Five Penn-bred business plans to keep your eye on
The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke with five of the most promising semifinalists in the Wharton Business Plan Competition
March 3, 2014, 7:33 pm · Updated March 4, 2014, 2:31 am·
The Wharton Business Plan Competition is a yearlong event that attracts entrepreneurially-minded Penn students from across years and backgrounds. The Daily Pennsylvanian profiled five of the most promising semifinalists, which were announced at the end of February. The competition’s finals will be held on May 1.
When Wharton juniors Yash Kothari and Pranshu Maheshwari met in the middle of the Utah desert during a Wharton Leadership Venture, they immediately became good friends. Together, they created Prayas Analytics, a startup that uses cutting edge statistical models to give offline retailers data about their customers.
“Right now, if you think about the huge online companies ... they have such an incredible amount of data about their customers that they can pretty much optimize to the color of the button,” Kothari said. When he and Maheshwari looked at brick-and-mortar companies, however, they found there were very limited data sources. The co-founders then conducted extensive research and found a great opportunity for data in retail. According to Kothari, Prayas Analytics uses unique technology to answer the three primary questions of “who, what, and when” for those retailers.
Prayas Analytics is distinguished by the depth of analytics collected for clients. Kothari and Maheshwari recently signed a deal with a top 50 retailer to provide custom analytics. Going forward, they hope to improve their models and expand the reach of big data.
Black Box Denim
Wharton sophomores Adina Luo and Molly Liu founded Black Box Denim with the goal of providing shoppers with custom-made, designer-quality jeans.
“We’re moving into the age where people are getting increasingly more comfortable with custom and ordering things online,” Luo said. “Our goal is to make this process as seamless and unified as possible.” Black Box Denim evolved from an idea to customize handbags, and received 122 backers on Kickstarter where its campaign surpassed the fundraising goal of $25,000.
Luo and Liu spent last summer sourcing in China and establishing their supply chain. Their research helped them write a good business plan for the Wharton Business Plan Competition. They plan to launch in the next few months and are establishing relationships with a network of tailors. Luo and Liu hope to advance the brand and partner with a major retailer to increase Black Box Denim’s reach and appeal.
IDENTIFIED Technologies Corporation
IDENTIFIED Technologies brings futuristic technology to the present. Founded by graduate student Andy Wu and Engineering undergraduate Richard Zhang, IDENTIFIED Technologies uses autonomous teams of robots to scan, survey and analyze data for companies in tough environments.
“Our initial target market is the oil and gas industry,” Wu said. “We’re analyzing both visual data ... and gas data for oil companies along their pipelines.”
Wu and Zhang developed their interest in robotics by doing research at Penn’s GRASP Lab on developments in unmanned aerial vehicle technology. They won first place at the Y-Prize last year for their innovative idea. In the future, IDENTIFIED Technologies plans to enter the markets for agriculture and explosives detection. Wu and Zhang have already established offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
AirCare is an app that uses technology to make health care more efficient.
While working as a nurse in the intensive care unit of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, founder Stephanie Hwang realized that released patients frequently make return visits to the hospital. “Maybe they weren’t educated properly before they left the hospital, maybe they couldn’t adhere to their medication regulation or protocols ... sometimes they come back to the hospital because they’re just sick,” Hwang said. She realized that returning patients often simply lack immediate access to health care practitioners.
With AirCase, providers are able to contact and advise patients remotely. The app connects patients with providers regardless of their respective locations. Hwang is in the process of identifying key customers for AirCare.
Matt and Marie’s
Wharton MBAs Justin Sapolsky and Nicole Capp submitted their plan for sandwich shop Matt and Marie’s to the Wharton Business Plan Competition.
According to Sapolsky, the idea was inspired by gourmet sandwiches and the Italian culinary art of charcuterie. “[We’re] taking elements of fine dining and bringing them into a fast food scene,” he said. Matt and Marie’s will bring high quality, modern Italian food to customers in all five flavor profiles: salt, sweet, bitter, sour and umami.
Sapolsky and Capp worked with an artisan chef to craft a catering menu that launched in the fall. They are currently building their first store and have spent hundreds of hours running simulations of customer flow to ensure perfect optimization and a great hospitality experience.
Sapolsky, a former Wharton undergraduate, worked in banking and private equity before returning for his MBA. “In both those careers, you just really have a great appreciation for people who have gone out and started their own companies,” he said. “Looking at a lot of business models, the ones that interested me the most were the ones where you build based on a good business model and then you expand it.”
Matt and Marie’s hopes to expand outside of Philadelphia in the future.