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.

Kerja.io (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.

Congratulations to the 2021 Hazeltine Mentoring in Entrepreneurship Award Recipients

Congratulations to the 2021 Hazeltine Mentoring in Entrepreneurship Award Recipients

Professor Barrett Hazeltine has been mentoring and inspiring Brown University students for decades. In honor of his dedication to student mentoring, and in particular, his mentorship of aspiring entrepreneurs, a group of alumni came together to start the Hazeltine Mentoring in Entrepreneurship Award. We are excited to announce that this year’s recipients are Hamzah Ansari PRIME ‘09 (left) and Troy Henikoff ‘86 (right). 

Hamzah Ansari has been a tremendous resource to the Brown and local entrepreneurial community for years and in particular, the Nelson Center since we opened in fall 2016. It is common to find him mentoring student startups in various Nelson Center and Engineering programs, sponsoring independent studies for students focused on entrepreneurship, and often being asked to judge pitch competitions. He consistently raises his hand to mentor students. Hamzah currently teaches the technology commercialization and entrepreneurship course in the PRIME Masters Program, and students in his class consistently comment on his dedication to them and their venture ideas. This was especially true during the last summer when he served as our inaugural Entrepreneur in Residence for the 2020 Breakthrough Lab (B-Lab) cohort, and met weekly with four venture teams, helping them all accelerate their ideas and take them to the next level. 

Troy Henikoff has also been affiliated with the Nelson Center since the very beginning. First through mentoring students in office hours, speaking on campus back in 2016, and getting involved in the early stages of Van Wickle Ventures, the student-run venture fund, supported by the Nelson Center. From day one he was a teacher and mentor for the founding group of students as they launched the fund, and remains committed to working with the group as an Investment Committee Member. 

They have both been generous with their time mentoring Brown students and have been instrumental in their success.

Join us on Thursday, May 6 at 4:00 pm ET for a virtual happy hour to celebrate the recipients of the award, as well as get a chance to say hello to Professor Hazeltine. We invite you to join us and raise a glass from your home to honor the winners. RSVP here. A Zoom link will be sent to you.

Read more about the recipients below.

TROY HENIKOFF ‘86 Troy is Managing Director of MATH Venture Partners. He was a Co-founder of Excelerate Labs, which became Techstars Chicago in 2013 where he was Managing Director through 2016. Troy also helps manage the FireStarter Fund, teaches Entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business, and is on the board of the Chicago-land Entrepreneurial Center. Prior to Techstars Chicago, Troy was the CEO of OneWed.com, President of Amacai, and co-founder and CEO of SurePayroll.com. Troy built the technology for Jellyvision (creators of “You Don’t Know Jack!”), was the President of Systemetrics, and his first company was Specialized Systems and Software. Troy has an undergraduate degree in Engineering from Brown University and a Masters Degree in Project Management from Northwestern.

HAMZAH ANSARI ’09 Hamzah is a Lecturer in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Brown, as well as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the School of Engineering. In these roles, Hamzah mentors, coaches, and advises student and alumni ventures on topics such as strategy and due diligence; as well as on the development of soft skills such as effective communication, critical thinking, and professional networking. He also teaches highly intensive and experiential undergraduate and graduate-level classes on Technology Commercialization and Entrepreneurship within the BEO and PRIME programs, where students use lean venturing methods to take their business ideas from drawing board to marketplace. Finally, he also served as a B-Lab Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Nelson Center, this past summer in 2020.

Outside of Brown, Hamzah serves as a Senior Advisor with Rhode Island-based innovation group “The Innovation Scout”. Previously, Hamzah started Accelereach, a developer of health and wellness coaching software, right after graduating from Brown in 2009. Accelereach’s software has helped thousands of people around the country lead healthier and more fulfilled lives. He advised the Rhode Island Health Insurance Exchange on developing new lines of business, growth strategies, and additional sources of revenue. Finally, he has advised United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse on legislative policy governing immigration reform, economic development and funding for small businesses.

Warby Parker, Co-founded By Andy Hunt ‘04, Opens First Store In Providence

Warby Parker, Co-founded By Andy Hunt ‘04, Opens First Store In Providence

The NCE building will have a new neighbor on Thayer street, once it’s safe to return! We are excited to welcome Warby Parker, who is opening its very first store here in Providence, Rhode Island, on Thayer St. Founded by Andy Hunt ‘04, Jeff Raider, Neil Blumenthal, and Dave Gilboa, Warby Parker’s mission is to inspire and impact the world with vision, purpose, and style. (Read more about the move in the Brown Daily Herald.)

