If you think sneakers are only for basketball courts and kids, check out Koio Collective’s line of high-end leather kicks for men and women, sold in a Brooklyn showroom and online. German natives Johannes Quodt WG15 and Chris Wichert WG15 built a business plan in their classes at Wharton and found Italian artisans who could deliver the handmade designer styles they envisioned. Since launching last year and earning $1.3 million in seed funding, the company has recruited Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal WG10 as an adviser and its Primo Luna was ranked among the best sneakers of 2015 by Esquire.
As a junior at Wharton, Katlyn Grasso W15 was already making great strides in providing role models for young women by inviting successful female executives to Penn’s campus. A year later, she decided to bring teen girls to the workplace, creating GenHERation. GenHERation’s site visits, called Discovery Days, have connected girls with successful women in business from more than 30 companies in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia. The startup’s reach already extends to more than 50,000 young women online, at conferences and on corporate-site visits, providing them with opportunities for career exploration, mentoring, skill-building activities and scholarships.
Mindfulness is no longer just for monks in robes forgoing the comforts of modern life. With Modern ŌM, founder Michael Likhov WG07 wants to infuse the day-to-day with a reminder of how the ancient practice of mindfulness and its principles can inspire a better life. The lifestyle brand offers clothing and accessories based on colors corresponding to the body’s chakras. Modern ŌM is also dedicated to teaching and sharing the actual practice. A meditation studio in Miami, an upcoming mindfulness festival, and a recent Indiegogo campaign to teach meditation to prison inmates are all part of Modern ŌM’s effort to reach for a bigger vision, beyond just products. The t-shirts are nice, too.
The hassles of traveling, especially flying, can at times seem overwhelming. But the team at Airport Sherpa is working to make your journey a little less painful. Mayank Gandhi WG15 and Patrick DellaValle WG15 founded the company, whose service app provides a spectrum of concierge services at the airport—from securing lounge access to ordering food and retail items up to a week in advance for delivery to your departure gate. The app’s smart technology learns the user’s preferences and habits, allowing for quick and easy reordering, personalized suggestions, and special offers for shops close to a terminal. All you need is your flight information, and your new best travel buddy will take care of the rest.
Move over, chia! It’s time to celebrate the humble sesame seed with gourmet spread company Soom. Three years ago, Shelby Zitelman W07 teamed up with her foodie sisters, Jackie and Amy, to create nutritious, delicious modern tahini for restaurateurs and healthy home cooks. Certified kosher, GMO-free and USDA organic, Soom’s single-origin “Israeli mother sauce” is beloved by award-winning chefs nationwide—including Michael Solomonov, chef and owner of Philly’s acclaimed Middle Eastern restaurant Zahav. Health-nut bonus: The chocolate flavor has less than half the sugar of the top-selling spreads.
Global brands need to be able to communicate in any language, and that often requires a human touch. Smartling, a translation-services company co-founded and headed by Penn grad Jack Welde ENG91, recently acquired new-kid-on-the-block VerbalizeIt to provide just that. Launched by Ryan Frankel WG12 and Kunal Sarda WG11, Wharton-founded VerbalizeIt taps a community of vetted translators to return content in virtually any language. An appearance on Shark Tank proved just how promising the business is, as three sharks fought each other for a bite of the action. Frankel and Sarda will remain with Smartling in leadership positions and help the company integrate VerbalizeIt’s unique offerings into the existing platform.
The times, they are a-changin’—and in business, keeping up with constantly evolving ways to reach customers, conduct sales and stand out from competitors can be a daunting endeavor. Lou Schachter W86 offers a new strategy—a way to drive change itself. His new book, Selling Vision: The X→XY→Y Formula for Driving Results by Selling Change, articulates a unique approach to transforming a sales organization and to achieving goals. Since Schachter is a managing director of the global sales practice at BTS, this is right in his wheelhouse and is born out of his longtime experience helping clients execute sales strategies.
