Nelson Center’s 2021 Year in Review

Despite the challenges we all faced this past year, we are grateful that through the support of the Nelson Center community we can look back and find many moments of joy, learning, and growth. Whether virtually or in person, the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship brought us together so we could continue to work toward providing Brown students with the necessary tools to solve problems and make an impact. Even against all of the challenges we faced, we successfully hosted more events and programs than ever before, engaging our community from all over the world. Thank you to all who supported our work this past year and we look forward to what the next year will bring. 

To celebrate and wrap up the year, here are a few of our highlights from 2021! You can also visit our YouTube channel to revisit some of our events and celebrations.

Happy New Year!

– Nelson Center Team

We celebrated our five-year anniversary! As part of that celebration, we launched the Nelson@5 short video series which provides a closer look at the Nelson Center’s first five years through the words and experiences of students, alums, and members of the Nelson team. And to top it off we also put together a fun timeline looking back on some of our biggest milestones.

Under the leadership of Michael Wang ‘22 and Isabella (Isa) Espinosa ‘22, the Brown Entrepreneurship Program (EP), welcomed 80+ students to the Nelson Center’s student-led club, hosted the fourth annual WE@Brown Conference and Pitch Competition, and launched the first-ever virtual EP Synapse trips to East Asia and East Africa to learn more about their entrepreneurial ecosystems.




Over 470 people from all over the world tuned in this year to participate virtually in the Brown Venture Prize (BVP) and Breakthrough Lab (B-Lab) programs, which continue to provide critical education and venture support for student founders. The first place 2021 BVP winner MediCircle, for example, founded by Eliza Sternlicht ’22 and Jack Schaeffer ’22, recently raised a $1.2 million pre-seed round on the heels of their first place victory. The virtual B-Lab Showcase featured all 15 student ventures that participated in this summer’s B-Lab venture accelerator program. B-Lab teams ranged from an e-commerce platform for small businesses in sub-Saharan Africa, a hand-held electricity generator for use in remote areas, to a reimagined mentoring platform for BIPOC students. We look forward to seeing everyone back in-person in 2022 for both BVP and B-Lab!

In collaboration with the Center for Race and Ethnicity (CSREA), we launched Venture Grants for Innovative Solutions: Addressing Anti-Black and Systemic Racism to bring together students from across the University to create solutions that address anti-Black and systemic racism. Together, we have funded teams working on a range of solutions, from giving educators better tools to discuss systemic racism with their students, to building better medical devices that provide more accurate readings across a range of skin tones. Learn more and apply here.

Through both curricular and venture support, we continue to support students who want to use entrepreneurship tools to address the challenge of Climate Change. This year we welcomed Alice Nichols to our instructional team, and she taught a new course Eco-Entrepreneurship, which gave students the opportunity to develop an eco-entrepreneurship idea and put it on the path to becoming a real, viable venture. And of course we continue to support these teams outside of the classroom as well, including those like Cloud Agronomics (2018 BVP Alum), one of the recipients of our dedicated Climate Change Grants. Now, the Boulder, Colorado-based company has raised $6M from SineWave Ventures as the lead investor. We also hosted sustainability focused events such as, How Brown Alumni Are Creating Sustainable Solutions in the Fashion & Retail Industry, and we supported the Echoing Green Social Entrepreneurship Internships in conjunction with BrownConnect.

We were thrilled to welcome new Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs) and Peer Entrepreneurs in Residence (PEIRs) to the Nelson Center. Our EIRs are Ben Chesler ’15, Riche Holmes Grant ’99, and Lorine Pendleton ’91. Our new PEIRs included Justin Kim ‘21, Maggie Bachenberg ’22, Ally Zhu ’22, Jack Schaeffer ’22, and Robbie Felton ’22. Learn more about the EIRs here and all the PEIRs here.

Van Wickle Ventures continued its amazing momentum by raising $200,000 through the Van Wickle Ventures Challenge. This Challenge, created and supported by the Place family (Robert Place ’75 and Erna Place ’76) matched up to $100,000 in funding for all gifts of $20,000 or more to support VWV. This educational venture fund, started and run by Brown students, helps give members first-hand knowledge of early-stage venture financing. We want to send a huge thank you to all of those who worked hard to put this Challenge together and to the generosity of the Place family and our tremendous alumni donors who contributed.

We welcomed Tori Gilbert to our Nelson Center team as our Events & Operations Coordinator! Tori is an alum of Johnson & Wales University, where she studied Event Management and completed her Master’s in Business Administration. With ten years of experience in the nonprofit sector, she has been involved with planning events, customer engagement, and day-to-day operations. Meet Tori and the entire Nelson team here.




In June, our virtual research conference The Entrepreneurship You Don’t See: Bringing Visibility to New Majority Founders welcomed scholars from around the world to examine entrepreneurship at the intersection of women, refugees, immigrants, allyship, and anti-Black racism. The 2020-21 Hazeltine Graduate Research Grant recipients, Ashley Gomez, Ph.D. candidate in Public Health, and Ieva Zumbyte, Ph.D. candidate in Sociology, also presented their research. Two inaugural scholarly awards were presented at the conference. The Emerging Scholar in Entrepreneurship Award was conferred to Courtney McCluney, Ph.D. and The Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded to Juliet E.K. Walker, Ph.D.


