Anima Iris

On a meteoric rise through the fiercely competitive luxury retail market, high-end handbag brand Anima Iris has been picked up by Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and even Beyoncé. With geometric and bold designs, founder Wilglory Tanjong G22 WG22 expresses her ancestry in a fashionable and sustainable way. The bags are made in Senegal by expert craftspeople who have honed their techniques over decades and draw inspiration from centuries of heritage. The leather and other materials are sourced through local African business merchants. Anima Iris is environmentally friendly and employs a zero-waste model that ensures all materials are used and that no two products are the same.


Red, white, and black illustration of a construction worker staring at a large iPad with blueprints for a home on it.

(Illustrations by Cristina Spanò)

Obtaining the correct building permit at the right time is crucial, and a lack of permits can grind construction to an expensive stop. To make the process faster, easier, and more transparent, Ben Allen WG17 and James Gallagher C09 launched GreenLite. Their team — made up of planning, construction, and development professionals — has experienced permitting challenges firsthand and built that knowledge into the construction-permitting and plan-review platform. The company has raised $8 million in seed funding since launching in October.


Heidi Block WG95 standing in front of pickleball apparel.

Heidi Block WG95

Heidi Block WG95 and her family first got hooked on pickleball during the COVID-19 lockdowns, when they played the sport together at home in New Jersey to pass the time and stay active. But when Block couldn’t find apparel specifically designed for pickleball, she decided to make her own. Along with her eldest son, Max, she founded Play-PKL, an online retailer selling premium pickleball equipment and stylish outfits for recreational players. The site also offers tips and lessons for beginning pickleballers.


Headshots of Jagmeet Lamba and Dudley Brundige.

Jagmeet Lamba WG07 and Dudley Brundige WG07

Juggling multiple vendors can be daunting for a small-business owner. Certa, led by CEO Jagmeet Lamba WG07 and CFO Dudley Brundige WG07, streamlines relationships with third-party vendors, making onboarding up to three times faster. The platform itself can reduce IT labor needs, allowing users to create personalized workflows. The company also has its own AI technology — CertaAssist — that can fill out supplier questionnaires, consolidate intake requests, and create data visualizations. Certa’s clients include Uber, Instacart, and Box, whose executives have reported reduced cycle times and operating costs after using the procurement software.

Flagler Health

Red, white, and black illustration of a doctor and a robot standing side by side and holding hands.Developed by Albert Katz WG23 and Will Hu GED19, Flagler Health combines patient data and the power of AI to help physicians recommend treatments to their patients. (“It’s like giving a calculator to a mathematician,” says Katz.) Backed by $6 million in funding, Flagler Health now serves more than 1.5 million patients and recently launched a new product that provides remote patients with exercises to keep joints moving pre- and post-op. The startup made the Poets & Quants “Most Disruptive MBA Startups of 2023” list and was a finalist in Penn’s 2023 Venture Lab Startup Challenge.

Odyssey Notebooks

Five Odyssey Notebooks with different designs on them, including Greek vases, Roman gods, and marine life.Laan “Rainbow” Yeung WG24 is the founder of Odyssey Notebooks, which produces hand-crafted journals. They’re made with Japanese-sourced proprietary paper that can withstand watercolor and ink and is thick enough for back-and-front writing — ideal for artists and journalers alike. Designs such as marine mosaics and Greek gods are meant to spark inspiration upon opening. Yeung participated in the annual Venture Lab Startup Challenge in 2023, and Odyssey Notebooks was named a semifinalist.

Bilt Rewards

Portrait of Ankur Jain in a black shirt, black jeans, and white shoes.

Ankur Jain W11

Bilt Rewards launched in 2021 and achieved immediate success in its first year. The startup credit-card rewards program by founder and CEO Ankur Jain W11 makes redeeming points from purchases easy with a unique twist — the card can be used toward rent payments. Jain explains that renters today are living with inflation and rising rent costs, resulting in many who now must pay close to 50 percent of their earned income on rent. Bilt helps this generation build credit while earning rewards that open up affordability in other areas of their lives, such as travel experiences and eventual home ownership.


Headshot of Yuval Shmul Shuminer in a white jacket and shirt.

Yuval Shmul Shuminer W19

Every day seems to bring a new way to send, receive, or manage money. Managing cash flow on numerous platforms has become quite onerous, non? Au contraire. Piere, an AI-powered app founded by Yuval Shmul Shuminer W19, analyzes past transactions to create a customized budget in two taps. It’s a peer-to-peer facilitator (for such tasks as getting reimbursed for a group meal) and a spending tracker in one. Since Intuit shut down its popular Mint budgeting app, Piere is reported to be the ideal successor: News outlets have featured the app as part of the “loud budgeting” social media trend, and financial publications highlight it as a valuable tool for monitoring spending.