Andy Hunt graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a Bachelor’s in Economics and History. He then earned his MBA in Finance from the University of Pennsylvania and went on to work in investment banking. Hunt later began to do research into the eyewear industry, motivated by his frustration with the high costs that came with buying and replacing his glasses. This frustration and research soon led to the launch of Warby Parker in 2010. Read more about his journey in this Brown Alumni Magazine article.

The company was started with the goal of proving that a business can scale, be profitable, and do good in the world—without charging a premium for it. From the very beginning, for every pair of Warby Parker glasses purchased, a pair has been distributed to someone in need. To date, over seven million pairs have been distributed—but amidst COVID-19, they have needed to largely pause the program. Now, as of April 1, 2020, they are temporarily shifting the focus so that for the majority of glasses sold, personal protective equipment and preventative health supplies are distributed to healthcare workers and communities in need. Learn more about their efforts, here

Roundtable Recap: Terri Cohen Alpert ‘85, Founder of Professional Cutlery Direct and Uno Alla Volta, Discusses How to Build a Differentiated Brand with High Customer Retention

Written by Chuck Isgar ‘21 

On February 24, 2020, The Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and Brown EP hosted Terri Cohen Alpert ‘85 for a roundtable discussion as part of the Roundtable Discussion Series moderated by Chuck Isgar ’21. Alpert shared lessons learned through the process building Professional Cutlery Direct and Uno Alla Volta, in particular the importance of creating a brand that connects emotionally with customers.

From Morgan Stanley to Starting a Business on $8,000

Going back to her time at Brown, Alpert has been willing to go off the beaten path. At Brown, she was one of few female concentrators in Physics. 

Alpert began her career after Brown at Morgan Stanley. While she helped Morgan Stanley in building out software, she missed not having the opportunity to help make decisions that would drive the business. She decided to use the safe cover of maternity leave to begin a company.

She asked herself: “What niche could I offer better selection and inventory than anyone else?”

At the time, her husband was looking for his first great chef’s knife, prompting her to look into the kitchenware space. The efficiency of ordering and shipping kitchenware tools was not efficient at the time, presenting an opportunity to Alpert. She had a vision: if someone could place an order by phone by noon, they could get it shipped that day. 

Putting $8000 into the business, Professional Cutlery Direct was born. The company began to grow significantly. 

From Initial Success to Significant Challenges

Professional Cutlery Direct doubled year over year and Alpert felt that it was too easy. She thought that if she could do it, so could other people. Along these lines, Alpert cautioned entrepreneurs that financial statements are the rear-view mirror; they don’t represent what’s ahead. She realized that it was costing her more and more to acquire customers worth less and less, prompting her to do significant thinking about the company’s CAC (customer acquisition cost) and LTV (lifetime value). 

Alpert admitted that the business came to the point that they were proving markets for the competition, including giants such as Williams Sonoma. “We were their R&D department, at no cost to them, and handed them the results on a silver platter.” After realizing that she was essentially building other people’s brands for them, she knew that they needed to develop proprietary brands. Some people began to see the company as the “Consumer Reports” of kitchen tools.

Building Uno Alla Volta with a Focus on Differentiation and Branding

While Alpert continued to run Professional Cutlery Direct, she launched Uno Alla Volta with the hopes of overcoming the obstacles that Professional Cutlery Direct was facing. 

Alpert realized that a proprietary product would be instrumental to allow Uno Alla Volta to differentiate itself and gain pricing power. As customers became more expensive to acquire, she realized that they would need to maximize the lifetime value of their customers. 

To increase customer lifetime value, Alpert discerned that they needed to be able to go to different aspects of their customers’ lives. In particular, they needed to create an emotionally meaningful brand that wasn’t restricted by product category. They needed barriers to entry, and in order to maximize the customer lifetime value they would need to have a nearly infinite supply of new products.

A Big Lesson for Alpert in Management

As Uno Alla Volta was working towards these goals, Alpert made one of the biggest mistakes in her entrepreneurial career: bringing in a professional management team. While she was optimistic that doing so would change the issues at the top of the company, she realized that was not the case. 

She did this at the same time as her company was hit with a 35% increase in its biggest cost, catalog postage (due to an act of Congress) and the great recession. This team was not only expensive, but they built silos in a company of just 65 people and created brand destruction.  Fundamentally, Alpert recognized however, that this was less the fault of the team than the CEO who hired and empowered them. Alpert,  while transitioning from the role of entrepreneur to CEO was focused on what not to do, micromanage, as opposed to what she must do: lead a team with a common vision.

