Student-Debt Venture Wins Startup Honors

A hotbed of Wharton-inspired entrepreneurship holds a competition as part of Startup Weekend.

Amee Patel, WG’12, and Michelle Larivee, G’12, WG’12, didn’t get much sleep during Startup Weekend Stamford, but their wakeful hours earned them top honors.

The pair of recent Wharton graduates is in the process of building an earlyprototype of MyStuDebt, an entrepreneurial vision to help individuals manage and repay their student debt. They plan to test their hypotheses and launch a beta pilot of the Web-based platform by the end of the summer, the say.

Art: Rafael Ricoy

In March, they took on the challenge of Startup Weekend Stamford.

The first stage of the competition on Friday evening, March 30, involved boiling down a business plan to a one-minute pitch, which took some practice, Larivee says.

She adds that they did not anticipate the “frenzy afterward,” when they and the other top teams sought to partner with some of the 120 or so Web developers and designers who attended to get in on the ground floor of a startup.

“It was a wild few hours,” Larivee says.

The 54-hour competition in Stamford, CT, culminated with 12 top teams presenting their fleshed-out concepts on Sunday, April 1, to a panel of judges comprising angel investors and seasoned entrepreneurs.

The Startup Weekend—which was presented by the Stamford Innovation Center—was one of a series of weekends held throughout the world. The purpose is to offer an environment to support and accelerate entrepreneurial visions.

It was that mission that inspired the founders of the Stamford Innovation Center, all of whom have ties to Wharton: Barry Schwimmer, W’79; Edward Petner, WG’83; Bill Gordon, WG’86; Patricia Meagher, G’84, who was a Ph.D. candidate; and Ted Yang, an MIT product who was part of the group that won first place in the Wharton Business Plan competition in 2000. In addition, Gary Breitbart, W’79, is director of the executive-in-residence program there.

Patel and Larivee—who were one of 48 groups that gave the initial one-minute pitch—won $21,000 in prizes, including office space and legal and accounting services.

MyStuDebt will offer a place for students to aggregate all of their loan information—how much they owe, who their creditors are and when their payments are due. It will also allow them to analyze how much they are borrowing, compared with how much they need, and will offer personalized repayment advice and financial literacy tools.

“We are definitely excited about getting started on it full time,” says Patel, who notes that she and Larivee started talking about the concept earlier this year. “My only regret is we didn’t start this sooner.”

Schwimmer says that Patel and Larivee identified a problem with “far-reaching implications.”

“They were incredibly thoughtful. It was obvious from the second they got up on the stage, these were women who had really thought about the issue and had come up with some interesting solutions,” he says.

Victory would not have been possible, Larivee and Patel say, without the knowledge and experience they picked up in Wharton’s entrepreneurial and public-speaking classes—and the assistance of Wharton Founders Club members, all entrepreneurs before their MBAs, who helped them develop, fine-tune and passionately communicate their business plan.

MyStuDebt was also recently selected to join Wharton’s Venture Initiation Program, an educational incubator program managed by Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs.

By Anne Freedman

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