We are kicking off our first black history month founder feature with Lisa Gelobter ’91 founder and CEO of tEQuitable, an independent, confidential platform to address issues of bias, harassment, and discrimination in the workplace. Back in April 2018, Brown University invited her to speak on behalf of the “Thinking Out Loud” speaker series, which showcases profoundly creative and accomplished scholars who not only tackle some of the biggest “Big Questions” there are, but also skillfully communicate their inner visions to broad audiences. Watch the video here. With 25 years in the industry and products that have been used by billions of people, Lisa has a deep and proven track record in software. She has worked on several pioneering Internet technologies, including Shockwave, Hulu, and the ascent of online video. Lisa’s experience ranges from small, entrepreneurial startups to large, established organizations. Most recently, she worked at the White House, in the U.S. Digital Service, serving as the Chief Digital Service Officer for the Department of Education. Previously, Lisa acted as the Chief Digital Officer for BET Networks and was a member of the senior management team for the launch of Hulu. She has an expansive background in strategy development, business operations, user-centered design, product management, and engineering.
Fun Fact: Lisa is also the computer scientist who developed the animation used to create GIFs, forever changing the way we text and tweet. She’s also responsible for Shockwave and was even a member of the senior management team for the launch of Hulu.
Ayanna Howard ’93
Ayanna Howard is a roboticist and professor at Georgia Tech where she is the director of the Human-Automation Systems lab. Her research specialties include human-robot interaction, assistive robots in the home, therapy gaming apps, and remote robotic exploration of extreme environments. It’s no surprise that she was recognized as one of “The Most Powerful Women Engineers” by Business Insider. Among all of this, she founded Zyrobotics, an award-winning educational technology company that makes STEM learning accessible to all children.
Ayanna was a part of the Artificial Intelligence podcast this past January which you can watch here.
Brickson Diamond ’93
Brickson Diamond is the CEO of Big Answers, LLC, which consults on diversity and inclusion strategy for clients in entertainment, technology and asset management, generating new partnerships and leveraging impactful connections. He previously served for five years as COO of The Executive Leadership Council, the preeminent member organization of Black executives in the Fortune 1000. Brickson is also a co-founder and chair of The Blackhouse Foundation, which provides pathways for Black multi-platform content creators into career opportunities within film, television, digital and emerging platforms. In addition to everything else, Brickson is a Brown University trustee who has worked on several aspects of the DIAP (Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan) for the University.
Kerlyne Jean-Baptiste ’16
Kerlyne Jean Baptiste is founder of KerlyGirl and is passionate about health and wellness. She, like many other black women with coily hair, grew up believing her hair was incapable of growth, and unmanageable. After years of chemical processing, and unhealthy hair products, Kerlyne became dissatisfied with the state of her hair health and started to create her own homemade regimen in 2015. In 2017, Kerlyne began to share her haircare tips and products and launched KerlyGirl as an effort to bring affordable natural products to people everywhere. KerlyGirl aims to cultivate the beauty of textured & coily hair with plant-based products.On February 6 Venture Cafe Providence held its first-ever Pitch Night and KerlyGirl had the pleasure of pitching and taking home first prize! Congrats to Kerlyne and the team!
Van Wickle Ventures (VWV), Brown’s first student run-venture fund, is excited to announce their first investment in 305 Fitness. 305 Fitness is a dance-cardio fitness brand founded by Sadie Kurzban ‘12, who began teaching the classes out of the OMAC here at Brown. She won the Brown Entrepreneurship Program’s Venture Pitch competition in 2008 and launched 305 in New York with the $25K cash earnings from the competition. Today, 305 Fitness offers over 500 classes a week across 6 studios and 3 pop-ups in major U.S. cities.
Sadie’s story is the perfect example of the kind of founder VWV was created to support – one who follows the entrepreneurship process and had close ties to the Brown community. VWV will be participating in 305’s Series A alongside world-class investors such as Founders Fund, RiverPark VC, and Healthyish Ventures, as well as earlier angels including Tiesto and Kevin Durant.
VWV is also delighted to announce the students comprising the second cohort. Chosen from over one hundred applicants, there were nine that blew the team away with their curiosity, intellect, and creativity. The group includes founders of 3 non-profits in addition to sports tech and hair care ventures, crypto enthusiasts, and a medical school student – and ask them about their gap years! You can learn more about the team here. If you know a Brown- or RISD-affiliated founder, please send them to email@example.com.
We are excited to announce that the WE@Brown incubator winner was Lucia Tian ‘23 (picture above, top) with her venture FortePiezo and the runner-up was Alexandria Miller Ph.D. ‘24 (picture above, bottom). Alexandre Wurzmann ‘23 and Kia Uusitalo ‘24 (pictured below), co-founders of Trim, won at the Dojo pitch night. Both programs are offered through the Brown Entrepreneurship Program (EP), the Nelson Center’s student club.
The WE@Brown Incubator is a semester-long program that supports women-identifying founders on their early-stage ideas, through lectures and workshops. This semester’s judges included Kim Anderson, co-founder of EverHope Capital; Kerlyne Jean-Baptiste ‘16, founder of KerlyGirl; Sophie Starck ‘20 VC at Van Wickle Ventures, and Joyce Sunday M.S. ‘18, co-founder of Eat Fresh Prep. Lucia’s winning idea, FortePiezo, is a device that makes it easier for blind and visually impaired folks to learn music. Runner-up Alexandria Miller Ph.D. ‘24 in Africana Studies, who started Bad Gyal U, a podcast focused on educating the Caribbean diaspora of their heritage, especially looking at how featuring Carribean women that have impacted history.