In honor of Professor Barrett Hazeltine’s dedication to mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs, a group of alumni came together in 2018 to start the Hazeltine Mentoring in Entrepreneurship Award. This year we raised a glass from home to honor the recipients of the Hazeltine Mentoring in Entrepreneurship Award, Hamzah Ansari PRIME ‘09 and Troy Henikoff ‘86.

Fall 2021 Venture Update: Startups Raise Capital, Hit Major Retailers, and much more!

As another interesting year comes to an end, we want to recognize the perseverance of students and alums who continue to identify problems and develop solutions with impact. Although not a comprehensive list, here are a few Nelson Center entrepreneurs who in the past six months have recently reached impressive milestones, including raising capital, launching new products, and garnering recognition from the press.

The diversity of ventures and founders, many of whom are alums of Breakthrough Lab and past Brown Venture Prize winners, featured below reflects how these students have embraced Brown’s emphasis on interdisciplinary study while also applying the structured entrepreneurship process we teach at the Nelson Center. To learn more about how the Nelson Center serves as a resource for students at Brown, we invite you to watch the third video in our Nelson@5 series, with a special appearance from Jonathan M. Nelson ’77, P’07, P’09.

We are so proud of the incredible work done by these students and alums. Continue reading to learn more about these exciting new updates, and keep a lookout as we continue to share stories from the Nelson Center!

– NCE Team

Brown Students & Alums Raise Significant Funding


MediCircle Raises $1.2M in Pre-Seed Round of Funding

MediCircle (2021 BVP First Place Winner), founded by Eliza Sternlicht ’22 and Jack Schaeffer ’22, improves access to healthcare by redistributing unopened and unexpired pharmaceuticals, $5 billion of which is wasted annually. By collecting medications that would otherwise be discarded from long-term care facilities and redistributing them to safety-net hospitals, MediCircle provides free medicine to those who need it. MediCircle raised a $1.2 million pre-seed round, with Brown student-led Van Wickle Ventures as an investor, and will be moving forward with several of the many hospitals interested in partnering with them. To read more about MediCircle, read this feature in the Brown Alumni Magazine


Pointz Raises Pre-Seed Round of Funding

Pointz (2020 B-Lab and 2021 Community Lab Venture), founded by Maggie Bachenberg ’22 and Trisha Ballakur ’22, is a mobile app that helps bicyclists find the safest route to their destination. This “waze for bikes” determines these routes by using road data and crowdsourced route information. Pointz recently raised a pre-seed round of funding in September 2021 and was featured in the Providence Business Journal


Founder of Healthy Roots Dolls Yelitsa Jean-Charles RISD ’16 Raises $1M in Seed Funding

Yelitsa Jean-Charles RISD ’16, founder of Healthy Roots Dolls (​​2015 B-Lab Alum and Former Swearer Center Social Innovation Fellow), raised $1M in seed funding earlier this year and is focused on expanding the company’s brand and product line. Healthy Roots is a toy company that creates dolls and storybooks that empower young girls and better represent the beauty of our diversity. Recently, Healthy Roots Dolls became available in 1,200 Target stores nationwide after selling out online in just a few days in February. Read more in Crunchbase


Founder of Omena Francesca Raoelison ’22 Raises Over $15,000 

Francesca Raoelison ’22, founder of Omena (BVP 2021 finalist and 2019 B-Lab Alum), recently raised over $15,000 from over 110 donors in their first-ever fundraiser. Omena is a non-profit organization committed to increasing awareness of emotional abuse in Madagascar’s educational system by providing tools for students to combat and stand up to abuse. Francesca quickly scaled Omena and currently has 100+ volunteers around the world (13 countries and counting), and its work has been recognized by MTV, supported by the Clinton Foundation, as well as Forbes Under 30. Omena was also featured in The Boston Globe earlier this year. 


Pangea, Founded by Adam Alpert ’17 and John Tambunting ’17, Closes a $2M Seed Round

Pangea (B-Lab 2017 Alums) is a platform that matches companies to students for freelance projects in marketing and graphic design. Pangea, founded by Adam Alpert ’17 and John Tambunting ’17, joined the winter cohort of Y Combinator, which provides seed funding for startups by investing $125K in a large number of companies twice a year. After graduating from Y Combinator earlier this year, Pangea set out to secure $1.5 million and wound up raising more. Read more here


Bolden Therapeutics Receives $500,000 from the National Institute on Aging  

Bolden Therapeutics (2021 Brown Venture Prize Finalist), co-founded by Johnny Page ’24, Justin Fallon, Professor of Neuroscience, and Ashley Webb, Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology, recently received a $500,000 Phase I Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant from the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health. Bolden Therapeutics is a biotechnology startup developing therapeutics to treat central nervous system diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and ischemic stroke. Read here to learn more about Bolden Therapeutics and the work the STTR grant will support.


