Babson Student Entrepreneurs: MSEL Class of 2016
As a Social Media Ambassador this year, I’ve had so much fun sharing my Babson experiences with you, especially if you are considering making Babson your home. When talking to prospective students, I think the most common questions asked are, “What are students up to? Are they starting their own businesses?” Because my program, M.S. in Management in Entrepreneurial Leadership, has entrepreneurship in the name, it’s natural to assume people are here to start businesses.
While we have a mixture – from those going back home to family businesses to students accepting jobs in startups as well as larger organizations – there are quite a few students who have decided to continue on with ventures that were started or further developed here at Babson.
As this is my last post as a Social Media Ambassador, I wanted to highlight some of the talented and inspiring people I’ve had the pleasure of befriending during my time in the MSEL program.
GREENSOLE : Making shoes for those in need
Over 350 million shoes are ending up in landfills each year; meanwhile, according to the UNESCO and WHO report, 1.5 billion people do not have access to footwear. “Greensole is bridging these two macro problems, making social, economic, and environmental impact,” says Shriyans Bhandari, the founder of Greensole – an organization that refurbishes discarded shoes and turns them into comfortable footwear for those in need. Shriyans began working on Greensole before he began the MSEL program at Babson, however being at Babson has allowed him the opportunity to further develop and promote the organization. “I had started the venture before joining Babson but was able to keep it on the growth trajectory while here,” says Bhandari, who was a part of the Butler Venture Accelerator here at Babson. “…I had access to a personal mentor, office space, and the various accelerator resources. There were regular workshops that were conducted by the Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, from sales to team building.”
Originally from India, Shriyans made the best of his time in the Northeast by attending conferences and networking events in the Boston and New York areas. According to Bhandari, the most useful conferences he attended were the Business Today International Conference, Babson’s Entrepreneurship Conference, and the Harvard Kennedy Social Enterprise Conference. This semester, Shriyans also had the opportunity be a guest speaker at a Tedx in Dubai.
Parting advice for incoming students: “The first semester is quite hectic compared to the second one, but one has ample time to come up with an idea and reach launch stage by the end of the course. Being in college can avail off various resources offered by the Blank Center, and can bounce off the idea with colleagues, professors and mentors – which is really helpful.”
MELANITES : Breaking racial and gender stereotypes
Melanites is a toy company expanding representation and diversity in the marketplace with a new line of boy dolls of color. “Our new category of “Action Pals” combine the articulation of an action figure and the emotional appeal of a doll,” says founder Jennifer Pierre. “Combined with our accessory kit themes (Thinker, Doer, Maker, Performer), our mission is to celebrate Brown Boyhood and inspire young boys of color to dream big!”
After studying Entrepreneurship in undergrad, Jennifer knew she wanted to start a venture when she came to Babson for the MSEL program. “I was very intentional in choosing the #1 school for Entrepreneurship, to learn more about what it takes to transform an idea into a business,” says Pierre. “Babson has been instrumental in developing my business idea into a reality. The abundant amount of resources in the form of accelerators and incubators like the WIN Lab and Butler Accelerator Program has given me a support system and mentors that have helped me reach milestones.”
Since her first highlight on the Graduate Blog last semester, Jennifer has been working tirelessly with these Babson programs to further validate her idea; one of the ways she’s done this is through interacting with her target audience…the young boys she’s trying to support. “From interviews to focus groups, the direct positive feedback that I gained has only fueled the passion for me to move forward with the idea,” says Pierre.
Melanites is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funding and awareness for their cause. You can support, share, or pre-order their new line here: kck.st/1UVq1Ph
FACET : Empowering global artisans and connecting cultures
Facet is an ecosystem of fine artisanal goods, conscious consumers, and some of the world’s most creative and skillful makers. They are curating handmade, culturally exquisite accessories for women such as scarves and necklaces, as well has home decor items. Each design is unique, responsibly made, and attached to a story so buyers not only know where their products come from, but they can see how purchasing the item has made a difference in an artisan’s life in another country. “We believe storytelling is a tool that will advance humanity. By sharing the stories of our products, from conception to someone’s doorstep, we facilitate understanding of the nuances in cultures,” says founders Mayura Davda and Betty Nakato.
Facet is built on four strong pillars which encompass their value proposition: Unique Designs that are Exquisitely Handcrafted, Responsibly Made, and are Connecting Cultures everywhere.
Mayura and Betty met at Babson at the end of August, and began working on Facet shortly after the program started in September. “Babson being world renowned as an entrepreneurial hub, I was confident that I would be able to transform one of my business ideas into something more tangible/realistic,” says Davda. Both Davda and Nakato came to Babson with hopes of developing a business idea, and finding a partner to work alongside with. “This is going to sound so cliche but it’s the truth – it’s like when you go to a party and you are scanning the room for someone interesting to talk to. Those were my first couple days of class,” says Nakato. “I put out my feelers, listened for people’s interests, the things they cared about and so forth. What happened next was long walks of sharing our interests, long brainstorming session of understanding what we could work on, and the rest of it is history.”
