After suffering life-threatening nerve damage from a car accident in 1992, Richard Hanbury WG01 devised technology to ease his pain and sleeplessness, then refined the device over the next 25 years. Sana, which looks like a sleek VR headset or ultra-padded eye mask, casts patterns of light and sound that deeply relax the brain. Because everyone’s biometrics—pulse and breathing rate, for example—are different, Sana quickly learns the unique algorithms a user needs to fall and stay asleep. The device is so effective at relieving chronic-pain-related and PTSD-induced insomnia that Sana Health is in clinical trials with Mount Sinai Hospital, Stanford Sleep Labs, and the U.K. military, aiming to obtain FDA certification this year.
Great leaps in artificial intelligence and augmented reality have proven to be disruptive in many corners of our lives. For some of us, they’ve been lifechanging. Founded by Yuja Chang WG18 and Suman Kanuganti, Aira is harnessing AI and AR to assist blind or low-vision people with tasks they might not be able to do otherwise. The elevator pitch: Subscribers connect with Aira agents when they need help navigating their surroundings. Using visuals and data sent by customers from phones and Aira’s smartglasses, the agents offer real-time assistance for tasks that range from catching flights to applying for jobs. For challenges like reading, there’s also Aira’s AI agent, Chloe, who helps users directly via their phones.
Need a confidence boost? Embrace your inner rani, which is the Hindi term for “queen” and the idea behind luxury skincare venture Aavrani. Co-founders Rooshy Roy WG19 and Justin Silver WG19 met at Wharton, and a conversation about Roy’s love of Indian skin-care traditions eventually led to a quest for funding and the launch of their all-natural beauty business. Based on ancient practices, their four-step routine combines nontoxic, cruelty-free ingredients like turmeric, neem, and almond oil to bring out women’s inner radiance. With the first Indian Miss America, Nina Davuluri, on board as a co-founder, Aavrani is rapidly advancing its mission to help all women, as its hashtag says, #GlowAndConquer.
As juniors, Rui Jing Jiang W18, Adarsh Battu W18, and Brandon Kao ENG18 entered the Y-Prize, a competition that challenges students to commercialize Penn-developed technologies. They came up with VisiPlate, an ultra-thin nanoplate implant made of long-lasting aluminum that will treat mid- to late-stage glaucoma—the second most common cause of blindness globally. They refined VisiPlate through Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship’s VIP-X accelerator and a seed grant from Penn’s Singh Center for Nanotechnology, where they made nanoplates for testing. Now, as winners of the $100,000 President’s Innovation Prize, they’re working with an expert team to bring the product to the clinical stage.
Men’s wellness brand Hims has skyrocketed to startup stardom: The lifestyle company founded by Andrew Dudum W11 and fellow Wharton alumnus Jack Abraham has quickly racked up venture capital funding since its launch less than two years ago and is now reportedly valued at $1 billion. That puts the maker of hair-loss, skin-care, and erectile-dysfunction treatments in a select club of unicorn startups. Equally impressive may be the speed at which Hims has expanded its offerings: Just last year, the company established Hers with a lineup of similar products for women.
This e-commerce marketplace is exactly what its name suggests: a smorgasbord of tasty treats from around the world. Whether you’re hungry for lemon tarts from France, pistachios from Turkey, truffle oil from Italy, or chili paste from Korea, Yummy Bazaar ships to every state from its warehouse in New Jersey. And after nabbing nearly $2.25 million from seed-stage venture capital firm iFly Venture, founder Rebecca Chou WG13 is looking to capture even more attention (and taste buds) from the roughly 65 percent of consumers who purchase specialty foods.
Bear Flag Robotics
Driverless cars could be Silicon Valley’s next big breakthrough, but self-driving tractors might beat them to the punch. Founded by Igino Cafiero WG17 and Aubrey Donnellan in 2017, Bear Flag Robotics is developing cutting-edge technology that promises to give farmers remote control over their agricultural equipment. The startup isn’t seeking to reinvent the wheel; instead, it’s retrofitting existing tractors with its sensors and actuators. Bear Flag wasn’t always meant to be a farming venture: Cafiero started building the company’s first prototype as a mining solution for an uncle-in-law’s rock quarry but shifted his focus when orchard owners in California expressed interest. Bear Flag’s work is paying off—the startup has raised at least $4.5 million to date.