Red, white, and black illustration of a medical professional staring up at a large microscope with cells under the glass.Cancer can bring your life to a screeching halt. Along with the burden of navigating through new medical terminology and uncertainty, a positive diagnosis can generate feelings of loneliness and isolation. CancerIQ was founded by Feyi Olopade Ayodele W05 WG12 to offer a supportive and more strategic solution for health-care providers working with patients in early cancer detection and prevention. As a software platform, CancerIQ offers hyper-personalized care plans and assesses risks in patients by avoiding the one-size-fits-all approach. The tool focuses on early detection with more precise screening. CancerIQ has been implemented in more than 200 clinic locations across the U.S.


A woman in a pink shirt and a man in a light green shirt stand together behind a marble countertop that has six jars of coconut spread on it.

Breanna Golestani WG23 and Jared Golestani WG23

An organic coconut butter with its early roots in Venture Lab’s Food Innovation Lab can now be found in 1,300 stores, including national chains Sprouts and Wegmans. Couple-turned-business-partners Breanna Golestani WG23 and Jared Golestani WG23 founded Kokada in 2020 to provide a healthier alternative to sugar-laden snacks and spreads typically found at the grocery store. Kokada offers a range of coconut butters that are all peanut-free and sugar-free and designed to be enjoyed as a dip, with a treat, or as part of a meal. The company gives back two percent of all sales to SERVE, a certified NGO based in Sri Lanka, where its ingredients are sourced.


Sandeep Acharya in jeans and a button-down shirt seated in front of a wall with an Octave logo on it.

Sandeep Acharya EAS03 W03

Inspired by the musical term, Octave offers mental health care that can be finely tuned. Co-founded in 2018 by Sandeep Acharya EAS03 W03, Octave matches individuals, couples, and families with a provider to meet their unique needs. The company also addresses common challenges that providers face by pioneering relationships with insurers, which in turn leads to coverage for high-quality individual or couples therapy. Last year, Octave secured $52 million in Series C funding for its plan to serve all 50 states. That rapid growth earned it a spot on the LinkedIn Top Startups 2023 list.


Red, white, and black illustration of an iPad with hands shaking on the screen.Tech companies invest a lot of time and money in finding viable B2B channel partners. When only 20 percent of the partnerships produce 80 percent of the revenue, frustration among leadership mounts. PartnerOptimizer, founded by Dina Moskowitz W88, has developed an AI-powered tool to help companies discover and recruit teams up to 20 times faster than traditional methods. The company’s “Partner Ecosystem Intelligence Platform” offers users a way to better engage within their ecosystem or to recruit anew. Think of it as a supercharged dating site for companies looking to build better business relationships.

Sigo Seguros

Sigo Seguros founders Nestor Hugo Solari and Julio Erdos seated in chairs on a rooftop.

Nestor Hugo Solari G19 WG19 and Júlio Erdos C10 ENG10 G19 WG19

Spanish remains the most widely used language in the U.S. behind English, with an estimated 41 million current speakers. But Hispanic immigrants still face cultural barriers when they arrive in the States. Nestor Hugo Solari G19 WG19 and Júlio Erdos C10 ENG10 G19 WG19 created Sigo Seguros, a bilingual Texas-based car insurance technology company, to better serve this population. “Our differentiated product starts with a deep understanding of our community and its needs,” says Solari. The Spanish-language mobile and web portals, coupled with quick payback periods, are particularly appealing to working-class drivers. The “insurtech” company raised $5.1 million in additional pre-seed funding in 2023.

Paines Hollow Kitchen

Headshot of Cindy Shaw.

Cindy Shaw WEV12

One of the ways to honor family heritage is through food. Founder Cindy Shaw WEV12 of Paines Hollow Kitchen dedicates herself to celebrating the culinary creations of her grandmother, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia who settled in Central New York State and supported her family through quality ingredients from her farm. Today, Shaw draws upon the made-from-scratch cooking traditions instilled by her grandmother when creating her baking kits. With pre-measured ingredients, essential baking tools, and complementary local products, these curated packages inspire others to “stir up some joy” with loved ones. Paines Hollow Kitchen also partners with local shops in the Philadelphia area that provide baked goods at neighborhood events.


Published as “Pickleball Gear, Cooking Kits, and Hot Handbags” in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of  Wharton Magazine.

Read about other alumni-powered ventures in the full Watchlist.