When James Beard Award-winning restaurant critic Sierra Tishgart couldn’t find a home cookware brand to both inspire her inner chef and satisfy her eye for style, she invited childhood friend Maddy Moelis W12 over for dinner to help figure out a solution. Soon after, the pair founded Great Jones, named in homage to star cookbook editor Judith Jones. Tishgart, product and marketing lead, interviewed chefs and food writers to design the perfect pan; Moelis, who worked for millennial-friendly wedding registry Zola, focuses on operations and finance. By 2018, Great Jones had raised more than $3 million, including from VC General Catalyst and Momofuku’s David Chang. Their mini nonstick skillet sold out in weeks. In an estimated $17 billion total market, Great Jones is already cooking up a storm.
During her medical training, Erica Barnell met a 52-yearold woman just diagnosed with stage-four colorectal cancer. Sadly, the disease hadn’t been caught sooner because the woman couldn’t take time off work for a colonoscopy. Motivated to make early detection more accessible, Barnell partnered with her brother, Andrew Barnell WG17, and data analyst Yiming Kang to found Geneoscopy. The trio devised a screening methodology to non-invasively detect cancer and other conditions using RNA biomarkers in stool samples—and during his MBA studies, Barnell developed the company with support from Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship’s Summer Venture Award. Geneoscopy’s second round of funding raised $1 million, and its third clinical trial will enroll more than 1,000 patients. For the 70 million Americans affected by digestive diseases each year, the future looks healthier.
Coffee Meets Bagel
Founded in 2012 by sisters Arum W04, Dawoon C04, and Soo Kang, Coffee Meets Bagel is the dating app for those who’ve been burned by endlessly swiping on other services. It aims to achieve better connections through in-depth profiles and personalized icebreakers, and its smart algorithm curates a limited number of quality matches. That translates to less shallow browsing and more meaningful conversations. Rather than connect based on photos alone, Coffee Meets Bagel’s users are encouraged to talk about what they’ve read about each other. The company has established thousands of lasting relationships, and investors have wanted to see what all the buzz is about—the Kangs have raised more than $23 million in funding to date.
Genies is going all-in on online avatars, those animations that resemble you but can express themselves in ways you can only imagine. It’s a familiar concept: Users create look-alike characters on their phones that they can then use in apps such as Instagram, WhatsApp, and Apple’s iMessages. Where Genies separates itself from the competition is with its star-studded cast of users. Led in part by Evan Rosenbaum W14, the company has made waves with investors including Shawn Mendes, Russell Westbrook, and A$AP Rocky, who are also part of a network of athletes and artists who use their hyper-realistic animated avatars to promote events and products. A-listers aren’t the only ones on board: The app also has a general user base and has attracted business from companies that include Disney, Gucci, and New Balance.
Instahub has created a simple, sustainable solution for lighting automation without expensive rewiring and complex installation. CEO Michael Wong W19 and CTO Dayo Adewole ENG15 GEN15 GR21 developed an occupancy sensor that snaps directly onto existing light switches and turns lights on and off by detecting motion in a room. Their bright idea, which was initially beta-tested in buildings across Penn’s campus, has earned them both accolades and funding Instahub won the Hult Prize Ivy Competition, Our Climate’s Youth Step Up Challenge, Fulphil’s Smart Impact Competition, and the President’s Innovation Prize at Penn, for $158,000 in startup support.
Harlem Capital Partners
All entrepreneurs, no matter their race, gender, or cultural background, should have an equal shot at starting their own businesses. However, the huge venture capital funding gap greatly disadvantages underrepresented groups. Jarrid Tingle W13 and his team at Harlem Capital Partners have set out to tackle this problem by pledging to invest in 1,000 diverse founders in the United States over the next 20 years. This early-stage venture capital firm based in New York is planning to raise $1 billion to achieve this goal and fund minority and women-led startups with disruptive business models. The company recently received a $10 million commitment from the Consumer Technology Association, which shares its passion for diversity in entrepreneurship.
Baby boomers and Gen Xers who form one of the largest demographics in the $4.2 trillion global wellness market are leading the demand for generationally authentic healthy-lifestyle products. Recognizing that this 50-plus cluster is all-in for taking a smart approach to getting older, Brent Taylor WG10 developed Perennial, a vanilla/nutflavored plant protein drink optimized for healthy aging. Thirty-something Taylor—who already helped found the wildly successful meat substitute Beyond Meat—says he and his Perennial co-founder, Sara Bonham, are committed to “creating a better world for ourselves to age into.”
