LaunchPad Lift Spotlight: Antithesis Foods

Highlights of student-led ventures participating in LaunchPad Lift, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad® powered by Techstars® entrepreneurship program.

Sure, students love snacks. But when a group of food scientist students at Cornell couldn’t stop eating their school project, they knew they were onto something special. Grabanzos, a crunchy, chickpea-based chocolate snack—with the added benefits of more protein and fiber and fewer calories than anything else on the market—won Jason Goodman, Ashton Yoon, and Philip Kim their class competition. After their initial success, they decided they had to bring it to the public. The team named their company Antithesis Foods, because they want to take a different, science-based approach to food development.

“To me, entrepreneurship is about ‘going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm’,” said Jason, quoting an old saying. “It means you find great joy on working through big problems, regardless of the pain, anxiety, and sleepless nights.”

As a PhD student at Cornell, Jason first got involved in the LaunchPad program on campus in spring 2018. He and his two teammates have found Antithesis to be instrumental in setting them up for success, in particular due to the connections with other student teams and networking with consumer packaged goods experts from outside their school’s existing program. These kinds of industry-specific experienced mentors are helping Antithesis narrow the endless list of to-do’s so that they can maintain focus on the most critical metrics early stage investors are looking for and mitigate risks in the right parts of the business.

Jason also appreciates the sense of community that Lift provides. “Just hearing the issues that other teams are having as they grow their companies lets us know that we’re not alone! Everyone is struggling with the same problems, whether they’re fundraising, effective marketing, scaling, or ensuring product-market fit,” he said. “Running a startup can often be isolating, so the community is especially helpful, particularly at this early stage of our venture.”

Jason and his team members are aiming to achieve two major goals by the end of the eight-week virtual program: development of a fundraising pitch deck and identification of several measurable KPIs.

To assist with the development of company pitch decks, Techstars Managing Partner Mark Solon coached the founding teams during week three of the program about the relationship components of fundraising. He also encouraged teams like Antithesis to focus on investors with existing experience in an industry ecosystem. These investors, Mark explained, will require less education and be able to understand the problem and solution much faster.

As for Antithesis’ objective to structure a framework of metrics and KPIs for Seed/Series A pitches, Jason and his team members recognize the importance of collecting and presenting data investors care about. They are constructing experiments to answer questions about the cost of customer acquisition, marketing ROI, and more, in order to collect meaningful data.

“Having the mentors and experts who know what questions to ask is invaluable, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them,” Jason said.








LaunchPad Lift Spotlight: ROSEN

Highlights of student-led ventures participating in LaunchPad Lift, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad® powered by Techstars® entrepreneurship program.

If you’re between the ages of 12 and 24, you probably suffer from skin breakouts—85% of us do, and many are frustrated by the limited and potentially harmful synthetic options for skincare treatment. ROSEN founder Jamika Martin wants to help. The five or six legacy brands that create benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid washes and alcohol based toners primarily compete on price, but Jamika has a different angle: offering acne-prone customers a cleaner, more natural, and more thoughtful skincare line.

“To me, being an entrepreneur means just going for it,” said Jamika. “It means you create a real solution to an even realer problem, and you don’t let anyone stop you until the problem has been fixed. As I’ve heard tons of times, everyone has an idea, but actually pursuing it is what I think makes someone an entrepreneur.”

Jamika graduated from UCLA in June of 2017 with a degree in business economics, and her commitment to making this business a success is unmistakable. She knows participation in LaunchPad Lift is providing her with opportunities she doesn’t have through her own networks, and may not be able to find anywhere else.

According to Jamika, “I don’t come from a well connected family or area, so one thing LaunchPad has shown me is the power of network. This program has broadened my connections, opportunities, and teachings. I’ve already learned so much from my amazing mentors and received invaluable insights on my business. LaunchPad Lift will only further enrich my business and my network.”

Since the beginning of the program, she has been working with Sathish Naadimuthu, a Techstars mentor with plenty of experience founding businesses and a keen eye for startup marketing, branding, and positioning. Jamika’s program goals are focused on improving the results of her digital marketing efforts, including Facebook and Google Ads. Based in part on suggestions from her mentor, Jamika is also exploring a subscription-based web sales model—something she hadn’t considered before the program.

“The mentors and connections within the LaunchPad network gives entrepreneurs a completely different (and experienced) perspectives to their strategies and businesses,” said Jamika.








LaunchPad Lift Spotlight: Sondr

Highlights of student-led ventures participating in LaunchPad Lift, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad® powered by Techstars® entrepreneurship program.

