New and notable ventures from Wharton alumni.
Ben Hogan once said, “The only thing a golfer needs is more daylight.” But let’s face it—you also need access to experience some of the world’s best courses. That’s where the Thousand Greens network, brainchild of Manish Goel WG93, can help. The free service is private and confidential and has one simple goal—to connect members of highly regarded private courses with fellow golfers seeking the opportunity to play a round as an accompanied guest. For each Thousand Greens member you host at your club, you earn a “request credit” that lets you pursue tee time at any of the nearly 400 courses in the network, which spans the U.S. and U.K. and includes India, China, Japan, and Australia. For Goel, the former CEO of Guavus, this “passion project” is much more than just a hobby—it’s a way, he says, “to connect golfers who love sharing their beautiful clubs with others and build new relationships in the process.”
Astute financial planning is critical to achieving some of life’s most important moments—paying for college, buying a home, and saving for retirement, to name a few. But for many Americans, high-performing investment vehicles and the smartest financial managers are entirely out of reach. Enter Wealthfront, founded by Andy Rachleff W80, co-founder of VC firm Benchmark Capital and a member of the University’s Board of Trustees. Rachleff’s firm offers high-end financial services and advice without the traditional fees and high barriers to entry and helps customers meet their financial goals via a passive investing philosophy rooted in strong data analysis. With $910 billion already under management, Wealthfront appears to have struck a chord—one Rachleff believes will play the tune of long-term financial growth and stability.
Some of the best ideas come from understanding and applying lessons from history. That’s the inspiration for William Fry C17 W17 and his lauded startup SolutionLoft, a President’s Innovation Prize winner that took a page out of the history of the printing press. Much the way movable type enabled mass production of books, SolutionLoft seeks to speed up software development by identifying and reusing existing code that already does a portion of what you need. These “blocks” of code can be incorporated into a program, eliminating the need to rewrite the pieces from scratch. If good solutions are available, programmers can spend their time solving actual coding challenges instead of reinventing the wheel.
Theia Senior Solutions
By 2050, the elderly population in the U.S. will have almost doubled to 83.7 million, with huge implications not only for business and policy, but also for families caring for their elders. In 2015, entrepreneur, investor, and biotech executive Joanna Gordon Martin WG02 proactively founded Theia Senior Solutions to provide exceptional, transparent elder care. The concierge company’s expert advisors help families support aging parents via patient advocacy, senior living options, and crisis management. Personalized solutions call on Theia’s network of rigorously vetted providers, and advisors receive no commission on referrals, resulting in a comforting client focus. The company also offers the TheiaVault, secure and readily available storage for all critical health-care documents via cloud or hard copy.
When Stacey Chang WG12 noticed that many high-end shoe brands were focused on “fast fashion” at the cost of sustainability, she was determined to make a shoe that was comfortable, attractive, durable, and eco-friendly. Launched two years ago, Veerah’s shoes are 100 percent vegan from heel to toe, made from materials like cork, PET bottle fabric, and the peels from apples handpicked in Italy. Each pair comes with an accessory that can be worn in different ways— attached to the shoe or as a bracelet, necklace, or brooch—to increase outfit variation with a minimum of products. Not only is Veerah committed to cruelty-free fashion; the company supports nonprofit organizations such as She’s the First, which promotes gender equality through education.
In China, the average five-year survival rate for cancer patients is less than half that of those in the United States. Kelly Xu WG17 and Vinayak Kumar C13 G13 M18 WG18 are hoping to change this through their venture, E-Health Now. The company facilitates tele-consultation between American and Chinese doctors, bringing the experience and expertise of U.S. oncologists to Chinese patients and helping to optimize treatment plans rooted in the best available research and evidence-based practices. Now, those previously restricted to limited local resources have their best shot for an extended lease on life.
Injaro Investment Advisors
Eleven billion dollars—that’s how much the U.N. says sub-Saharan Africa needs in agricultural investment, along with up-to-date equipment and techniques. Undeterred by the scale of this challenge, Dadié Tayoraud WG06 and Jerry Parkes WG06 founded an impact-investment firm to foster “the greatness of the African entrepreneurial spirit.” (Injaro draws its name from Kilimanjaro—“Mountain of Greatness” in Swahili.) Using their more conventional investment and business development experience, the team has invested in and strategically advised companies along the agriculture value chain in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast. The motivator: sustainable success that catalyzes economic growth and makes a difference to local people.
