05 Mar 2021

Get to Know the 2021 New Venture Competition Teams


The New Venture Competition is an annual student and alumni competition sponsored by Harvard Business School’s Rock Center for Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise Initiative. We asked some of the teams about their ventures ahead of the NVC finale on March 30 at 6:00 p.m. Follow along throughout March as we update this page weekly and be sure to register to watch the finale live!

Learn about: GenUnity, a social enterprise track venture

Team members: Jerren Chang (MBA/MPP 2021), Nimisha Ganesh (MBA 2021), Florian Schalliol (MBA 2021), Casey McGinley (MBA/MS 2021)

What inspired you to start your company?
Our team converged upon our vision after trying to navigate our own paths to go beyond social media activism to meaningful work—in city government (Jerren), K-12 education (Nimisha), philanthropy (Florian), and part-time volunteering commitments (Casey). We found that opportunities for civic leadership are too often reserved for those with privilege and resources, requiring an understanding of how our systems operate, skills to build coalitions, and the social capital to make the right connections. Read more about GenUnity.

Learn about: ThetaSense, a business track venture

Team members: Sara (Qi) Zhang (MD/MBA 2021), Veronica (Peitong) Chen, David Zhou (MBA 2020), Tanishq Bhalla (MBA 2022), Zachary Hermes (MD/MBA 2021)

What inspired you to start your company?
Zachary Hermes: The concept for ThetaSense emerged from frustrations as an inpatient and outpatient doctor. Too frequently I’ve found myself feeling limited in my ability to obtain useful information on brain function in patients with abnormal or dynamically changing neurologic findings. EEG is the optimal method for non-invasive, continuous monitoring of brain function and the only modality that can provide clinically-actionable information on the brain at the point-of-care. Yet, this key tool is often inaccessible.

There is a real scarcity of technologists available for setup, and of specialized neurologists for interpretation. Turnaround times are also often delayed because of time-intensive, manual review. As a result, we overuse costly and static imaging modalities like CT or MRI. The fundamental consequence is that evaluations are not performed, resulting in delays and missed opportunities for timely diagnosis and treatment.

This reality is only exacerbated in under-resourced healthcare systems in the US and worldwide. That’s our inspiration as we work to make it easier for doctors to detect seizures, and more broadly, augment their ability to interpret and identify EEG signals across neurological conditions. Read more about ThetaSense.

Learn about: Wishful, a business track venture

Team Members: Shrey Kapoor (MBA 2021), Chrys Nikopoulos (MBA 2021)

What inspired you to start your company?
We are both power gifters—we’re constantly vying to see who can give the better gifts to our friends and loved ones. We realized that the best gifts were often not physical items, but shared moments. But there is no way to gift thoughtful and meaning ful experiences like that (we don’t think that a piece of paper with a bar code on it is thoughtful enough!). Additionally, we have combined Latino, Greek, and Indian roots; cultures that love celebrating life’s moments. Read more about Wishful.

Learn about: FlashCash, a business track venture

Team members: Chuck Nadd (MBA/MPP 2021),Pavel Vydra, Bohuslav Simek

What inspired you to start your company?
We saw that a lot of Americans, particularly small business owners, were being left out of the digital payment revolution or being charged exorbitant rates to participate in this new way of doing business. We saw this as an opportunity, both economically and for underserved parts of our country. Read more about FlashCash.

Learn about: KadaKareer, a social enterprise track venture

Team members: Michi Ferreol (MBA 2021), Cam Carag (MBA 2022), Joyce Chen, Amber Teng, Carlo Medina, Yuyang Wang, Marga Sison, Aldrin Aujero

What inspired you to start your company?
Michi Ferreol: In July of 2019, I met a young, energetic, inspiring young woman named Bless Chavez at a faith-based conference for high schoolers in Manila. This past summer, Bless shared her confusion and worries about the job search process and her lack of knowledge and understanding of the opportunities available to her. She told me that others’ opinions of her aspirations caused her to lose confidence and faith in herself and her dreams.

Talking to Bless helped open my eyes to a crucial problem in Philippine education: Higher education institutions are ill-equipped to guide their students through the school-to-employment journey, and lower-income students are left without the exposure and support they need to discover what they're good at or to pursue careers can lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Exploration is not encouraged in traditional Filipino schools, leaving students in majors and jobs that do not match their skillsets or bring them fulfillment.

