Penn students are leading the way when it comes to innovative startup ideas.
Penn undergraduates were finalists in Inc. Magazine’s Best College Startup of 2016 competition. These startups cover a diverse spectrum of business ventures from an investing platform to a bakery to a shoe company.
Patos is a shoe brand that sells shoes made by Latin American artisans. College sophomore Fernando Rojo came up with the idea on a yearly family trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. His sister had been buying shoes from a specific vendor in an open air market for several years, and Fernando thought these shoes might have a market in the United States.
“She said they were super comfortable,” he said. “The designs are very colorful. People loved them. They would always ask her about them.”
After speaking with Raphael, the vendor, and hearing about his passion for the product, Rojo decided to develop Patos Shoes so that he could connect these Argentine artisans with the American shoe market. Rojo saw not only the chance to bring a cool, new product to America, but to also bring economic opportunity to these artisans.
“You know, there’s very little business opportunity there. People [artisans] generally don’t have that much education or business acumen. I saw an opportunity to reconnect with my culture and bring an authentic product to the United States,” Rojo said.
NOMsense Bakery is a catering and wholesale bakery that specializes in personalized cookie sandwiches. The startup was founded by Wharton senior Roopa Shankar and College senior Alina Wong, who first met as freshmen and bonded through their shared affinity for baking and entrepreneurship. After spending many weekends baking for friends who loved their cookies, Shankar and Wong realized they could translate their baking skills into a business.
“We wanted to come in as a business that created novelty dessert products that did branding in a cool way. We’re sort of a community marketing and catering business now. We sell to a number of bakery shops and cafes, and we’re also an official caterer for the University,” Shankar said.
Shankar and Wong have found Penn’s campus to be extremely welcoming to the entrepreneurially inclined, and were mentored by a fellow Quaker.
“Our main mentor was a Wharton MBA student, Josh White,” Shankar said. “He started White + Wong which was a catering/bakery business as well. He walked us through how to structure our business, how to move into the industrial kitchen space and how to do packaging. He was so down to help us, which speaks volumes about Penn people.”
After graduation, Shankar and Wong plan to bequeath their business to a cohort of current Penn underclassmen who they’ve trained as interns this last year. Shankar and Wong hope to further develop and expand their entrepreneurial skills by learning from other industry leaders before coming back to running their own businesses.
Slice Capital is a mobile and web platform that allows individuals to buy and sell shares in startups. Slice Capital is taking advantage of new legislation that will come into effect in mid-May of this year, which will allow private businesses to raise money from regular individuals. Normally, businesses can only sell shares to traditional venture capitalists and accredited investors in exchange for equity.
“Long term, I’m hoping for Slice Capital to grow to the state such that we’re another stock market, but for private companies,” Slice Capital founder and Engineering freshman Rohan Shah said. “I want people to be able to buy and sell shares in private companies, like Uber, the same way that people can buy and sell shares in Facebook or Apple right now on the Dow or Nasdaq.”
Shah, along with the rest of his team, which includes Wharton freshman Nihar Sheth, prospective Penn student Krish Dholakiya, and Rutgers University freshman Ryan D’souza, is planning to launch the platform in May.
Shah is a well known figure in the Penn startup community. He competed in and won various prizes in hackathons throughout high school, including PennApps. Shah was also the first high school recipient of the PennApps Fellowship, a program he now helps run as President.
Both Shah and Sheth say that the support network they’ve been able to tap into at Penn has been a major factor in their ability to develop a startup with so much buzz.
“We’ve been really lucky. PennApps Accelerator and Weiss Labs have really given us a strong foundation that has allowed us to develop a vision for our company,” Sheth said. “Everyone here at Penn is super supportive of our entrepreneurial efforts.”
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