One by one, she got rid of the executives, worked to change the culture, and to get the brand right. It was a six to seven year process, during which the company’s revenues shrunk from $14 million to $8 million, the customer base shrunk, and the company built up over $4 million in debt. During this time, there were several things she had to figure out: how to dramatically increase gross margins, developing more proprietary products, and creating a greater story around the product. 

Uno Alla Volta’s Growth

With many questions to solve, Uno Alla Volta figured things out in a big way. The company introduced one thousand SKUs per year, but still needed to flesh out the artisan stories behind the product. In an effort to create an emotional connection with the customer, they started to create personalized certificates corresponding to the items a customer purchases. They also worked hard to increase the company’s brand, in particular its name recognition. 

Alpert shared that “retention is most important of all.” In a matter of a few years, they brought the 12 month retention of a newly acquired customer from 23% to over 50% retention. The first year value of a new customer rose from $20 to $56, thus allowing the company to spend significantly more money to acquire new customers. Alpert taught every member of her team how to interpret the company’s key metrics and financial results and the team celebrated each small win and learned how the math would compound. The team delivered on their brand promise to every customer every day, growing Uno Alla Volta to a $20 million top line with a 10% EBITDA margin.

Alpert encouraged entrepreneurs to look at customers, not channels. While customers who engage on multiple channels are often the most valuable, Alpert focused on asking herself: “how do we make each group of customers the most valuable?” She stressed that at the end of the day, relationships with customers need to be human. 

Focus on learning how to interact in organizational environments

Alpert has done a lot in her career: she was one of few females in her time to study Physics, she went from Morgan Stanley to launching her own business as a project on maternity leave. She realized that hiring a management team won’t solve problems. And, of course, she also built a company with over a $20 million top line and a healthy bottom line. With all these experiences, the students in the room were curious about her recommendations for their continued journey at Brown and beyond.

She said that if she could go back, she would have studied leadership and organizational behavior much earlier. Over time, she learned that a leader’s job is to help people get emotionally attached to the goal.

While the corporate environment at Morgan Stanley wasn’t right for Alpert, she learned about how to get things done, and she also learned how to engage in a large organization. Along these lines, Alpert emphasized the significance of understanding how big companies operate. She suggested the importance of routinely looking for ways to move laterally to get more breadth with the goal of creating new mental pictures. 

Treat every experience as valuable

Alpert left students with a few parting words which might help take the pressure off of those worrying about what’s next: she believes that all experience is relevant. Being out in the world helps you see where there is white space. With a reference back to her scientific background, she shared that everything is a hypothesis; she suggested treating what you’re thinking about as an experiment.

Despite the challenges she had to overcome, Alpert shared that she wouldn’t change the way she did things. Within that sentiment might lie the greatest lesson that Alpert shared with the group of students, albeit indirectly: everything you go on to do will be a part of your collection of experiences and learnings that will allow you to succeed in the future.


A note from Tom Scott ’89, founder of The Neighborhood Project and The Nantucket Project

Read below a note from Tom Scott ’89, founder of The Neighborhood Project and The Nantucket Project, in response to COVID-19 and the work they are doing to bring us together virtually:

we hope you are well. we are all ok.

i love our team. we have been working hard in more zoom meetings than we can count.

today, we announce three new things. there will be more in the coming days and weeks.

practice. finally a show focused on a morning practice. start your day here.

learn. in partnership with r.p. eddy (brown alum ’94), we will gather the best of the tnp family to feel connected and informed. join in here.

share. start or continue your online neighborhood project for free here.

practice, learn, and share with us every day.

we continue to work on our films. we will meet live again. you’ll know when, when we know when.

more to come. feel free to reach out.


Roundtable Recap: Charlie Kroll ‘01, Founder of Andera and Co-Founder/COO/President of Ellevest, Discusses the Importance of Specific Customer Focus and Timing in Creating and Scaling Fintech Companies 

Roundtable Recap: Charlie Kroll ‘01, Founder of Andera and Co-Founder/COO/President of Ellevest, Discusses the Importance of Specific Customer Focus and Timing in Creating and Scaling Fintech Companies 

By Chuck Isgar ‘21 

On February 7, 2020, The Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and Brown EP hosted Charlie Kroll ‘01 for a roundtable discussion as part of the Roundtable Discussion Series moderated by Chuck Isgar ’21. Kroll shared stories and lessons learned from the process of founding and building Andera and Ellevest, companies focused on financial technology. 

