selling merchandise. Using the same CG rendering technology as the architecture, automotive and consumer electronics industries, we feature multiple products across brands and segments in a single interactive marketplace.
AccessMD provides patients with direct access to specialists in top hospitals for online second opinions. Our goal is to reduce costly medical errors at the most critical decision point, the definitive diagnosis which dictates treatment decisions. Misdiagnoses are discovered in up to 30% of medical cases. Of these, treatment changes are recommended in more than half. These misdiagnoses lead to ineffective treatment and unnecessary procedures that substantially increase healthcare costs and reduce quality. We help leading medical institutes offer their clinical expertise to patients across the country, in addition to helping patients access leading medical care more affordably and locally.
Inspiration: (specific to Catalogue) I moved to Philadelphia in August 2011 and to this day, me and my roommate’s apartment still isn’t furnished after six months of living together. Neither of us had time to visit multiple furniture retailers especially when we did not know what we wanted. The online experience was just as frustrating. Too many websites made it difficult to search for the tasteful, yet rugged and manly style we coveted, combined with the immense difficulty of visualizing whether the furniture would fit, look good together, and be acceptable to our discerning girlfriends were all factors to our apathetic approach to home decor. My co-founder Paul mentioned his expertise in computer-aided architectural modeling and rendering and suggested that instead of wasting weekends going furniture shopping, he’d just model options to scale until they found something that worked! Now, there’s an idea!
Wharton: The HCMG 867 Healthcare Entrepreneurship class helped us build a well rounded team to pursue the AccessMD idea including Jonathan McEuen (HCM MBA), Marissa Brittenham (JD/MBA), Vikas Tandon (HCM MBA), and Haley Thun (MD). The Wharton business plan competition and the Venture Award processes have provided an opportunity to develop a rough idea into a more realized venture. The encouragement, validation, and feedback from the process have really helped us refine our idea and accelerate our progress.
What: cloudable.me is an intuitive online platform that enables users to easily share, organize and discover the best stuff online. The internet is getting unruly with unorganized, real-time only sharing – cloudable solves this with true social organization, empowering you to filter the internet with your friends.
Inspiration: Studying online consumer behavior, people are in more need of ways to filter content with seemingly infinite amounts of new content and finite amounts of time, and are definitely interested in and influenced by recommendations from their friends. I personally wanted a useful way to get social recommendations for everything from news to youtube videos to wine when I wanted them, rather than ‘real time’ via fb news feed, twitter or emails. I think giving people a way to easily share and then access what others have shared, when they are actually interested in it, is a huge opportunity.
Wharton: The network. First, we are both members of the same learning team and the opportunity for us to meet in this environment was immensely valuable. Having worked with each other on projects and simulations gave us a very good idea of what it would be like to work with one another before committing to work on a venture together. The alumni and faculty at Penn have also been extremely generous with their time and advice and Professor Michael Kearns, Nat Turner and Rob Coneybeer have even agreed to be our mentors. Lastly the Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs have been beneficial by providing us validation and capital with the Wharton Venture Award, introducing us to alumni through the Entrepreneurs In Residence programs and granting us work space through the Venture Initiation Program.
What: Dagne Dover is a new brand offering luxury-quality accessories at mid-market price points, with the offer of one-of-a-kind monogramming that no other luxury company currently provides. We are dedicated to providing the professional woman with a fashionable yet functional tote and complimentary accessories, so keep your eyes peeled for our late summer launch!
Inspiration: My teammate and Coach veteran, Melissa Shin WG’12, identified a whitespace for high quality, affordable handbags, (similar to the Warby Parker and Everlane philosophy) and in particular, the opportunity for combining form and function along with luxury monogramming that does not currently exist. After her initial focus groups in November 2011, three other Wharton students, including Eva Ducruezet, Nanki Marwah, and myself, were inspired and joined the team. Our retail all-star team was rounded out with the addition of a talented NYC-based designer, Jessy Dover.
Wharton: We all came to Wharton because of its focus on entrepreneurship and retail and have had truly benefitted from the tremendous support faculty, WEP and our peers have provided. David Bell, our independent study advisor, has been an amazing sounding board.
Grand Round Table (Su Que “Kristy” Leong, WG ‘13)
What: Health care is inefficient, fragmented, and in dire need of innovation. Fortunately, the industry is being forced to become more integrated and connected through new systems and structures. Our company, Grand Round Table (GRT), seeks to aid in that transition.
GRT is a social networking platform for doctors to communicate, collaborate, and share knowledge with each other. We help doctors manage their knowledge through our patent pending technology, the Knowledge Discovery System (KDS), which leverages data from the NIH. Doctors can pin their knowledge and contributions onto a semantic map and KDS will know the meaning behind any type of medical contribution. KDS will also calculate distances and relationships between these contributions. This enables GRT to deliver knowledge directly to physicians, making knowledge discovery faster and more efficient than ever before.
Inspiration: A while back, my business partner Eric was building GRT’s predecessor (a simple wiki) for his father’s ophthalmology practice. Eric later realized that other practices would benefit from a similar offering that allows doctors to collaborate and share knowledge with each other, so he set out to build GRT into a company. A few months before preterm started, I joined GRT because I saw the potential of the company and believed in the vision. Since my background is in digital healthcare marketing, I wanted to contribute my knowledge and experience in reaching doctors online. I also wanted to test my appetite and risk tolerance for entrepreneurship. Over the course of last year, everyone I have met in the growing Philadelphia tech startup scene has been extremely supportive. I am inspired by the energy that comes with any venture, and I am excited to contribute to the momentum and enthusiasm of the close-knit startup community here.
Wharton: Participating in the business plan competition has been instrumental in helping us push forward with GRT. While the deadlines were stressful, we found that the structure of the competition, with its many phases and workshops, kept us on task to meet our own internal goals. As an entrepreneur, it is so easy to miss your own deadlines and goals since you set your own schedule and aren’t really accountable to anyone. With the pressure of the competition’s many deadlines, we were made much more accountable to our own goals. I highly recommend the competition to other startups because it will definitely help ensure that your business continues to move forward.
Furthermore, the feedback from each phase helped us address issues we never thought of. It was also great to get positive and useful feedback, which we used as validation and further motivation.