With subscription-based businesses booming, you can now order pretty much anything in a convenient monthly box—including fashion jewelry. In 2012, Meaghan Rose WG06 aimed to revolutionize the jewelry-buying process with San Francisco-based startup Rocksbox, which rents, rather than sells, fashion-forward accessories to professional millennial women. For a flat monthly fee, members receive three stylist-selected items suited to their individual tastes, with an average retail cost of more than $200 per set. The Rocksbox collection contains 5,000-plus pieces from 30 independent designers, including Loren Hope, Kendra Scott, House of Harlow 1960, and Gorjana. With more than $10 million in funding and membership soaring, Rose hopes to expand to other categories, like clothing, and to countries outside the United States.
Zero—that’s the number of ingredients the FDA requires tampon manufacturers to disclose to customers. But with the average woman using more than 16,000 feminine care products in her lifetime, shouldn’t she have the right to know what they’re made of? Enter Lola, the New York-based brand bringing transparency to the feminine-care industry. Co-founded by Alex Friedman WG11 and Jordana Kier, Lola offers monthly online subscriptions of tampons, pads, and liners that contain no toxins, no dyes, and no synthetic materials—just 100 percent organic cotton. Each box is completely customizable to a woman’s individual needs and delivered for the same price you’d find at the drugstore. Need more to love? Since July 2015, Lola has donated more than 100,000 feminine-care products to homeless shelters across the country.
Frustrated by the traditional banking sector’s treatment of people with poor credit, Jeffrey Zhou WG15 and John Li W07 ENG07 WG15 set out to change the way subprime borrowers experience banking. In 2015, they co-founded Fig Loans, a Houston-based startup that partners with Family Houston and United Way to offer credit-building loans of $300 to $500 at a rate 60 percent cheaper than those offered by payday lenders. The company’s online payment calculator shows customers exactly how much they’ll pay back each month. With no hidden fees, a flexible repayment schedule, and a discount for those who pay back their loans early, Fig Loans makes it easy for borrowers to make smart financial decisions and get out of debt.
Sales and marketing veterans Cory Bray W06 and Hilmon Sorey literally wrote the book on sales enablement. Now, they’re turning their industry insights into action with ClozeLoop, a San Francisco-based management consulting firm focused on helping any business—from fledgling startups to established enterprises—generate repeatable, predictable growth. Developed within the Wharton Venture Initiation Program, ClozeLoop works with companies to scale their sales teams, implement technology and methodologies that accelerate revenue, and create training initiatives to arm salespeople with the skills they need to strategize and close effectively. The startup has already assembled an impressive portfolio of clients, from Microsoft to fast-growth Silicon Valley firms including Salesforce and SurveyMonkey.
“We love insurance” isn’t a bumper sticker you’ll likely see anytime soon, but it is the proud motto of this e-commerce company. Building on nearly two decades of experience in the health-care industry, Sally Poblete WG00 founded Wellthie in 2013 to help individuals and small businesses choose the best health-care plans. The New York-based company aims to “simplify the complexities” of picking a provider by laying out all of a customer’s insurance options in one place. User-friendly design and innovative technology also help brokers and insurance carriers reach their audience. The goal: to revolutionize the way people choose—and feel about—insurance.
Little Spoon Organic
When executive Michelle Muller found she couldn’t buy fresh, organic meals for her baby, she teamed up with CMO Lisa Barnett C11 WG16, CEO and Wharton alumnus Ben Lewis, and CPO Angela Vranich to start Little Spoon. It’s a simple, fun concept: Parents or caregivers complete a quick survey on topics like baby’s eating style and allergies and then receive a “Blueprint”—a custom, pediatrician-approved nutrition plan of Little Spoon products that changes along with their little one. Healthy, on-trend ingredients include coconut oil, chia, and blueberry. The company’s California facility creates blends using a process similar to cold-pressing juice, to preserve nutrients, flavor, and super-fresh colors. Having attracted angel investment from Chobani’s Kyle O’Brien and Tinder’s Sean Rad, among others, Little Spoon may have found a recipe for success.
Co-founded by Eric Stone C99 WG07 and Pitou Devgon WG10, Velano Vascular is modernizing one of the most basic health-care tasks: drawing blood. Its device, called PIVO, extracts blood through a patient’s IV catheter, eliminating needles as well as complications for folks with difficult venous access (who account for about 30 percent of inpatient visits) and those who are simply needle averse, including kids. Following FDA approval in 2015, Velano Vascular is now working with a number of healthcare systems across the country to improve the efficiency, quality, and ease of obtaining blood samples.
Published as “High Heels, Baby Meals, and Fintech” in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Wharton Magazine.