Who better to share the lesser known—and best—parts of a place then a local? That’s the idea behind Sondr, which aims to leverage economically disconnected youth as “ambassadors” to share their local knowledge. (Sure a guidebook can list restaurants, but someone who grew up in Philly is more likely to know the best chili cheese steak sandwich, right?) This unique lens creates an interesting and immersive opportunity for visitors to see and know a city. Keiarra Ortiz-Cedeño and her five teammates originally founded Sondr to compete for the internationally known Hult Prize, and they remain convinced that this business can bring people together through shared experiences and shift the way participants think, taking visitors and ambassadors from “us and them” to “we.”

Keiarra believes in the power of business to change society for the better: “As entrepreneurs, when we see an issue, we take action and figure out innovative solutions to those problems. We envision a future where individuals can share their passions and unique narrative of the city with anyone who is willing to listen and wants to experience the city at a deeper, more personal level.”

For the Sondr team, the most valuable component of the Lift program has been their interactions with Techstars mentors. Their team mentor, Susie Kim, as well as the presenters in biweekly calls, have all provided them with critical instruction on goal-setting and fundraising, among other topics.

“This knowledge enabled us to set more concrete goals and more realistic timelines that can feasibly be followed,” said Keiarra. “We have also conducted in-depth interviews to understand exactly what our customers want after learning the importance of market validation and the insights that could be derived from that.”

In addition to the benefit of mentor-led instruction and access to the valuable resources and networks of Techstars and Blackstone, Lift student teams receive $10,000 upon completion of the program, to further grow and build their business. Sondr’s goals for the 8-week program are focused primarily on marketing (and have already included a branding and name change!) as well as critical customer exploration. They hope to run pilots and launch their new platform by mid-August.








LaunchPad Lift Student Business Spotlight: Visos

Highlights of student-led ventures participating in LaunchPad Lift, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad® powered by Techstars® entrepreneurship program.

Many years ago when Matt Shumer, founder and CEO of Visos, first experienced virtual reality (VR) he immediately knew that this fledgling technology would change the world. Today he is leading a startup building the world’s most powerful standalone virtual reality headset, and his company is one of seven in the current Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Lift program.

Back then, Matt saved up to purchase an Oculus Rift and the parts to build a PC that could run it. He shared it with his friends every chance he got. However, he quickly recognized some significant challenges including software glitches, slow processing, hardware design issues, etc. After considerable research, Matt founded Visos to try to solve some of these issues and create a consumer headset focused on ease-of-use and convenience. He’s since pivoted—as startups often do—to building a next-generation standalone headset, designed for enterprise use. The opportunity Matt has identified enables companies and organizations to train employees faster and more efficiently, improve safety in high-risk situations, design better products, improve healthcare, and much more.

As a serial entrepreneur—Matt has been starting companies since the age of 12—he recognizes both the challenge and the excitement of this lifestyle. “Throughout all of these ventures, one thing has stayed constant: my passion,” Matt said. “Being an entrepreneur is not a job you can do halfway—if you’re in, you’re all in. It’s something you eat, sleep, and breathe.”

Matt is currently a sophomore at Syracuse University, studying entrepreneurship in the Whitman School of Management, and working on his venture through his campus program, the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars at Syracuse University Libraries. After being selected for the second 2019 Lift cohort, he was assigned a Mentor: Babak Kia. A team-focused mentor is just one of the benefits that students of this 8-week virtual program receive. They also gain access to the wider Blackstone and Techstars networks of experts and advisors, content resources, talent network, and instruction on topics critical to startups including goal setting, product development and roadmapping, and more. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Matt is making as much use as possible of these new networks: he asked for and got the opportunity to discuss fundraising and sales strategies with Techstars Founder and Co-CEO David Cohen.

“Beyond the growth opportunities the program has afforded us, the speakers we’ve had a chance to listen to and learn from have been nothing short of amazing, and the connections the Techstars network offers have helped us immensely,” Matt said. “LaunchPad Lift has truly been a company-changing experience. Without a doubt, we wouldn’t be on the trajectory we’re currently on without it. I can’t wait for the rest of the program, and for the inevitable progress that will come with it!”

Matt’s goals during the Lift program involve learning as much as possible about his target market and gaining a better understanding of what they’re looking for—and what their current solutions lack. Having spoken with dozens of companies, ranging from small businesses to some of the largest companies in the world, Visos has now partnered with future beta-testers who are interested in the headset for training, education, medical uses, and more.