Brown Students & Alums Meet Notable Milestones


Emma Butler ‘20 Featured in Forbes and Announces Product Launch Date

Intimately (2018 B-Lab Alum and 2020 BVP Second Place Winner), founded by Emma Butler ’20, is an online retailer that sells undergarments and lingerie for women with disabilities. Intimately believes all women deserve to have access to comfortable undergarments that they can easily put on and makes the shopping experience more inclusive for women everywhere. Intimately just announced that February would be the launch date for its first line of intimates. Emma was also recently featured in Forbes for her work with Intimately.


ResusciTech Pitches to Apple CEO Tim Cook and is Featured in Brown Alumni Magazine 

Abigail Kohler ’20 and Greg Fine ’20, co-founders of ResusciTech (2020 BVP Winner and 2019 B-Lab Alum), were recently selected as one of a handful of companies to pitch to Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, during the Silicon Slopes Summit in Salt Lake City. ResusciTech’s app, SMART Certification, offers convenient, smartphone-based CPR training that provides compression practice with real-time feedback. Read more here. To learn more about ResusciTech’s work, read their recent feature in the Brown Alumni Magazine.


1440 Media, Passes 1M Subscriber Milestone and Wins Platinum Award in 2021 MassChallenge Accelerator

Pierre Lipton 20 is the Co-Founder & COO of 1440 Media, a daily email newsletter with an emphasis on facts and data, not clickbait and talking heads. 1440 Media recently passed one million subscribers, making it one of the largest newsletters in the industry. It also won the $50,000 Platinum Award in this year’s MassChallenge accelerator. Read more about 1140 Media here


Co-Founder of Brevitē Brandon Kim RISD ’18 Goes Viral on TikTok 

Brevitē (2017 B-Lab Alum), co-founded by Brandon Kim RISD ’18 with his brothers Dylan Kim and Elliot Kim, is a direct-to-consumer startup that offers quality and functional backpacks that reflect how people live and work today. Now a multi-million dollar brand, Brevitē was the most talked-about backpack on TikTok and has expanded from their initial photography-focused backpacks into everyday backpacks as well. Learn more here.


2021 MassChallenge Cohort Includes Brown Students and Alums

MassChallenge, a global network for innovators, announced the startups invited to participate in this year’s accelerator. Among those chosen were: AsianFeed, founded by Justin Kim ’21 (2021 PEIR, 2020 B-Lab) and Michael Lai ’20; KerlyGirl, founded by Kerlyne Jean-Baptiste ’16; MediCircle, founded by Eliza Sternlicht ’22 and Jack Schaeffer ’22 (both 2021 BVP First Place Winners); Omena, founded by Francesca Raoelison ’22 (2019 B-Lab, 2021 BVP Finalist); Pointz, founded by Maggie Bachenburg ’22 (2020 B-Lab) and Trisha Ballakur ’22; 1440 Media, founded by Pierre Lipton ’20. Read more about MassChallenge and the 2021 U.S. cohort here


RI Business Competition Pitch Contest WinnersAre All Brown Students

The RI Business Competition announced the three winners of its 2021 Elevator Pitch Contest, which awarded a total of $1,000 in cash prizes. First place was Alison Veintimilla, founder of Burbujita Mandhu, which has a curated, patented solution to treat burn wounds. In second place was Jessica Chiu MS ’22, whose company, Regenaxion, is a venture looking to change the way the world thinks about biotechnology. Third place was Faith Keller whose company, Century Tree Therapeutics, aims to commercialize a novel nucleic acid therapy that treats a variety of cancers using a genetically targeted approach. 


Uproot, Co-founded by Kevin Eve ’18, Brings Cartons to Tech Companies and Universities

Kevin Eve ’18, winner of the 2019 Brown Venture Founder award, co-founded Uproot (2018 B-Lab Alum) in 2018 with the goal of making it easier for food services to provide healthy, sustainable plant-based milk. Since then, its oat milk and chocolate pea milk cartons have become available in leading tech companies (Facebook), financial institutions, and colleges around the country (including Brown!). It also has cemented relationships with leading distribution and food service management companies like US Foods, Sysco, and Compass Group. To fund this growth, the company is raising a pre-seed round from angel investors which it plans to complete by the end of the year.

In the News


H2Ok (2019 Brown Venture Prize Alum) Featured in 2021 Forbes 30 under 30. Learn more here.

EmpowerU (2020 B-Lab Alum and 2021 BVP Winner) Featured in News From Brown and Brown Daily Herald. Read the News from Brown article here and the Brown Daily Herald feature here.

Perkies (2018 Brown Venture Prize Finalist and B-Lab 2018 Alum) Featured in Forbes. Read the article here.

Brown Alums and Students Named Rhode Island Inno’s 5 Under 25. Read the article here.

Social Media app Emit featured in Brown Daily Herald. Read more here. (Fall 2021 Community Lab (Co-Lab) Cohort) Featured in Rhode Island Inno. Read the article here.

The Reem Company (2021 B-Lab Alum) Featured in News from Brown Read the News from Brown article here.