The $50k Brown Venture Prize is designed to empower the most advanced entrepreneurial Brown student ventures. It supports teams who have identified a significant opportunity, and whose ventures have the potential to create “impact at scale.” The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winners, Penta Prosthetics, Cloud Agronomics, and TextUp, respectively, all identified a significant opportunity or challenge and are thinking big about how to solve it. The Brown Venture Prize is intended to help them to accelerate and scale those solutions.
After the sold out pitch night on March 15 (watch it here!), all three teams traveled to New York City, to meet with and to learn from venture capitals and entrepreneurs. Co-founders of Casper, Neil Parikh ’11 and Luke Sherwin ‘12, who generously donated the funds to make the prize happen, invited the winners for a full immersion day to learn more about the details of a successful startup, from marketing and sales to managing a supply chain and customer service.
Following the NYC Trip, the Brown Venture Prize winners continue to make progress and expand their horizons. Read on to see how all three winners shook things up this summer.
Penta Prosthetics, 1st Prize Winner:
Trang Duong ’18 & Victor Wang, Yale ’18
Trang Duong, who co-founded Penta with Victor Wang, grew up in Vietnam and witnessed firsthand the challenges of accessing prosthetic care in the country. Together they started a non-profit that provides low cost, high-quality prosthetic care for low-income amputees in Vietnam and other developing countries through innovative and sustainable solutions.
Penta’s non-profit branch collects used lower-limb prosthetic devices from clinics and individuals in the United States and distributes them to patients who otherwise would be unable to afford them. Penta’s innovation branch seeks to improve on the current low-cost prosthetic devices on the market by combining innovative design, low-cost manufacturing, and strong local distribution.
“Brown has been an incredible environment for my growth as a social entrepreneur because of the enthusiasm of my peers and the support of mentors at places like the Nelson Center and the Swearer Center. My co-founder Victor and I have moved to Vietnam and continue to lead Penta on the ground. Our non-profit branch is on track to help 6,000 amputees in rural Vietnam regain mobility through a partnership with the Ministry of Health,” explained Duong.
Penta has been a great first step for them to connect the U.S. and Vietnam and to learn about creating impactful ventures in Southeast Asia.
Cloud Agronomics, 2nd Prize Winner:
Alex (Oleksiy) Zhuk ‘20, Jack Roswell ‘20, and Julian Vallyeason ‘20
Cloud Agronomics aims to reduce farmers’ waste by 50% within 2 years for each farm they service. Through novel early detection techniques, their software automates disease identification in orchards, providing customized maps which convey the specific diseases present on a farm, their precise location, and the projected progression of disease.
They have recently been approached by crop insurance firms who value their technology as a tool to price agricultural premiums in order to mitigate high-risk crop insurance contracts in volatile regions. Their technology can be applied to disease identification for almost any crop.
Back in May, with lots of work to be done, Alex and Jack finished their last final exam of their sophomore year and took off to Florida to connect with growers, extension agents, and University of Florida Faculty. They collected spectral measurements throughout Central Florida with plans to return later in August to collect additional aerial data. The core team is from and based in in Los Angeles, servicing farms and integrating their hardware close by, in Oxnard, CA. They are customizing a DJI s1000 octocopter, a drone to perform remote sensing at orchards in Southern California. The prize money granted them the resources and capital necessary to purchase two spectrometers that constitute the heart of the disease identification platform.
The Brown Venture Prize served as a catalyst that launched Cloud Agronomics from R&D to proof of concept. The team especially wants to thank their mentors, who have gone above and beyond in helping them succeed: Nick Halmos ‘02, Chad Billmyer ‘01 – two alumni mentors, as well as Jason Harry and Jonas Clark, NCE staff, both of whom have coached and mentored since 2016.
TEAM: Oleksiy Zhuk, Jack Roswell, Julian Vallyeason, David Schurman, Evan Cater, Eli Silvert, Abigail Kohler, and Jarod Boone.
TextUp, 3rd Prize Winner:
Michelle Petersen ‘18, co-founder of TextUp
TextUp, started in 2015, empowers social workers with secure messaging and collaboration, saving time and improving professional quality of life. As of this past May, the TextUp team brought home another large prize! The team took first place at the RI Business Competition ─the first student team in the competition’s history to ever take home the grand prize ─ and following the competition, were accepted into the inaugural MassChallenge Rhode Island cohort and awarded the Nelson Center’s first-ever Brown Venture Founder’s Award.
The venture recently collaborated with a Minnesota-based agency, their first partner beyond New England. They have expanded from one program within The Kent Hospital Unit to now four programs. These new partnerships have resulted in 150+ users.
A lot of Michelle’s time has been spent onboarding the new partners. She is also taking lead, conducting intakes for the new users participating in TextUp’s impact study. The year-long study aims to quantify the impact on work effectiveness, stress, and other factors for users. On the product development side, Eric Bai ‘15.5, TextUp developer and co-founder, is co-creating outcome metric tracking and exportability features for TextUp users.
Looking ahead, the team is looking forward to gaining insight from the mentors and other resources through MassChallenge Rhode Island. They are also working with Goodcity, a Chicago-based organization specializing in social good entrepreneurship. Michelle says they’ve been phenomenal in providing TextUp with business strategy support. In the next few months, TextUp will officially incorporate with dual non-profit, for-profit arms. To reach out to the team, email them at email@example.com.
Interested in applying? Check back here for application updates.