My path would have been similar to Bless’s experience had I not been lucky enough to receive a scholarship to attend the International School Manila. The guidance counselors were globally trained and well-equipped with the knowledge, connections, and resources to help me navigate both my job application process and my budding career interests. Bless and many others do not have this, which is why we were inspired to start KadaKareer. Read more about KadaKareer.

Learn about: The Equity Network, a social enterprise track venture

Team members: Shelby Schrier (MBA 2022), Kristina Hu (MBA 2022), Isa Oliveres (MBA 2022), Jordyn Turner (MBA 2022), Olivia Melendez (MBA 2022)

What inspired you to start your company?
Shelby Schrier: This past June, inspired by Black Lives Matter, my co-founder Kristina Hu wrote a LinkedIn post setting out to devote 100 hours to mentoring Black college students and recent graduates interested in finance and tech. In talking with Kristina, I learned about the network gap: the reality that career progression is tied closely to who you know; yet networks are not created equally and oftentimes disadvantage communities of color. Reflecting on my own networking experience, I realized that I was unwittingly perpetuating the network gap by responding to LinkedIn messages from students and alumni from my alma mater but not making a concerted effort to extend support to disadvantaged communities outside of my networks. I was determined to make a mark in closing the network gap and to create a world where diverse talent is no longer underrepresented. Read more about The Equity Network.

Learn about: Aspen Apothecary, a business track venture

Team Members: Keta Burke-Williams (MBA 2021), Kaja Burke-Williams

What inspired you to start your company?
The fragrance industry has been around for so long, but unlike skincare and makeup, there are limited clean options when it comes to perfume and personal fragrances. Our story starts with comparing our perfumes of the moment and wanting something more. It starts with us wanting to re-envision self-care as a ritual that makes your life less of a hassle, and it starts with our Jamaican mum imparting the power of scent.

When we embarked on this journey we felt a little like David going to meet the big fragrance Goliath, but our options were to wait for change or do something about it. So we created Aspen Apothecary. Read more about Aspen Apothecary.

Learn about: Jetpack AI, a business track venture

Team Members: Bryce DeFigueiredo (MBA 2021)

What inspired you to start your company?
When I came to HBS, I was completely overwhelmed by the volume of emails, tasks, and calendar events. I wished I had a personal assistant, but as a student, I couldn’t afford one. At first, I wondered if I was the only person struggling to get a handle on my life in a sea of type-A high performers. The more people I talked to, though, the more I found that a huge segment of the population feels like I do. I tried lots of apps and hacks, and learned that fundamentally, productivity tools are all made for naturally organized people. I started Jetpack to build AI-powered organization to help unorganized people take back their lives. Read more about Jetpack AI.

Learn about: Anise Health, a social enterprise track venture

Team Members: Alice Zhang (MBA 2021), CEO; Nisha Desai (MBA 2021), COO

What inspired you to start your company?

Nisha Desa
: While I was in college at The University of Pennsylvania, there was a major mental health crisis—14 students and an administrator committed suicide, the majority of whom were minorities. While coping with this trauma myself, I realized that our mental health system desperately needed change, specifically to better address the needs of underserved communities. This translated to me seeking out career opportunities in behavioral health, and I luckily got to work on developing a behavioral health product during the summer after RC year. As Asian Americans ourselves, we decided to use our passion and experience to break the overwhelming stigma in our own community and to build a customized mental health platform that is built for minorities, by minorities. Read more about Anise Health.

Learn about: Metric, a business track venture

Team Members: Megan Murday (MBA 2021), Anthony Yim (MS/MBA 2021), Miheer Bavare (MS/MBA 2022), Frank DuBose, Everett Sapp

What inspired you to start your company?
Megan Murday
: I am passionate about the opportunity and responsibility of business to be a leader in addressing the most pressing challenges of our time, from climate change to socioeconomic inequality. Where government has waited to act, companies can make a direct impact through their business models. But, companies and their investors cannot simultaneously pursue financial and social returns without a dataset that captures their ESG performance. Read more about Metric.

Learn about: Genbiotics, a business track venture

Team members: Alex Youssef (MBA 2022), Miroslav Gasparek

What inspired you to start your company?
37.2 trillion bacteria live in the human body, composing over half of our cellular mass. Using synthetic biology, we want to super-charge these bacteria and unlock their therapeutic potential to treat some of the most challenging or prevalent diseases. Read more about GenBiotics.

