Author Archive for Lizzie Parsons

SIRUM – “the for unused drugs”

Every year in the United States, $5 billion (yes, billion with a ‘b’!) of unused and unexpired prescription drugs are destroyed.  At the same time, 50 million Americans don’t refill their prescriptions because of the cost.  A group of Stanford graduates wanted to find a way to easily connect the surplus and the need.  In 2009, Kiah Williams, Adam Kircher, and George Wang created SIRUM (Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine), a non-profit dedicated to deliver unused medicine to people in need.

SIRUM works in 4 easy steps.  SIRUM first gets companies and hospitals to stop destroying unused medicine.  This is fairly easy because the companies often have to spend a large amount of money to have the drugs destroyed.  Instead, donating the drugs is free and less of a hassle.  The company or hospital then enters the surplus via SIRUM’s technology.  The company packs up the unused medicine and adds a pre-paid shipping label.  SIRUM picks up the package the next day and distributes it to those in need.  The company or hospital is then able to track the package door-to-door.

This entire transaction is a win-win for everyone involved!  It is much easier and cheaper for hospitals or companies to donate the surplus medicine than to destroy it.  And people who need affordable or free medication can easily get it.  Like cofounder Kiah Williams said, SIRUM is “like the for unused drugs”.  SIRUM was able to meet the needs of two different groups, with no downside to either group.  To learn more about SIRUM, click here.

Blue Apron: A better way to cook

In 2011, investment firm associate, Matt Salzberg, and his computer programmer friend, Ilia Papas, decided that they wanted to create a business.  After quitting their jobs, they tried to establish several different start-ups, but they were all unsuccessful.  It wasn’t until they drew upon their combined love of food and cooking that they found success.  As Salzberg stated, they both “liked trying new ingredients, new recipes, new techniques, but [they] found it really inaccessible to cook at home.  It was expensive, it was time-consuming and it was difficult to find recipes that [they] trusted.”

Blue Apron

Their company, Blue Apron, named after the aprons French chef apprentices wear, was able to solve these common problems associated with cooking and trying new recipes.  Blue Apron develops delicious new gourmet recipes for its subscribers to try and creates videos on how to make the recipe.  The ingredients needed to make the meal are measured and sent to the user so there is no waste involved.  All of the food comes delivered that day in refrigerated boxes.  Some examples of recipes for this week are North African-spiced shrimp and couscous or mushroom brown butter cavatelli – food most people wouldn’t dare try to make on their own.  Check out their website and other menu options here !

Salzberg and Papas had no experience in the food industry, so they enlisted the help of a family friend, Matthew Wadiak.  Wadiak had worked as a wholesaler of truffles and avocados and was familiar with the food industry.  He became Blue Apron’s food expert and COO, while Salzberg became the CEO and Papas the chief technical officer.  This diverse founding team was key to the company’s success.  Each person had very different backgrounds and talents, which allowed the company to pursue more opportunities early in the founding process.  It also allowed them to access very different networks in which to market their idea.

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Since its start with only some family and friends as customers, Blue Apron has expanded significantly.  They now ship more than 5 million meals per month across the United States!  After being in business for only 3 years, Blue Apron is worth more than a billion dollars!  Clearly, they were able to identify a common problem and provide an easy (and delicious!) solution!

Sword & Plough – Bridging the Civil-Military Divide

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U.S. Army 1st Lt. Emily Núñez and her sister Betsy Núñez grew up in a military family, so for them, living on military bases and eating Thanksgiving dinner with hundreds of soldiers in a military mess hall was the norm.  However, when Emily went to Middlebury College, she realized the huge divide between military life and civilian life.  Most of her friends had never met someone in the military and had no idea what military life was like.  During this time, both Emily and Betsy began to realize how difficult it was for veterans to find work as they transitioned from military to civilian life.

These two problems  culminated into a business idea when Emily attended a social entrepreneurship symposium at her college, where the speaker talked about incorporating up-cycling into a business.  Emily had the idea of recycling military surplus into fashionable bags and accessories.  Emily quickly brought her sister, Betsy, on board and Sword & Plough was born.  The name, Sword & Plough comes from the phrase “to turn swords into ploughshares” from the book of Isaiah.  For Emily and Betsy, this means taking military technologies and materials and applying them to peaceful, military applications.

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Every stage of their business (from design, to production, to quality control, to sales) is done in the U.S.A. and done by veterans.  They even buy their supplies from companies owned and operated by veterans.  Emily and Betsy want their company to empower veterans and help in their transition back to civilian life.  They donate 10% of their profits to support veterans.  They also want to have their bags be a conversation starting point to strengthen military-civilian understanding and to bring to light veteran issues.  In fact, on their website, they have a “Wall of Heroes” to feature a different military personnel every week.

