Like many government programs, Medicare often leaves consumers confused, as Chapter CEO Cobi Blumenfeld-Gantz C12 W12 learned firsthand. “After spending weeks on research, my parents still nearly missed deadlines and enrolled in sub-optimal plans,” he says. Alongside co-founder Corey Metzman C12 W12, Blumenfeld-Gantz started Chapter to provide Medicare advice to older Americans in their search for the best value. The Medicare advisory firm scours options to suggest plans, advise on when to enroll, and more. As the company grows, it’s investing in an app to provide additional support and services to retirees.
This comfort-forward shoe line sprang from Marisa Sharkey WG03 and Bianca Gates’s conviction that there had to be better footwear options for hosting dinner parties than casual slippers — or bare feet. Relying on their collective experience at companies such as Ross Stores, Bain and Company, and Facebook, the Birdies co-founders teamed up in 2015 to create a design that combines sleek fashion with long-lasting comfort. After their first pair of loafers took off, they expanded the line to include a wide variety of sneakers, sandals, flats, and slides. Sharkey and Gates have also led Birdies to become a Certified B Corporation, propelling purpose-driven efforts such as a mentorship program for women and girls and donations of more than 54,000 pairs of shoes.
As more organizations adopt environmentally friendly practices, some farmers are utilizing trees to help do the work. Founded by John Foye ENG13 W13 and Aakash Ahamed, Working Trees partners with landowners to facilitate tree-planting on their properties. The firm, which was part of Venture Lab’s VIP-X Fall 2022 cohort, provides technology to measure carbon stored by the trees, which in turn generates revenue for farmers from companies that pay for the sequestration as part of their net-zero commitments. Among the extra benefits, the method can improve agricultural conditions and production — for instance, by creating better grazing conditions for farm animals and increasing soil’s nutrient content.
Kristen Nwanyanwu M09 WG09 is bringing style to the eye-examination room. Nwanyanwu, a vitreoretinal surgeon and associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine, founded Eyeful to address her dissatisfaction with both the look and the utility of the weathered case she previously used to hold her ophthalmic lenses. Now, Nwanyanwu is sharing her designs with eye-care providers far and wide. Eyeful currently offers two stylish cases, each made from vegan leather and equipped with features such as impact-resistant foam and an inside pocket for accessories like a cleaning cloth.
Zack Gray WG19 was nearing the end of his time at Wharton when he lost his girlfriend to an opioid overdose. She had tried to get help but didn’t know where to look. Ophelia, which Gray co-founded shortly after graduating, is now licensed to provide telemedicine and prescriptions to treat opioid addiction in more than a dozen states. The startup’s efforts to make treatment more accessible can be especially critical at a time when, Gray says, other options for obtaining medications such as Suboxone to curtail opioid use are sparse across much of the U.S. The medication can prevent cravings and withdrawal symptoms from drugs such as heroin, morphine, and fentanyl and in turn help avert tragedies like the one from which the startup takes its name.
Chantee Butler WG20 was inspired to start her natural skin-care product line by her late sister-in-law, nicknamed Ney Ney, who started her own entrepreneurial skin-care journey in 2016 before passing away two years later. The name “Nayko” is an homage to Ney Ney and a nod to the brand’s “eco”-friendly mission. The company uses formulations that exclude water-based ingredients, eliminating the need for preservatives and synthetics. Nayko Naturals products range from creams to oils — including lines designed for men and expecting mothers — and are free of parabens, sulfates, fragrances, glycerin, and petrolatum.
Stepful CEO Carl Madi WG17 is looking to move the needle on the U.S. health-care worker shortage through cost-effective and time-efficient career training. Launched in 2021, Stepful offers a four-week online training program for phlebotomists and four-month programs for medical assistants and pharmacy technicians. With an eye to expansion, Stepful is also launching a program for ultrasound technicians after securing seed funding earlier this year. The firm’s graduates have gone on to work at organizations including CVS, Walgreens, and the NYC Health + Hospitals public health-care system.