Learn about: Human Dynamics, a business track venture

Team members: Michael Mancinelli (MS/MBA 2021), Kaz Yoshimaru (MBA 2021), Tom Okamoto (MIT), Julia Chen (MIT), and Takahiro Nozaki

What inspired you to start your company?
We were frustrated with stagnation in worker safety improvements in the US. Our team is equipped with experience in robotics and controls and we wanted to make workplaces safer through applied robotics. There is still a lot of room for improvement, both in terms of safety and operational efficiency in large incumbent industries such as construction, real estate, utilities, and manufacturing.

With the New Venture Competition (NVC) finale right around the corner (be sure to RSVP and tune on March 30 at 6:00 pm), learn more about team Plenna, a company aiming to provide affordable comprehensive healthcare to women in Mexico. Read more about Human Dynamics.

Learn about: Plenna, a social enterprise track venture

Team members: Giovanna Abramo (MBA 2022), Lorena Ostos (GSB 2021)

What inspired you to start your company?

My co-founder and I grew up in conservative communities in Mexico, where talking about sex and reproductive health was taboo. Several of our high school classmates got pregnant at a very young age and there was misinformation around other topics like contraceptives, STDs, and breastfeeding. We saw how the current cost of healthcare is keeping a large segment of the population from receiving good quality services. We believe there is so much to be done in the space; by creating Plenna we want to change the way women’s health is addressed by providing a unique, affordable, and comprehensive experience to women in Mexico.

With the New Venture Competition (NVC) finale right around the corner (be sure to RSVP and tune in March 30 at 6:00 pm), learn more about team Liza, a company aiming to help Americans improve their credit score. We asked Jessica Hart (MBA 2021) about her entrepreneurial journey and NVC preparations. Read more about Plenna.

Learn about: Liza, a social enterprise track venture

Team members: Jessica Hart (MBA 2021), Bukie Adebo (MBA 2021), Tyler Hastie (MBA/MPP 2021)

What inspired you to start your company?

Tyler, Bukie, and I met right at the beginning of the first year at HBS. We quickly found that we shared a frustration about the huge inequalities in the US and landed on personal finances as a powerful lever in countering inequality. A low credit score can make daily life more expensive and difficult to build long-term wealth through homeownership, college tuition, or family inheritance.

Personally, I was inspired to build Liza by a couple of things. Firstly, our early customer interviews confirmed our belief that there was a real need to help people build their credit scores as part of a journey to a more sustainable financial future. Individuals’ stories helped bring the problem to life and I saw an opportunity to build something that might help a large number of people. The second reason was simply the team. Tyler, Bukie, and I have very complementary skill sets and I love working with them. It would have been hard to invest as much of ourselves as we have without a stellar team. Read more about Liza.

Learn about: Shelly Xu Design (SXD), a social enterprise track venture

Team members: Shelly Xu (MBA 2021), Ahmed Fardin, Junga Park (MBA 2021)

What inspired you to start your company?
The field that I grew up playing in is now covered with textile waste—that inspired me to start a different kind of clothing company that is fundamentally better for us and our planet.

Clothing designs today waste 10-30 percent of their fabric. There is another way of designing that is about maximizing beauty under constraint. The original kimono uses one bolt of fabric and minimal cuts, it’s the OG zero waste garment. As an Asian designer with experiences from Prada and Instagram, I have spent the last 10 years expanding on the philosophy of not only creating a suite of zero waste designs, but also working with my engineering team to save 55% of the production cost with minimal cuts, zero water waste, and zero fabric waste. Read more about Shelly Xu Design.

Learn about: Kanoa, a social enterprise track venture

Team Members: Cinthia Romaro (MBA 2021), Guilherme Franzoni, Lia Rolnik (MBA 2021), Monique Freitas (MBA 2021)

What inspired you to start your company?
It all started at the LATAM conference in 2019. Brazilian companies were talking about how they were opening up new offices to hire developers outside of Brazil—they couldn’t find talent in the country. We met afterwards and shared our disbelief that, in a country with 200 million people and incredibly high rates of unemployment, there wasn’t any available talent. Read more about Kanoa.

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