Beginning Andera as a student at Brown

Kroll attended Brown in the late 90’s, around the time of the dot com bubble. He was on his way to Wall Street, but a unique situation set him onto another track. As a student, Kroll had been running his own web design business. He entered a business plan competition, and while he didn’t win, his mentor, Steve Siegel, ScM ‘83, PhD ‘85 offered to be an investor. Kroll said “let’s do it.” 

The web design business pivoted into Andera which provided an instant solution for banks to allow customers to fill out forms when opening checking accounts. Technology like this was very new to banks at the time. Kroll described the interesting process of selling this new concept: “nobody bought it, but everyone wanted to talk about it.” 

Capturing a timely opportunity in the financial services industry

Kroll admitted that much of the success of Andera stemmed from the unique timing at which the business was expanding. Leading up to 2008, there was lots of excess in the financial system, and since banks needed deposits to fund loans, Andera was uniquely positioned to help the banks quickly open accounts for customers. 

Andera survived the financial crisis fairly well and the growth continued. After expanding to over 100 employees, 3 offices, and 600 financial institution customers, Andera was acquired by Bottomline Technologies (NASDAQ: EPAY) in April 2014 for $48 million. 

The inspiration for Ellevest

Kroll took some time off after the acquisition of Andera, but he knew he wanted to start something new in fintech. He shared with our group of students that as he was trying to determine what his next venture would be, he was asking himself: “what is the next 10 year shift and what role can I play in it?” 

He saw financial advising as having been the same for many years, and he wanted to be around people innovating in investing. Charlie came to know Sallie Krawcheck, previously CEO of Smith Barney, CFO of Citigroup, global head of wealth management for Citigroup, President of Merrill Lynch, and considered one of the most successful women in Wall Street history. 

Both having extensive experience in the financial industry, they started Ellevest with a question: why is it that men and women have different behaviors in investing? Most notably, they knew that women don’t invest as much as men, and they saw an opportunity to help women. 

The emphasis on thorough testing when building Ellevest

Before beginning to actually build Ellevest, Kroll and Krawcheck had lots of hypotheses to test. After six months of diving deep into research and customer testing, they began to narrow in on who exactly their target users would be. Their initial target was mid-career professional women aged 28 to 35. To this day, they continue to focus on a target persona, which they call Elle. 

There were tens of thousands of women interested in Ellevest before the launch. According to Kroll, they spent nine months just going through the waitlist, a time during which they would test out features with different segments of users. 

Growing Ellevest: a continued focus on females

Ellevest officially launched in November of 2016. The company initially was pulled up market, but they are now going down market and figuring out how to best serve a wider audience. 

In terms of the competitive landscape, Kroll shared that Ellevest competes with many other platforms, but also none at the same time since no one else is focused exclusively on women. When asked whether Ellevest would ever expand into the male audience, Kroll was clear to say that their focus is women. 

There is strong reason to think that the focus is working. Ellevest has has been named on CNBC’s Top 50 “Disruptor” List, #14 on LinkedIn’s 50 “Hottest Startups To Work For” (and #2 in New York), and one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top 100 Brilliant Ideas. 

Going forward, Ellevest is aiming to be more involved in banking. Their vision is that you start banking with Ellevest, and then realize that you can invest sooner than you thought. 

The importance of diversity at Ellevest

Diversity is very important at Ellevest. The company places an emphasis on diversity of thought and point of view. The team is diverse, but they are all bound around Ellevest’s core mission of helping women invest. Kroll shared that having a team motivated by the company’s mission is such an important asset to the company. 

Kroll’s advice for students on their journey in entrepreneurship

For the student entrepreneurs in the room, Kroll provided advice about the research phases of beginning a startup. He encouraged the student entrepreneurs in the room to focus on doing hands-on prototyping and user research. Kroll emphasized the importance of conducting your own user research as opposed to reading research reports. 

Students at our discussion were curious to hear Kroll’s advice about what to look for when thinking about interning or working at a startup. He provided two core questions to consider as you think about joining a startup: Are you inspired by the people at the company? Importantly, do you respect the people with whom you would be working? In addition, he recommended seeing if you have an interest in the subject matter or industry of the startup. 

Kroll left students not just with specific advice, but also inspiration. The inspiration that someone who lost a pitch competition could go on to turn an idea into a $48 million business. Inspiration about how to think about the future of an industry. Inspiration about how to use detailed research to create the best product for people. And importantly, inspiration about how a company can focus on a specific market in order to make people’s lives better.