Bee Well. Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Spotlight: Combplex Aims to Help Beekeepers Save the Hives

Highlights of student-led ventures participating in the LaunchPad Lift Cohort, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad® powered by Techstars® entrepreneurship program

It’s getting harder each day to be a honeybee.

Buzzing around pollinating our global food production is the fun part, but on the other side, these insects are fighting for their lives and dying at an alarming rate due to pesticide exposure, novel pathogens, and parasites called Varroa destructor—a giant tick that feeds on bees, spreading deadly viruses that can kill or greatly weaken colonies.

This increasing demise of colonies matters to humans because one-third of all food grown in the U.S. is dependent on pollination from bees. And the majority of bees responsible for pollinating these domestic crops—2.5 million colonies—come from managed beehives, according to California’s Managed Pollinator Protection Plan. In the last 10 years beekeepers have reported up to 40 percent of annual colony losses, according to the Bee Informed Partnership.

In the effort to help beekeepers, two Ph.D. students from Cornell University, Hailey Scofield and Nathan Oakes, leveraged their honeybee research, data science, and electrical engineering expertise to assist colony managers and develop a new approach to fighting parasites.

Combplex is a smart frame that helps eliminate parasites and remotely monitors bee health in a hive. Their new approach aims to eliminate the harmful Varroa destructor parasites within the hive without the need to use harmful chemicals traditionally used against these bee killers.

“We are in the prototyping stage. We are in the process of launching a field trial in South Carolina in April before a large-scale field test with commercial beekeepers in up-state New York over the summer and fall,” said Hailey and Nathan.

Combplex was selected for the inaugural LaunchPad Lift Cohort, a 10-week personalized mentorship-driven program for student-led ventures, which comes with a $10,000 grant upon completion of the program to help founders move their businesses forward.

Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars has been so influential in expanding our horizons as founders,” said Hailey and Nathan. “As scientists we tend to focus on the product, research, and vision. The LaunchPad program has provided personalized mentorship to help us build out aspects of the business, such as our brand, team, and the steps we need to take to reach our goals.”

Learn more about LaunchPad HERE

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Manage Anxiety On-The-Go: Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Spotlight on CALM Neurotech Device

Highlights of student-led ventures participating in the LaunchPad Lift Cohort, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad® powered by Techstars® entrepreneurship program.

These days, Americans are feeling more anxious than ever. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1 percent of the population each year.” Without treatment or engaging in stress-reducing activities, feelings of anxiety can impact quality of life, job performance, and even your health.

A student-led venture from Temple University’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program has developed CALM, which uses neurotechnology to treat anxiety. CALM (Compact Anxiolytic Lull Mechanism) is a portable, non-invasive device that uses pulses of vibrations to alter the brain waves that influence anxiety, and help people regain control of stress levels

When a person feels intense stress or anxiety, she places CALM behind her ear, at the base of her skull. From there, CALM sends pulses of vibrational stimulation to the inner ear through bone conduction, which allows the brain to receive the signals. These pulses influence the user’s brain waves, creating a calm brain state, with wave patterns similar to those created by relaxation and meditation.

Daniel Couser, Founder of CALM, was inspired to develop this device for a friend who suffered from anxiety disorder. He saw first hand how this mental illness can impact a person’s life.

“Anxiety can be debilitating.  Being close to the issue urged me explore new and different ways to approach anxiety, resulting in the development of CALM,” Daniel said. “CALM provides a fast acting tool that can be used by individuals to better manage anxiety at home, work, school, or anywhere else that a person may go.”

Daniel reports that they are planning to conduct proof of concept testing in the first quarter of 2019, in clinics with individuals that suffer from anxiety disorders. This preliminary research will help them further develop the device, better understand the needs of people struggling with anxiety, and formulate next steps for research.

CALM was selected for the inaugural LaunchPad Lift Cohort, a 10-week personalized mentorship-driven program for student-led ventures from the United States and Ireland, as well as a $10,000 grant to help move their business forward.

“Through the Launchpad Lift Cohort, I am looking forward to connecting with high-caliber mentors and refining the execution strategy of the business, as well as learning how to run an efficient business,” Daniel said. “Being able to learn from entrepreneurs who have built successful businesses as well as the founders from the other companies in the cohort will help CALM to excel, and assist us in our mission to provide a new tool to help manage anxiety.”

Learn more about LaunchPad HERE

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Looking Good! Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Spotlight: Petitas Los Angeles Empowers Women One Stitch at a Time

In December 2018, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and Techstars announced the creation of LaunchPad Lift, a 10-week program for top performing student-led ventures. The cohort was chosen from across the LaunchPad global network and represents a diverse group of businesses that span industries. LaunchPad Lift will help bridge the gap between the programming available on each college campus and the next steps these student-led ventures need for their companies.

