Each year at Rough Draft Ventures, General Catalyst’s student founder focused program, meets hundreds of students who are shaping entrepreneurial communities across campuses in Boston — hackathon organizers, entrepreneurship club leaders, code club organizers, and more. Of those students, they select ten to join the program as Venture Fellows.
Venture Fellows are ambassadors for RDV and fellow entrepreneurs on campus, helping to identify and support student founders. They work closely with student groups and collaborate on events and programs to bolster the student entrepreneurship community. Every other week, Venture Fellows hear pitches from top student founders and make recommendations for backing highest potential companies.
Annabel Strauss ‘19 was a selected student from Brown, and she studies Computer Science and Economics. She has spent her summers in tech as a software engineer intern at Facebook, OkCupid, and Instagram. Annabel is passionate about women’s empowerment, particularly in tech. In high school, she was a club head for Girls Who Code and founded a conference for NYC young women in tech called Bit by Bit: Breaking the Barrier for Girls in Tech. At Brown, Annabel leads the Community Team of the Brown Entrepreneurship Program. She enjoys getting to know all the student founders on campus and talking to them about their ventures. Read more about the other Boston Venture Fellows, here.
This past spring, Mirabella Roberts ‘20 and Nicole Spring ‘20.5 met for coffee to talk about a class assignment. As the two got to chatting, they discovered a shared passion for using art as a means to talk about their own narratives of mental illness. They realized that despite the need for constructive conversations on mental health –like the one they had that morning in the Blue Room– an organization that fought to end the stigma through art did not exist.
That same day, they immediately began the process of establishing Art to Reduce Mental Health Stigma (ARMS). After hosting a successful test event in an Interactive Art Gallery, the two incorporated ARMS as a 501(c)(3) Domestic Nonprofit Corporation in Rhode Island. Since then, the two, with help from student leaders Bria Metzger, Melissa Sierra, Jordyn Goldstein, Marian Chudnovsky and Gabby Ortiz, the group hosted Express Your Psych Open Mic to kick off the 2018-2019 school year.
The event was incredibly successful, with 100% of attendees reporting they would return for future ARMS events and a majority of the attendees reporting that they left with a newfound ability to hold productive conversations regarding the stigma surrounding mental health. ARMS is planning on hosting a slew of events from fashion design workshops to dance performances. They are looking to recruit volunteers, if you are interested please email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also get learn more by visiting https://www.gofundme.com/arms-startup.
Have you met Philip Alabi PhD ’22, one of the Nelson Center’s Peer Entrepreneurs in Residence? When he is not working on his PhD in organic chemistry, Philip runs a 501c3 non-profit organization, Efiwe, committed to collecting (book donations) and distributing college/University books to post-secondary institutions’ libraries in Africa.
Philip Alabi, a native of Nigeria, is the founder and Volunteer in Chief of Efiwe. Efiwe is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and is dedicated to the collection of college textbooks throughout the United States and the distribution of those textbooks to post-secondary institutions in Africa.
Philip is making a call to action to help stock more African Libraries with textbooks. Efiwe-Brown is requesting book donations from the Brown community. A donation of $1 per book effectively sends the donated book(s) to Africa. Please feel free to donate your books regardless of cash donations.
Please send an email to email@example.com to donate books or text +1-618-746-9666.
For more information about Efiwe, visit www.efiwe.org. Follow Efiwe on facebook, twitter, and instagram.
Thinking of starting a non-profit? What to learn more about Philip and his journey? Sign up for Philip’s office hours here on Friday’s 1:00 – 3:00 PM.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested in applying? Check back here for application updates.