Mayura and Betty developed this idea here at Babson through the Butler Accelerator, MSEL’s Leading Entrepreneurial Action Project (LEAP) class project, and business competitions through the school. “Being at the epicenter of entrepreneurial activities, being able to instantly apply principles and lessons imparted by professors in class to the business concept, having a dedicated team through the MSEL LEAP project and receiving constant feedback from professors about the concept have all contributed to the development of Facet,” says Davda.
RAISED RIGHT : Providing healthy, custom foods for man’s best friend
“The opportunity to learn from the people who’ve been a part of making Babson ranked #1 in entrepreneurship for 23 consecutive years is what drew me to Babson,” says Braeden Ruud, founder of Raised Right. Raised Right delivers natural, human grade, custom portioned pet meals to pet owner’s doorsteps in raw or cooked form on a subscription basis.
“My goal in coming to Babson was to start a business,” says Ruud. Babson has events, programs, and services that exist to help entrepreneurs launch their business; two that have helped Ruud’s business here at Babson are Babson’s Rocket Pitch and Babson’s Summer Venture Program. Specifically, in Babson’s Summer Venture Program, 15 businesses are selected to enter into an intense 10-week program in which Babson provides housing, workspace, mentors, peer groups, speakers, resources, and a demo day at the end of the 10 weeks to present to professional investors. Raised Right has been selected to participate this summer.
Braeden is partnering with his family business, Ruud Ranch, which has been producing human food for three generations. “It’s time to start doing the same for pets,” says Ruud. “Our team has over 240 years of work experience combined with expertise in the pet industry, agriculture, and entrepreneurship. Our mission is to be the most trusted and convenient pet food available.”
Ruud owes a lot to Babson for the development of Raised Right. “Being surrounded by like-minded people who possess depths of experience and expertise across every area in business led to brainstorming sessions that played a huge role into shaping Raised Right,” says Ruud. “Babson accelerated the growth of Raised Right and my learning curve as an entrepreneur tremendously.”
You can find Raised Right online at www.raisedrightpetfood.com
WHICEE : Driving meaningful discussions online
Whicee is an online platform “for meaningful comments and debates.” Moderated by a team, Whicee has a few strict rules for users in order to ensure the quality of each post. “The most important rules states, that each comment has to be a value adding perspective with at least 100 words; any form of hate speech will be strictly penalized,” says founder Jay Everett. “Users also vote for comments and thereby create a ranking of opinions on similar topics. With our product “whicee Academics” we open the platform for academic institutes and provide tools for collective grading, feedback giving and open innovation.”
Jay started Whicee in Germany last April, four months before starting the MSEL program. He chose the program in order to develop an entrepreneurial mindset at the world’s leading institution for Entrepreneurship-related studies. “At Babson, I was a part of the Butler Venture Accelerator, which helped me get in contact with advisors and business partners from my specific field of digital and educational technology,” says Everett. “Aside from the Butler Accelerator, the LEAP project as a part of the MSEL program played an important role in my development as an entrepreneurial leader Specifically, I learned how to prototype and test new product ideas effectively with potential customers. I was able to apply these skills to my work on Whicee.”
VITALFIT : Creating a holistic way to achieve fitness goals
VitalFit is a fitness oriented health & wellness supplement company that values accountability, transparency & reality. They curate monthly holistic supplement packs to help millennials achieve their goals in a safe, natural & sustainable way. VitalFit packs are designed by preventative medicine specialists, who also cross reference each product to ensure safe interactions. “I think the best way to describe VitalFit is, if you’re looking for a quick one-size-fits all solution, then we’re probably not for you, but if you believe the juice is worth the squeeze, then you’ve come to the right place,” says founder Cameron Gekko.
Gekko, along with his partner Alfred Schofield, are the guys behind VitalFit. While Alfred always knew he’d start something one day, Cameron wasn’t planning to start a business when he first started the MSEL program. “I specifically came to Babson to learn the skills I thought were essential for getting a good job. Babson is inherently creative and action-oriented, which was something I didn’t really see while studying political science at U Penn…I think this opened me up to the idea that could do something besides working for a big company,” says Gekko. “The idea of building something of my own was incredibly exciting.”
“I definitely had ambitions of becoming an entrepreneur, I just never thought it would be so soon,” says Schofield. “Babson helped me realize that starting my own business was possible. More importantly, it gave me the tools to do so.” Friends since the beginning of the program, Alfred and Cam were constantly throwing ideas and pitches back and forth. “I think VitalFit was the first idea we really thought we can do,” says Gekko. “A great thing about Cam and I is that we have complementary skill sets. He’s a research and analysis guy with a lot of knowledge about the industry. I’m business development and operations guy with experience working on my parent’s entrepreneurial ventures,” says Schofield.
These student entrepreneurs owe the foundation of this venture to Babson, stating, “Without Babson, there is no VitalFit. It’s that simple.” “We’ve had so much support from faculty, the Blank Center, and the Babson network. We plan to make use of the Babson community long after graduation,” says Schofield. “But I think we’re most excited about being able to come back and help other students develop their ideas.”