Global Snakebite Initiative
Snakebites claim 125,000 lives and seriously injure 2.7 million people every year. Lillian Lincoln Foundation philanthropist Barbara Bissell WG76 joined with Global Snakebite Initiative (GSI) to tackle this hidden epidemic through advocacy, research and prevention. The nonprofit provides education and training for health workers, small grants for young researchers and clinicians, and affordable treatment options in developing countries. This fall sees the release of a powerful as-yet-untitled documentary highlighting the effect of this WHO-identified tropical threat on the rural poor. GSI is a ray of hope for snakebite victims around the world.
Les Chocolateries Askanya
When Corinne Joachim Sanon Symietz WG11 discovered that Haiti was supplying its high-quality cacao to some of the world’s leading chocolate-producing countries, she decided to start making high-end chocolate right in Haiti. Les Chocolateries Askanya is the country’s first and only premier bean-to-bar chocolate company. It uses certified-organic cacao, grown in Haiti and harvested by 3,000-plus Haitian farmers, to produce a great product in beautiful packaging. Aside from making delicious chocolate, one of Symietz’s primary goals is creating jobs and economic growth in Haiti—a sweet deal for everyone.
The Immigrant Entrepreneur
In 2014, the editor of the Wharton Alumni Club of New York Magazine, Kent Trabing WG01, found inspiration in the story of Due Quach WG06, whose family fled war-ravaged Vietnam for Philadelphia when she was just a child. Her success as founder of a mind-coaching program, Calm Clarity, made him wonder—who are the other immigrants who create 27 percent of the new businesses in America? Trabing launched The Immigrant Entrepreneur podcast to tell their stories, and many of the interviews he’s posted are with Wharton alumni (most recently Sasibai Kimis W00 of Earth Heir, a socially conscious crafts and fashion retailer). With about 200,000 downloads and counting, the episodes are finding an audience—TIE recently made the iTunes “New and Noteworthy” podcast list.
In 2012, then 19- and 16-year-old sibling entrepreneurs Alston and Brienne Ghafourifar sketched out the future of “people-centric” digital interaction on a napkin. Soon after, Steve Epstein WG96 was captivated by their vision to democratize access to communications, becoming an early angel investor—and, later, the Palo Alto tech startup Entefy’s first employee. Entefy, now with $15 million in investment, promises to cut through the chaos created by the 100-trillion-plus messages that circulate each year. The company’s inbox-taming artificial intelligence syncs across your favorite devices to help you seamlessly interact with the people, services and smart things in your life, cleverly scaling communications to your fingertips.
No one has ever spoken the words “I love couch-shopping.” But just as customer-friendly online retailers Casper and Tuft & Needle have simplified mattress-buying, Burrow now aims to make finding your next cushioned Netflix-watching station more convenient. The brainchild of two current Wharton students, Stephen Kuhl WG17 and Kabeer Chopra WG17, Burrow targets millennials and offers two- and three-seat models, delivered in up to four compact boxes with tool-free assembly and a 100-day money-back guarantee. Bonus: The sofas are stain-resistant and come with a hidden USB/power outlet cradle.
As a teenager, Adam Goldberg W95 learned firsthand how challenging it is to look after a loved one. His experiences while taking care of an aunt with autism inspired him to create torchlight, a technology platform that helps people provide the best possible care for special-needs family members. torchlight creates personalized action plans and provides easy-to-use digital tools and expert advice for caregivers as they navigate the complex responsibilities of assisting their loved ones. The service is purchased by companies and offered to employees as part of their benefits plan as a win-win proposition: supporting the employee by providing resources, and benefiting the employer by improving retention and engagement of staff. To date, torchlight covers half a million families across about 50 participating companies, including Dell EMC and TripAdvisor.
When Millennials Rule
David and Jack Cahn W17 ENG18, twin brothers and current students at Wharton and the School of Engineering, gained the nickname “Twin Titans” as nationally ranked high-school debaters. They’ve since gained renown as millennial journalists and activists. For their new book, When Millennials Rule: The Reshaping of America, the brothers interviewed 10,000 young voters across America to lay out a millennial platform on issues ranging from gun control to the economy, health care and foreign policy. The book, based on their conversations, paints an authentic portrait of millennials and their political identity.
Published as “Sofas, Sneakers and Snakebites” in the Fall 2016 issue of Wharton Magazine.
Read about other alumni-powered ventures in the full Watchlist.