Innovation Dojo is a semester-long student-led workshop series designed to challenge first- and second-year students at Brown and RISD to think differently about entrepreneurship through weekly classes and design workshops. This year’s winner, Trim, is software for hair salons to ensure that they provide the hair services their customers want. This fall’s pitch judges were Charlie Kroll ’01, co-founder/COO of Ellevest; Stephen Siegel ScM ’83 PhD ’85, Managing Partner at CIV Consulting; Don Stanford ’72, MS ’77, Technology Fellow at IGT; and Karina Wood, Executive Director at Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses RI.
By Chuck Isgar ‘21
On November 7, 2019, The Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and Brown EP proudly hosted Tom First ‘89 and Tom Scott ‘89 for a roundtable discussion as part of the Roundtable Discussion Series moderated by Chuck Isgar ’21. First and Scott shared lessons learned from founding and developing Nantucket Nectars, ranging from managing partnerships to navigating challenging times.
A mindset to making the most of partnerships
First and Scott went through their fair share of challenges in building Nantucket Nectars, a premium juice beverage company. Along these lines, Scott stressed the importance of learning through moments of pain. He emphasized that your career is going to have great and bad times, and it is in the bad times that you have the opportunity to learn a lot.
First and Scott are a one-of-a-kind partnership. They acknowledged that there is luck to partnerships. Scott shared that he has only one person in his life who can finish his sentences: Tom First. While both Scott and First deeply appreciate their partnership, they do not recommend trying to find the perfect co-founder.
They shared that there is a 100% chance of disagreement with your partner and 100% chance of crucial, anxiety-ridden situations. Tensions will run high, and it will be important to determine how you resolve conflict. First shared that whenever he disagreed with Scott, he wanted to know about why they were disagreeing.
The importance of letting your product work harder than you
First and Scott revealed details about a pivotal moment in the process of trying to grow Nantucket Nectars. In 1995, they were getting outsold by AriZona Iced Tea like crazy. As explained by First and Scott, the two of them were working much harder than Nantucket Nectar’s packaging and bottling were working for the brand. First and Scott knew they needed to flip this. Over the course of the next six to eight months, they were really focused on getting things right.
After deciding to revise their packaging strategy, they received quotes from approximately eleven packaging firms. They ended up taking a crazy high quote from one of the firms, but didn’t regret the decision.
Over the following years, the company experienced tremendous growth. Nantucket Nectars was included on Inc. Magazine’s “Inc. 500” list of fastest-growing U.S. companies for five years in a row. In 2002, Nantucket Nectars was acquired by Cadbury Schweppes, now Dr. Pepper Snapple (NYSE: DPS).
First’s view on investing in the food and beverage industry and Scott’s passion for the neighborhood
Following the sale of Nantucket Nectars, First founded and developed a number of startups, including Owater and Eleven Technologies, which was purchased by Trimble (NASDAQ: TRMB) in 2005. First is currently an Operating Partner at Castanea Partners and the Founding Partner at TF Ventures, a venture firm concentrated on food and beverage.
Several venture capital-minded students at the discussion were curious to hear First’s perspective on the food and beverage investing landscape. He explained that it is not too difficult to receive money these days to start a company in the food and beverage business, which has resulted in crowded shelves. First shared that nowadays younger people are making purchasing decisions with the intent of remaking stores so that they feature products with simple ingredients.
First explained his main criteria when evaluating emerging companies: 1. Are you creating a product in a large category? 2. Are you human beings that First wants to bet on? He made it clear that he values competitive founders with immense passion for what they are building.
Since selling Nantucket Nectars, Scott has focused his time on developing films and exploring the neighborhood. He is the founder and visionary of Neighborhood, which was developed from the nine-year-long Nantucket Project. His award-winning films have previously been shown at Cannes and Sundance.
Keys to success: setting benchmarks extremely high and creating products that appeal to many people
Scott and First discussed what it takes to be successful. They shared that winning requires 97 (on a theoretical 0 to 100 scale). 94 gets you nothing, thus increasing the importance of getting to 97. In terms of how to get to 97, they recommended reminding people what a 97 is: to Scott and First, a 97 means that you have created a differentiated business with impressive growth.
To all of the aspiring entrepreneurs in the room, First and Scott shared yet another important piece of advice: “if you want to make something of scale, you have to make something average.” As explained by First and Scott, a lot of people want apple juice, but not as many people want to buy pianos. Safe to say, First and Scott not only created something for a lot of people through Nantucket Nectars, but they also helped to reinvent the food and beverage business.
On October 8, 2019 The Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and Brown EP hosted Bernadette Aulestia ‘94 for a roundtable discussion as part of the Roundtable Discussion Series moderated by Megan Kasselberg ‘20.
Aulestia spoke to students about major changes underway in the media and entertainment industries, focusing particularly on the shrinking size of audiences and the ensuing “streaming wars” playing out in today’s market.
After studying economics at Brown and working in finance, Aulestia maintained a 22-year tenure at HBO, helping to transform the company from its television heyday of the 90’s to the digital powerhouse that it is today. Most recently serving as HBO’s president of global distribution until March, Aulestia spoke extensively about her love for strategy and the importance of trying as many roles as possible while young.
In response to questions regarding career advice, Aulestia told those in attendance that today is the era of the generalist, and that students would do best picking up as many skills as they can. She said that the key to becoming an executive is to always be learning, and to get as broad of experiences as possible.
In terms of the changing landscape of the entertainment business, Aulestia spoke to the benefits of subscription models over advertising. She also commented that with every company making content today, media companies must set themselves apart to get the attention of competitors’ users and find their adjacencies within the industry. Although this greatly benefits creators, who have far more avenues than ever to showcase their work, it also means that companies must have a long-term view of the industry and how the landscape will continue to shift even further from television screens.