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Responsive to Need, Driven to Scale

Will Canine and the Opentrons high-precision OT-2 lab robot

Will Canineopens in a new window (Tisch '14)

Will Canine has always had his eye on scale when it comes to solving problems. Opentrons, which grew out of his thesis at Tisch’s ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Program) and is a longtime NYU Innovation Venture Fund portfolio company, offers low-cost robots for biology labs to automate operations and easily share protocols. The O-2 robot costs as little as $5,000 and can unshackle biologists from monotonous lab work and liberate them to more fulfilling pursuits.

During the pandemic, Opentrons amplified its offerings by stepping in to solve one of the most pressing problems of the day: diagnostic molecular testing at scale. Via its Pandemic Response Labopens in a new window, Opentrons provided affordable, high-throughput testing—particularly for COVID-19—for hospitals and health systems. In September 2021, Opentrons raised $200 million from the Softbank Vision Fund among others, and the company’s valuation has grown to $1.8 billion.

www.opentrons.comopens in a new window

Sustainable Furniture, By Design

Caitlin Ellen on the left and Phantila Phataraprasit on the right sitting on a yellow couch, smiling

Phantila Phataraprasitopens in a new window (Law '20)
Caitlin Ellenopens in a new window (Stern '21)

Phantila Phataraprasit and Caitlin Ellen are creating furniture that they wish was around when they graduated from college—and that they hope will continue to be around for a long time to come. The team founded Sabai Design to make sustainable furniture available on a budget, and they buy back the furniture when its current owner wants to move on. Through its closed-loop program, Sabai then resells or donates the used furniture, so it doesn’t end up in a landfill. Sabai also began selling parts such as legs and slipcovers, so customers can repair their couches rather than throw them out. Sabai was honored by Fast Company's 2021 World-Changing Ideas awardsopens in a new window and most innovative sustainable designsopens in a new window of 2021, and Phantila was recently included in Inc.'s Female Founders 100opens in a new window.

“Our generation really cares about transparency when it comes to sustainability,” Phantila says, adding that one of the main things she learned at the Leslie eLab was listening to her customers and making decisions based on what they expressly need.

www.sabai.designopens in a new window

A Mental Health Solution That’s Right for the Times

Headshot of Alyssa Petersel on the left and a drawing of 3 people holding hands, representing MyWellBeing bringing together patients and therapists, on the right

Alyssa Peterselopens in a new window (Silver '17), CEO

My Wellbeing, an online platform that strategically matches patients with the right therapist, has from the start been committed to fostering conversations about mental health. The company was well positioned to help more people during the pandemic, when what founder Alyssa Petersel called “a mounting mental health epidemic” hit record levels. The online platform expanded its geographic reach to match customers to therapists in six states and offered national coverage for coaching. MyWellbeing expanded its business model to hire, train, and support mental health providers in-house, and launched proprietary stress management tools. The company also tripled its team, meaningfully grew its revenue, and served 200,000+ customers.

A licensed social worker herself, Alyssa was recently recognized by Forbes 30 Under 30opens in a new window. She is “forever grateful” for the insights, inspiration, advocacy and support she received—and continues to receive—from her Summer Launchpad mentor, Rob Fassino (Tisch ’88), a serial entrepreneur who brings 20+ years of experience building successful digital businesses.

www.mywellbeing.comopens in a new window

Modernizing the Film Industry through FinTech

Headshot of Ali Javid on the left and a screenshot of the Wrabook platform on the right

Ali Javidopens in a new window (Stern '20)

Created by filmmakers and technologists, Wrapbook is an online platform that digitizes, modernizes, and simplifies what had been a remarkably last-century process: paying and insuring cast and crew in the film and video production industry. So great is the entertainment industry’s demand for such services that Wrapbook’s recent $100 million equity funding round valued the company at $1 billion. An NYU Innovation Venture Fund portfolio company, Wrapbook is “growing really fast in an industry that we understand really well and not many others have thought about,” said Ali Javid, who co-founded the startup in 2018.

As productions resume following COVID-19 shutdowns, Wrapbook has seen amplified demand and expects to continue to grow by following one of the key tenets of the Entrepreneurial Institute: listen to the customer to build for the new normal.

www.wrapbook.comopens in a new window

Helping Clinicians Breathe Easier

Headshots of Miles Kilcourse on the left and Tom Sowers on the right

Miles Kilcourseopens in a new window (Gallatin ‘19 & Tandon ‘22) 
Tom Sowersopens in a new window (Tandon ‘21)

Early in the pandemic, engineering students Miles Kilcourse and Tom Sowers identified an urgent need they wanted to fill: protecting clinicians from airborne COVID-19 (and other infectious diseases). As engineers, the founders created a mobile negative-pressure system designed to reduce risk to clinicians and increase hospital isolation capacity, affordably and portably.

Connecting through the Startup Sprint and the mentorship they received through the Entrepreneurial Institute, Miles and Tom dug into the business-side of the equation. They refined the problem they were seeking to solve—yes, protecting clinicians from the urgent threat of COVID-19 but also looking beyond the pandemic, to meet future healthcare needs in a responsive and agile way. The founders also deepened their understanding of the company’s customer base—moving beyond frontline workers to also speak with hospital administrators in a position to purchase the product. “We heard the problem on the ground,” Miles said, referring to clinicians’ need to protect themselves, “and we needed to bring that problem up the hospital chain in a meaningful way.”

www.aeragen.comopens in a new window

Scientific Discovery Meets Customer Discovery

Headshots of Pablo Ripolles on the left, Clarie Pelofi in the middle and Dana Bevilacqua on the right

ViBILLER founders Pablo Ripolles, Clarie Pelofi and Dana Bevilacqua were thinking like scientists when they developed the CHILLER, a wearable sensor that detects and visualizes emotional responses to music (objective measures, such as goosebumps on the skin or shivers down the spine). They were excited to arm potential customers, primarily concert venue owners, with all that objective real-time data, until—through rigorous customer discovery—they learned that’s not what their customers wanted.

The importance of speaking directly to customers was among the essential skills the founders learned in the Tech Venture Workshop and intensive National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program. “It was like learning a whole new language,” recalls Dana, of moving from the scientific to the entrepreneurial space. The team shifted their focus away from data and to another feature of the device, visualizing those emotional measurements in a sound and light show powered by emotions. That interactivity could enhance the entertainment experience—something venue owners were indeed interested in.

The team is also exploring therapeutic uses for ViBILLER and is engaged in customer discovery with schools to see how the device could help nonverbal children communicate their emotions.

www.vibiller.comopens in a new window