Cultural awareness: In today’s globalized world, it’s more important than ever. Jeenie, developed by Kirsten Brecht Baker C91 WG96, is meant to help you navigate other countries and cultures with confidence. Right when you need it, this mobile app delivers language help and cultural advice to the palm of your hand. Operators (called “Language Jeenies”) are live at the touch of a button to assist with conversations and questions, to ensure that nothing gets lost in translation. This means users can book that next vacation or business trip with confidence, knowing they’ve got experts on call.
Silver Lining Bespoke
Rel Lavizzo-Mourey WG15 founded Silver Lining Bespoke in 2015, partnering with award-winning artists and the Smithsonian to dress us in art. The company’s range of U.S.-made apparel includes a denim trucker jacket that opens to reveal monoprint mountain views; an organic cotton trench coat with dreamy abstract patterns inside; and a supersoft kid’s hoodie lined with adorable designs by a children’s book illustrator. Lavizzo-Mourey channels a percentage of retail profits to arts education initiatives that spark creativity and innovation for students in underserved communities. Here’s to the day when every coat (and hoodie and handbag) has a silver lining.
Approximately one in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness each year. It affects so many of us, and yet anxiety, depression, substance use, and other disorders can be incredibly isolating. Inspired by the compassionate community that fostered her own recovery, Katherine Ponte WG01 created ForLikeMinds, a peer-to-peer support site that connects people living with or caring for those in similar circumstances. After a quick, secure sign-up survey, members chat in private forums with groups or individuals who share their conditions, life events, or relatable demographics, including age, language, and student or military status. As members share experiences, Ponte hopes, together they’ll thrive.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear
Dan St. Pierre W94 was already a veteran of corporate finance and entrepreneurship when his brother, Mike, had an idea. Mike had been so dissatisfied with the design of most outdoor gear that he’d begun to make his own backpacks and shelters. After hikers and rangers he encountered on his frequent getaways showed interest, Mike saw potential in selling his wares. Dan agreed, and together they founded Hyperlite in 2009. The company today offers a robust set of ultralight, durable products for the world’s most serious adventurers, and its claim that its gear is “designed to function perfectly” hasn’t gone unnoticed: Its UltaMid 4 tent was named one of the best-designed American-made products by Inc. in 2014.
Seven billion dollars—that’s how much financial aid Charlie Javice W13 has helped deliver to students via her online platform, Frank. Even though 90 percent of college students are eligible to receive aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, nearly half of them never fill it out. This customer-friendly interface helps students access and complete their FAFSAs; in as few as four minutes, they can apply for federal and state aid as well as institutional grants and other assistance. That’s all loan-free money, which means minimizing debt and ensuring that graduation day is spent celebrating, not worrying about paying off loans.
Thinking about popping the question to that special someone? Rare Carat is ready to help you find the perfect diamond engagement ring at the right price. Led by Ajay Anand WG13 G14, the company isn’t in the business of actually selling rings—instead, its search engine compares diamonds across retailers like Macy’s, Four Mine, and Yadav to find the best deals. Self-described as the Kayak for diamonds, Rare Carat has been covered by the New York Times, Forbes, and other national media for its efforts to create a transparent shopping experience leading up to one of life’s milestone moments.
Neel Premkumar WG08 wants to fuel your day in more than one way. Through his company, Dyla Brands, Premkumar sells Forto, coffee shots designed to give consumers boosts of energy equal to one or two cups of coffee. (His lightbulb moment came after the birth of his twin daughters, when he was drinking large amounts of caffeine to stay atop parenting and work.) Premkumar also wants people to get their daily recommended intake of water with help from his Stur powdered and liquid mixes. Like Forto, Stur was inspired by his children: Premkumar began looking for ways to flavor water so his wife would stay properly hydrated while she was pregnant.
Published as “Charitable Fashion, Self-Driving Tractors, and a Men’s Health Unicorn” in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Wharton Magazine.
Read about other alumni-powered ventures in the full Watchlist.