Recognized for its creative and calming benefits, adult coloring is a trend based in nostalgia that has 21st-century impact. Tech power couple Muoyo Okome WG11 and Nicaila Matthews Okome C06 took the concept one step further when they created Color Noir, a coloring app that amplifies black lives and celebrates black culture. The Okomes identified a lack of cultural imagery in similar apps, and now Color Noir’s hundreds of images have attracted thousands of users globally. With Muoyo as the app’s developer and Nicaila in charge of visuals and user interface, they’re proudly carving out an inclusive space in the mobile app business—one that totaled more than $71 billion in revenue last year.
Too many emails, fliers, messages, signup forms, and outdated website info—it wasn’t until Vlada Lotkina WG08 became a parent that she grasped the daily grind of staying on top of parent/teacher communication. In 2015, she founded ClassTag, a free app that serves as a hub for teacher-to-parent messaging, calendar updates, and activities announcements. Currently being used by 50,000 educators nationwide, the app just received $2 million in seed funding. In Lotkina’s spare time, she teamed up with Allison Williams W07 to launch POP256, an initiative named for the number of female billionaires in the world and aimed at connecting trailblazing women through invite-only dinners.
Andrew Pietra WG17 knows firsthand the devastating effects of intoxication behind the wheel. The alumnus, who lost three close friends to drinking and driving, now leads Qorum to help tackle this serious problem. Kick-started at Wharton, the company won best pitch at the 2016 Wharton Business Plan Competition (now the Penn Wharton Startup Challenge). Think of Qorum as a designated driver for the modern age: At its core, it offers free Uber rides from bars and restaurants by partnering with alcohol brands that sponsor the trips. Qorum currently provides services—which also include in-app bar tabs, discounts, and location recommendations—at more than 100 participating venues in Southern California, ensuring that a safe ride on a night out is just a click away.
A Dozen Cousins
The influence of family runs deep at A Dozen Cousins. Not only did founder Ibraheem Basir C07 WG12 name the venture after his daughter and her 11 cousins; he also drew inspiration for his line of ready-to-eat beans from his mother’s cooking. The company’s selection of Cuban black beans, Mexican cowboy beans, and Trini chickpeas is the direct result of the Caribbean and Latin American flavors his mom infused in her Southern-style cooking as he was growing up in Brooklyn. Basir isn’t the only fan of those flavors: The company recently expanded its reach with buy-in from one of America’s most influential grocers—Amazon’s Whole Foods Market, where it now has shelf space at roughly 450 stores.
Applying for jobs is a daunting task in any field, but Incredible Health is changing the game for some members of the health-care community. Led by Iman Abuzeid WG13, the company connects nurses and hospitals in a process it touts as more efficient than job boards and cheaper than recruiting through traditional agencies. Here’s how it works: Nurses fill out a profile with information such as their education level, experience, and preferred cities. The company then matches hospitals on the platform with top candidates in its pool. Employers reach out to the job seekers they’re interested in—and if all goes well, there’s a match made in health-care heaven.
“Jump-start your creative career”: That’s the tagline for a new podcast by Shereen Kassam WG12 in which the stand-up comedian talks about turning passions into professions in areas such as film, TV, music, and literature. Guests so far have included New York Times best-selling author Jasmin Darznik, radio personality Laura Diaz, and Tina Mabry, a producer on Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar. Topics in the show’s first season run the gamut from time management to effective self-promotion, and most of the episodes total less than 45 minutes, giving listeners quick hits of inspiration for light-bulb moments.
Packed With Purpose
As a former Peace Corps volunteer and social impact consultant, Leeatt Rothschild G10 WG10 found it only natural to start a company dedicated to creating positive change. Her strong connections to various social organizations motivated her to upgrade typical corporate gifts to convey greater meaning. In 2016, Rothschild launched Packed with Purpose, a specialty gifting company whose products are crafted by vendors that prioritize social impact—or, in her words, “Purposeful Purveyors.” Along with providing high-quality gifts, such as gourmet snacks, travel accessories, and handmade journals, Packed with Purpose allows companies to express their commitment to social causes such as supporting workers with disabilities, youth development, and environmental sustainability.
Published as “Stylish Cookware, Impact Investing, and an Inspirational Podcast” in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Wharton Magazine.
Read about other alumni-powered ventures in the full Watchlist.