Highlight aims to combine the right ideas, the right people, and the right questions to help consumer products succeed. Founded by Dana Kim WG20 and Ethan Kellough GEN21, the company is speeding up the process of in-home product testing by giving clients access to fast feedback from a community of testers known as Highlighters. Thanks to an intuitive project portal, Highlight lets clients take control of the product-testing process with a one-stop shop for designing surveys, scheduling shipping, analyzing feedback, and more. Boasting survey completion rates of 90 percent from its Highlighters, the company promises to deliver actionable insights to customers — from startups to established enterprises — in less than a week.
This startup founded by Bernardo Garcia G21 WG21 and Manuel Godoy WG21 is leveraging artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to rethink cross-border transactions. Félix aims to create a money-sharing service that’s trusted by users who’ve historically been skeptical of such platforms — namely, Spanish speakers, for whom English-based apps can be inconvenient. Offered through WhatsApp, Félix has been designed to make it easier for immigrants in the U.S. to send remittances to family in Mexico. (Such payments totaled nearly $41 billion last year.) Félix received Wharton’s inaugural AI for Business Award in recognition of its potential to solve an immediate need for a large population.
Lynk was born of two contrasting experiences. As an investor earlier in her career, founder Peggy Choi ENG06 W06 was learning about companies and industries every day — encounters that made her realize the value of talking to the right person. On the flip side, the CEO found herself unable to answer her own parents’ business questions, leading her to search for people who could. Choi wondered whether there was a way to leverage data to make finding the right expert easier. Today, Lynk is doing just that with software whose primary offering connects professionals to the person they need from among a network of more than 840,000 experts.
What is the value of health care if it isn’t accessible? Aris Saxena W21 and Yiwen Li C21 W21 are responding to that question with their startup Mobility — a digital marketplace to match individuals with health-care services at home, with the goal of providing options for patients who otherwise may not find it possible or convenient to receive care. Focused initially on physical-therapy services in Philadelphia, the company aims to extend its offerings nationwide and expand them to include all forms of primary health care. Saxena and Li won the Penn President’s Innovation Prize this year for an initial business model with a similar international focus.
With a name meaning “smart and agile” in Farsi, Zebel aims to streamline construction-project planning by helping clients learn from their historical data. Co-founded by Hamid Hajian WG18 and Ramtin Kermani through Wharton’s Venture Initiation Program in San Francisco, Zebel offers software that enables real estate developers and contractors to quickly obtain cost estimates for future projects by comparing rough designs for those projects with data from past ones. Used by customers in early conceptual stages, Zebel makes it possible to quickly evaluate designs and — the company promises — reduce time needed for feasibility analyses from a month to an hour.
Is less better? It is in the case of LiberTech, the 2021 Y-Prize-winning team recognized for its efforts to tap into the growing market for low-alcohol and nonalcoholic beverages. Shangting (Lucy) Sun W21, Hechun (Iris) Cai W21, Sharon Ying Man Chan C21, and Zhouzheyuan (Fred) Lu C21 pitched their technique for de-alcoholizing beer and wine — using nanostructured membranes developed by Penn Engineering professor Chinedum Osuji — at the competition’s finale this spring. Their method has the potential to preserve the quality and flavor of alcoholic beverages while allowing for a more efficient and cost-effective filtration process than other techniques. Having received $10,000 from the competition, the team earmarked their Y-Prize winnings toward validating, prototyping, and piloting their technology.
Millions of instances of fraud and identity theft were reported in the U.S. last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. With much of that crime taking place online, Aura — a startup founded by Hari Ravichandran WG08 — aims to shield its customers with a security solution that takes the complexity out of digital protection. Created to guard user information, accounts, and devices, the company’s software provides password monitoring, bank alerts, and other features that have traditionally been offered by separate groups. Aura’s efforts to build a comprehensive digital-security hub haven’t gone unnoticed, earning the company investment from the likes of former Walt Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and a valuation of more than $1 billion earlier this year.
You may have learned about it recently on 60 Minutes or the front page of the New York Times: the emergence of psychedelics to treat conditions like depression and addiction. Although substances such as MDMA and psilocybin are considered Schedule 1 drugs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, their use in treatments is being widely studied, and investors are taking notice. One such investor, the Conscious Fund, is a venture capital firm concentrating squarely on this emerging field of medicine. Founded in part by Michael Hoyos W13, the firm has backed several companies in the space and incubated others itself, including Aphrodite Health, a self-described psychedelic medicine company “for women, by women.”
Before Christine Tao WG08 and Lori Mazan were Sounding Board co-founders, they were coach and trainee. The two met years ago when Tao worked as a sales executive at Tapjoy, a mobile advertising company where Mazan provided executive-coaching services. In learning from Mazan, Tao saw the results of coaching on her own performance and the subsequent business impact. However, they both recognized that this type of feedback was only accessible to the highest echelons of a company’s leadership. Today, their startup is bringing coaching services to leaders at all levels of firms via a suite of virtual offerings that match users with coaches online.
Led by CEO and president Stephen Tang WG92, this at-home testing company is offering a vital tool in the fight against COVID-19. Authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June, OraSure’s InteliSwab test is available over the counter, by prescription, and for use in health-care settings. Having also made a name for itself with the first and only FDA-approved rapid self-test for HIV, the public company offers a range of tools and services aimed at improving health and wellness.
Co-founded by Adam Tishman WG15, Kristian von Rickenbach WG15, and Jerry Lin WG15, this bedding company is entering a new chapter in its history. After a strong start as a producer of personalized mattresses, Helix is uniting with fellow mattress manufacturer Brooklyn Bedding through a deal announced in September. The company’s three heads will lead the direct-to-consumer segment of the combined unit. Launched in 2015, Helix has expanded beyond its core business in recent years to include all-natural sleep brand Birch and sofa maker Allform.
Founded by a team of military veterans and former Navy SEALs, including CEO Mike Lahiff WG15 and COO Rob Huberty WG16, ZeroEyes is tackling one of America’s most tragic problems: the rise of mass shootings. Previously housed at the Pennovation Center, ZeroEyes is using artificial intelligence to detect weapons on camera feeds, a security measure that has the potential to decrease response times and consequently save lives. With a focus on schools, businesses, and government buildings, the Philadelphia-area startup has received more than $26 million in funding to date to advance its mission of mitigating gun violence.
Most new parents experience a “There must be a better way” moment. For Ted Iobst WG17, it came following the birth of his twins, when he realized the lack of quality baby gear for on-the-go parents. In 2018, Iobst launched Colugo, which has been hailed by Fast Company as the “Warby Parker of strollers” for its direct-to-consumer model. Colugo has been swaddled with success lately: It raised $4.1 million in Series A funding earlier this year, and — in one of many “best of” wins — its compact stroller was named a 2021 Best Travel Stroller by baby registry Babylist. The venture also launched a partnership with WWE stars Brie and Nikki Bella that has produced an exclusive collection of essential baby gear.
Food-tech company Better Brand is taking the guilt out of guilty pleasure. Founded by Aimee Yang WG20, the company uses so-called “grain-changing technology” to produce low-carbohydrate, high-protein versions of foods that are traditionally loaded with carbs. Better Brand’s inaugural product, the Better Bagel, boasts just five grams of net carbs (equivalent to one-fifth of a banana) and 24 grams of protein (the equivalent of four eggs). With its trademarked technology, the company plans to break into other food categories in the future and, in the process, redefine healthy eating.
Published as “Experts on Demand, Career Coaching, and Cybersecurity” in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of Wharton Magazine.
Read about other alumni-powered ventures in the full Watchlist.