Highlights of student-led ventures participating in the LaunchPad Lift Cohort, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad® powered by Techstars® entrepreneurship program

Searching the aisles of a teen clothing section for appropriate work clothes that fit well is an exercise in frustration for petite women.

Chelsea LaFerla knows this all too well. Walking into her first business school mixer at USC, she was faced with a room full of men dressed in neatly pressed and perfectly tailored suits while her outfit was a dress from the Nordstrom teen department. Her confidence took a heavy blow, and she began to feel out of place.

That was the moment she decided to change fashion for petite women.

“I never wanted to feel that way again,” Chelsea said. Her response was to found Petitas Los Angeles, a fashion line made by petites, for the fast-paced petite woman.

Growing up, Chelsea was always around textiles. She came from a long line of Italian tailors and seamstresses. Some of her favorite childhood memories were making dresses with her grandmother, a wedding dress designer. So she knew clothes—and the impact they could have on a person’s self confidence, or on how they were perceived.  

“I remember walking into the fabric store with my grandma and spending hours choosing just the right fabric and trim for my newest design. She’d inspect my sewing, and inevitably make me un-sew and re-sew each garment. I loved the process,” said Chelsea. “It was my grandmother who taught me that every stitch matters. It’s that same quality that we bring to Petitas Los Angeles.”

Chelsea wants Petitas to empower petite women, 5’4” and under, to be “clothed in confidence” through uniquely tailored, high-end garments. The clothes will be made ethically and sustainably in the United States, using premium, hand-sourced fabrics.

Petitas Los Angeles was selected for the inaugural LaunchPad Lift Cohort, a 10-week personalized mentorship-driven program for student-led ventures, which comes with a $10,000 grant upon completion of the program to help founders move their businesses forward.

“Petitas LA’s acceptance into Blackstone’s LaunchPad powered by Techstars has been such a godsend. The mentorship, training, and support came at just the right time!” said Chelsea. “Building a business can easily get discouraging without the right help.  Fortunately, we’ve had the opportunity to work with incredible mentors, who’ve been in our position and know how to get to the other side of building a successful company.”

Learn more about LaunchPad HERE

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Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Spotlight: NUA Surgical Aim to Improve the Safety of Cesarean Deliveries

Highlights of student-led ventures participating in the LaunchPad Lift Cohort, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad® powered by Techstars® entrepreneurship program

NUA Surgical Team

When a baby is born, everyone hopes for a smooth and safe delivery. But that doesn’t always happen. In cases involving a cesarean (C-section) delivery, whether planned or emergency, there are risks involved for the mother and baby.

 NUA Surgical, a researcher-led venture from NUI Galway’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program, is developing an obstetrics product that improves the safety of the mother undergoing a cesarean delivery.

In a C-section delivery, doctors remove the baby from the mother’s lower abdomen. In the medical journal The Lancet, a recent study estimated that globally “29.7 million births occurred through cesarean section in 2015,” almost double the number from 2000. In the U.S., C-sections account for 32 percent of all deliveries, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)

As with all major surgery, delivery by C-section can result in complications. Post cesarean, mothers face a risk of surgical site infection (SSI). SSIs are reported to be the “second most common health care-associated infection in Europe and the US” according to the World Health Organization

Depending on various factors, SSIs following c-section can occur up to 20 percent of the time, causing severe pain, discomfort, even death to an otherwise healthy new mother. SSIs are also becoming a major cost burden on the healthcare system, according to the BJOG, an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the NCBI.

NUA Surgical wants to change this, and make C-sections safer for mothers and better for doctors. “Our novel medical device will be used by physicians during surgery and is intended to improve the quality of surgery for both the doctor and patient,” said Founder of NUA Surgical, Barry McCann. “The needs and requirements of physicians, patients and hospitals are all vital ingredients into our device design, and we are committed to delivering innovation that will positively impact these key stakeholders.”

The team at NUA Surgical have over 50 years of combined industry experience covering commercial, technical and design development requirements. Barry McCann is a previous BioInnovate Ireland Fellow and founded NUA Surgical based on the unmet clinical need discovered during the fellowship; Marie-Therese Maher is an engineer and project manager who spent fourteen years in Research & Development with Medtronic; And Padraig Maher is an engineer with over twenty years’ experience in the medical device industry and has a passion for resolving technical challenges. They were awarded a Commercialisation grant from Enterprise Ireland and the European Commission, and aim to spin out of NUI Galway in 2020.