Accessing financial services over the internet doesn’t have to be a hassle, says Portabl, which is making sign-ups, sign-ins, and overall online experiences for firms with complex verifications more seamless. Co-founded by CEO Nate Soffio WG22, the startup’s log-in client can be integrated with other apps and pre-verifies data regarding users’ identities, payment methods, and accounts. By leveraging decentralized identity standards, Portabl aims to help users avoid repeatedly completing lengthy confirmations for financial services while maintaining compliance and keeping information safe.
My Little Mascara Club
With its subscription model, My Little Mascara Club is ensuring that you never run out of a makeup essential. Co-founded by Patrick Ryan WMP21 GEN24, the service ships vegan and cruelty-free mascara — along with add-ons such as shaping combs and remover wipes — directly to doorsteps. The startup, a VIP-X company, uses tiny bottles and monthly shipments to help avoid clumping problems associated with bigger tubes, while options to adjust, delay, or even donate deliveries give subscribers flexibility.
This startup founded by Matt Schulman ENG16 W16 is seeking to boost transparency and fairness for workers worldwide by helping companies develop more robust compensation strategies. Pave’s data-driven platform serves as a hub from which firms can access their own compensation information as well as benchmark data from other businesses to inform salary offers, merit increases, and other pay-related decisions. The ability to set company-wide compensation ranges for positions helps standardize packages and identify employees who are being under-rewarded, while insights for employees offer them visibility into their own compensation. Said Schulman last year: “We will not stop until every single person in the world knows their value and earns what they deserve.”
The idea for Recuperet Health stemmed from an encounter Sanjeev Suratwala WG22 had with a patient who was experiencing post-operative bleeding after spinal surgery. The case, which required immediate medical attention, led Suratwala and co-founder Gary Arora WG22 to identify several gaps in the post-surgical recovery journey for patients, families, and clinical providers. Together, they launched Recuperet Health as a technology-based approach to monitor patient progress and improve both clinical workflows and at-home experiences. Recently part of Venture Lab’s VIP-X program, the firm connects patients and health-care providers through a platform that leverages wearables, AI algorithms, and other technology to collect detailed information about the recovery process and avoid negative post-op outcomes.
People-first hiring: That’s the focus of Clovers, a software company that’s leveraging artificial intelligence to help businesses make insight-driven and inclusive hiring decisions. Co-founded by Adam Miller C91 W91, the startup facilitates critical aspects of the hiring process through its platform, including optimizing job descriptions for inclusivity, tracking important candidate details, and surfacing key information from interviews. Clovers aims to reduce the pressure of hiring so teams can focus on candidates first and foremost while making quick and confident decisions.
Used in routine vital-sign assessments, pulse oximeters determine a patient’s blood oxygen level by measuring light that travels through the finger’s skin. Studies have shown, however, that these devices can provide inaccurate readings in people with darker skin tones, leading to racial disparities in patient health. Leveraging Penn’s physics-informed neural networks technology, Advait Thaploo C25 W25, Parthiv Patel C25 W25, and Ujjayi Pamidigantam C25 W25 are developing a way for pulse oximeter readings to account for various skin colors. Equimeter won the university’s Y-Prize competition this year as well as the Venture Lab Startup Challenge’s Jacobson Social Impact Prize.
This modern-day financial advisor began with the goal of addressing some of the industry’s biggest problems — namely, financial planning’s accessibility, high cost, inconsistent advice, and misaligned incentives between advisors and clients. Led by co-founder and CEO Anders Jones WG17, Facet offers a flat-fee membership and a team of financial experts who provide virtual guidance for investments, taxes, employee benefits, and other aspects of members’ financial lives. “The established model for financial planning is broken,” says Jones. “We are reimagining how consumers understand their relationship to money, empowering them to actually live the life they envision and to achieve true financial wellness.”
Published as “Health-Care Guidance, Tree Planting, and Financial Planning” in the Fall/Winter 2023 issue of Wharton Magazine.
Read about other alumni-powered ventures in the full Watchlist.