So far, Emily and Betsy’s idea has been a huge success.  They’ve been featured on shows like Good Morning America and the Today Show, and on sites like Business Insider and Forbes.  I encourage you to check out their website (click here!) to learn more about Sword & Plough, its products, and its mission.  I think that this company is poised to make some really important impacts in the near future.

Meet Raaja Nemani – Connecting people through art (and shoes!)

Raaja NemaniRaaja Nemani grew up knowing he wanted work for himself, while positively impacting the world.  However, after he graduated from college, Nemani began to move away from his entrepreneurial goals when he accepted a job in the finance industry.  After working in finance for several years, Nemani decided to quit his job and travel around the world for two years – without any safety net or set plan.  One day, while Nemani was volunteering in Argentina, he befriended an artist named Aaron Firestein.  Firestein doodled on a pair of shoes and gave them to Nemani, who wore them throughout his travels.  Everywhere that Nemani traveled, he received compliments on the shoes Firestein had decorated, allowing him to make friends and connect with fellow travelers.

Fast forward a couple of years, and Nemani and Firestein are now the co-founders of a multi-million dollar shoe company called BucketFeet.  BucketFeet differs from your typical shoe company because any artist can submit a shoe design or pattern.  BucketFeet then features each selected print and artist as a limited edition shoe design.  BucketFeet’s stylish and trendy shoes are currently being sold around the world through their website, pop-up stores, and department stores such as Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s.BucketFeet2
When asked about developing the idea for BucketFeet, Nemani says he never had a single ‘light bulb’ moment.  Rather, he says it was a series of different, smaller ‘light bulb’ moments that led him and Firestein to start BucketFeet.  Mainly, he says it was Firestein’s first artwork that really inspired him.  Through the shoes Firestein designed for him, Nemani was able to connect with people around the world.  Nemani wanted to share this connection through art with others, and that is the main goal of BucketFeet.

Watsi – Radically Transparent

Chase AdamA few years ago, Chase Adam was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when a woman boarded the bus and began asking for donations for her child’s medical treatment.  Because panhandling is so prevalent in that area of the world, Adam was shocked to see all of the natives give the women money for her child.  He realized the natives believed this woman because she had the child’s information and had established a sense of trust with them.  Inspired, Adam returned to the United States with the goal of starting a non-profit to provide healthcare around the world.

However, when Adam returned home, he realized that many non-profits weren’t very efficient and were underfunded.  Adam decided to start a company that was built with an emphasis on impact, efficiency, and transparency.  Watsi, launched in August 2012, is a “global crowdfunding platform for healthcare” – basically a Kickstarter for medical treatments.  People can donate any amount of money to fund medical treatment and care around the world.  Once a patient’s funding goal is met, the patient receives the treatment.  Watsi then updates all of the donors with the patient’s treatment outcome.Watsi Logo

Watsi is different from most non-profits because 100% of the money donated goes directly to people in need.   All of Watsi’s operating expenses are paid for by optional tips or other philanthropists.  Watsi prides itself on being “radically transparent”.  In fact, all of their financial information in public knowledge and can be seen on their Transparency Document on their website (check if out here!).  That way, you can see exactly where your money is going.

After a slow start, Watsi was the first nonprofit to received funding from Y Combinator, a tech company incubator program.  Watsi took off and, within 2 years, raised more than $2 million, all of which went to patients in need.  In 2014, Adam was listed on Forbes list of 30 Under 30: Social Entrepreneurs.  Inspired by the woman on the bus, Adam was able to take an idea he was passionate about and use it to help thousands of people about the world.

Reinventing the Wheel – Literally!

Bicycles are great solutions to get you where you need to go, with the benefits of being environmentally friendly and faster than walking.  However, there’s one major drawback – pedaling a bicycle can be hard work, especially for long distances or routes with lots of hills (basically anywhere in western Pennsylvania!).  So that’s where the Copenhagen Wheel comes in.

The Copenhagen Wheel was developed by a team of robotics engineers and designers from MIT specifically for Copenhagen, Denmark – a city known for its bicycle culture.  This innovative team wanted to take some of the work out of bicycling by turning a regular bike into a smart electric hybrid.  Many of the team members have had previous experience with popular startup tech companies.  Add this experience to a visionary marketing team and some venture capital investors, and you get the startup Superpedestrian.

The Copenhagen Wheel

The Copenhagen Wheel works by replacing the back wheel of your bike with the Copenhagen Wheel, which is then connected to an app on your smartphone.  A small servo motor and control system is hidden in the wheel’s sleek red casing.  This system captures your energy as you brake or go down the hill and then lets you use this energy pedal with 3-10 times the normal power of a bike!  This allows you to go up hills easier and go further, faster.  Even cooler is the fact that the Copenhagen Wheel learns how you pedal and can keep track of your fitness, while riding just like a normal bike.  If you don’t believe me, check out this video to learn more about the Copenhagen Wheel.

Clearly the old wheel has met its match!  Superpedestrian is busy getting the Copenhagen Wheel ready for market and it should be widely available within the next year.