The team is in prototype phase and conducting some preclinical trials and testing in preparation for regulatory submissions to the US and EU.

NUA Surgical was selected for the inaugural LaunchPad Lift Cohort, a 10-week personalized mentorship-driven program for student-led ventures, which comes with a $10,000 grant upon completion of the program to help move their business forward.

“The Cohort is a great opportunity for NUA Surgical. With the help of Techstars, we aim to expand our network of advisors, key opinion leaders and potential investors,” said Barry, Marie-Therese and Padraig. “Our team have set clear objectives that we wish to achieve during the Cohort. We’re focused on activities that can be accomplished within the specific timeframe, and ones that require the assistance of the Techstars worldwide network of mentors.”

Learn more about LaunchPad HERE

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Preserving Lives: Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Spotlight on Lazarus, Tech for Law Enforcement

Highlights of student-led ventures participating in the LaunchPad Lift Cohort, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad® powered by Techstars® entrepreneurship program

Lazarus founders Ben Omonira and Elise Hackney.

Technology companies and innovators are taking a lead on developing less lethal devices for law enforcement to reduce fatal police encounters.

In July 2016, a Dallas ambush inspired Lazarus founder Ben Omonira to provide first responders with an alternative method of stopping a threat while preserving the life. Lazarus, a student-led venture from Texas A&M’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program, is currently in prototype phase for the development of a less lethal projectile which could help law enforcement safely and effectively deal with threats, while preserving lives.  

“First responders are actively looking for new technology and methods to stop a threat without losing a life,” say Lazarus founders Ben Omonira and Elise Hackney.

“Our company’s number one priority is to give law enforcement agents the tools they need while preserving lives. We do this by bridging the gap between lethal and non-lethal options.”

Lazarus is in the process of securing a patent for their solution and working to produce an MVP by May 2020.

Lazarus was selected for the inaugural LaunchPad Lift Cohort, a 10-week personalized mentorship-driven program for student-led ventures, which comes with a $10,000 grant upon completion of the program to help founders move their businesses forward.

“We operate in an industry that deals with important but difficult topics, and want to create a brand that is seen as positive and focused on safety – both for law enforcement and society at large.  We are excited about the opportunities to learn through Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars” as we continue to grow our business.”

Learn more about LaunchPad HERE

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Get Help Faster: Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Spotlight on My Wellbeing, a Therapist-Client Matching Service

Highlights of student-led ventures participating in the LaunchPad Lift Cohort, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad® powered by Techstars® entrepreneurship program

Sometimes we all just need to talk out our worries, stresses, and challenges with someone who is trained to help process the curve balls of life. Unfortunately, most people don’t seek professional care because it’s hard to find the right therapist-client fit.

To solve this problem, My Wellbeing, a student-led venture from New York University’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program, developed a therapist-client matching service that takes the stress out of finding the right mental health professional and improves retention of care.

Clients answer a five-minute questionnaire identifying their needs and what they’re looking for in a therapist. Within 24 hours, My Wellbeing sends a match and encourages them to schedule a free phone consultation with the therapist. Clients have the option to book the therapist or request another match.

“Ninety four percent of individuals who speak with their therapist by phone express a positive match and schedule an in-person appointment,” says Alyssa Petersel, My Wellbeing founder.

During her Masters in Social Work program, Alyssa discovered that finding mental health services that matched a client’s need was a growing problem, and when a client didn’t feel compatible with a therapist they would cease care.

“One in four Americans are in need of therapy but don’t seek care because they don’t know where to begin. Of those who do go to therapy, over half drop out prematurely because they don’t feel a strong connection with their therapist,” Alyssa explained.

Since the company launched in August 2017, My Wellbeing facilitated over 3,500+ matches. Therapists can sign up to be in the network and matched with clients. My Wellbeing is currently offered in the New York City area, with plans to expand in the near future.

My Wellbeing was selected for the inaugural LaunchPad Lift Cohort, a 10-week personalized mentorship-driven program from Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars for student-led ventures from the United States and Ireland, which comes with a $10,000 grant to help move the business forward.

“We have benefited from the perspective and generosity of countless mentors, without whom we would not be where we are today. We look forward to participating in this exciting new community with Techstars, Blackstone, our mentors and advisors, and our colleagues in our cohort, to #givefirst and grow together,” said Alyssa.

Learn more about Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars HERE

Follow our LaunchPad Lift Cohort series where we highlight each student-led venture.