There are many ways to treat cancer. It can be heated or frozen, cut out or shrunk down – and sometimes just slowed. At Harvard Business School, Shardule Shah is taking a different approach:
That’s because many cancers, Shah says, use fats for sustenance. In response, Shah co-founded Lime Therapeutics, a technology designed to develop drugs that prevent cancer cells from feeding on fats. Already flush with $2.7 million dollars in funding, Lime Therapeutics’ model has also proven successful in early trials.
“Our lead drug led to a 50% increase in the lifespan of mice with non-small cell lung cancer and we are moving this drug toward human clinical trials in the next 18 months,” Shah tells Poets&Quants. “This drug has already been shown to be safe in 28,000 people in two clinical trials run by another pharma company.”
The venture began while Shah, who holds a Ph.D. in immunology, was pursuing his MBA. There, he met scientists from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center during an online event who shared his passion for producing “safe and effective” cancer treatments that reach the market faster. Since then, Lime Therapeutics has operated out of New York City, where Shah networked with venture capitalists, potential partners, and medical experts while taking advantage of the area’s business incentives. At the same time, he tapped into Harvard Business School’s vast resources to prepare him to build Lime Therapeutics.
“The HBS MBA program provided me with so much: a world-class business education; the ability to bounce ideas off professors and other life sciences practitioners in the Harvard community; a world-class student and alumni network full of depth and breadth; and continual inspiration by the people around me,” the ’22 grad adds. “The Harvard network is incredibly strong throughout [Boston and New York City], so I feel fortunate that I am currently able to take advantage of resources from two of the greatest startup ecosystems in the world.”
DO YOU WANT TO BE A SEA DOG…OR A PIRATE?
Lime Therapeutics is one of the 43 student startups honored in P&Q’s 4th annual “Most Disruptive MBA Startups.” This year, P&Q invited 42 business schools to submit nominations for ventures with “the greatest potential for lasting beyond business school.” They may include startups that have raked in substantive investment, created a unique business model, or earned recognition in competitions. This year, 34 MBA programs participated in “The Most Disruptive MBA Startups,” including Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Wharton School, INSEAD, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and MIT’s Sloan School of Management. To qualify, a school nomination must feature at least one founding member from the Class of 2022.
In business school, students often wrestle with a universal question: Do I want to become a pirate or enlist in the Navy? A four-year hitch means safety and support – and you can move on with some valuable experience too. Still, it is hard to resist the allure of being Captain Jack Sparrow. Swift and light, pirates follow their entrepreneurial spirit –flying their Jolly Roger flag and making their own rules. And that requires a lot of work. At Washington University’s Olin Business School, Tova Feinberg conducted over 300 interviews – from farmers to restauranteurs – to hone their Vertigreens concept, a “scalable network of hydroponic farms targeting the b-to-b market.” Indeed, this year’s disruptive startups are hardly side hustles. Instead, these MBAs are busy identifying, testing, prototyping and bootstrapping. In the process, they are often making “hundreds of decisions in a given week,” in the words of Stanford grad Kimiloluwa Fafowora, whose Gander startup helps consumers connect with aligned brands. All the while, they must weather the hardest part of being a student entrepreneur: constant rejection.
“Every time an investor told me no, I would ask them for feedback,” explains Matt Shieh, a graduate of the University of Chicago’s Booth School who founded Canopy Aerospace. “This turned into dozens of data points that guided a lot of our early strategy.”
A NEW MARKET: SPACE
The best part of being an entrepreneur? To borrow another pirate analogy, you get to keep more of your loot. This year, 10 of the 43 MBA disruptive startups enjoy funding of $1 million dollars or more. Take HEC Paris’ Duplo. It helps Nigerian businesses to collect and make payments in a market that is largely cash-driven. Thus far, Duplo has attracted $5.6 million dollars in investment. By the same token, Stanford GSB’s Gander has collected $4.5 million dollars. Thus far, Chicago Booth’s Canopy Aerospace has generated $1.8 million dollars in pre-seed funding. The latter produces heat shields to protect space vehicles when they re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Along with earning a spot in the Techstars LA Space Accelerator, Canopy Aerospace has also forged partnerships with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the United States Space Force. And Matt Shieh credits such success to MBA offerings like the New Venture Challenge (NVC).
“I was building the business case for this company during the school year and NVC helped me translate this into an opportunity for investors,” Shieh explains. “We knew there was a big problem in the industry and we had a solution for it. Pitching a startup manufacturer in a highly technical field is difficult. However, we were able to pitch in front of VCs from a variety of industries who provided candid feedback, which was critical to honing our story in with the right audience.”
Shieh isn’t alone in exploring the heavens. At the Wharton School, Michael Contreras founded Ensemble Space Labs, which has already raked in $1.1 million dollars in funding. Currently, there are over 3,400 active satellites orbiting the Earth, which are vulnerable to phenomena like solar flares. Such anomalies can disrupt everything from telecommunication to navigation systems and put lives in jeopardy. Contreras’ venture provides data that enables analysts to better forecast space weather and “mitigate” potential damage.
“Being a builder at heart, I was constantly looking for the right opportunity to make the pivot from being a services company to a technology company. Having NASA as a customer since 2018 allowed us to intimately understand its space weather data pain points. Once we felt those pains firsthand while maintaining a NASA space weather web application, we felt confident that we could develop better technology for the growing number of space weather users.”
DISRUPTING RETAIL MODELS
MBA founders are restless souls, attuned to the unmet needs and building frustrations – be it in mental health, fashion, or education. In many cases, they are looking to revolutionize their spaces through cost, service, and convenience. Before joining ESADE, Ishan Talathi watched smaller businesses struggle to correctly scale their cloud services, often paying high costs that hurt their profitability. In response, he created CloudJiify, which upended the standard ‘pay-as-you-go model.
“CloudJiffy simplifies App Deployment on the cloud using Platform-as-a-Service containers, and disrupts expensive Pay-As-You-Go cloud with innovative consumption-based pricing,” Talahati explains. “CloudJiffy reduces DevOps time by 60% and reduces Cloud costs by 80% compared to Hyperscale clouds.”
Retail is another industry ripe for disruption – and the Class of 2022 didn’t disappoint here. Ground zero is INSEAD. Here, Spaciously likes to call itself the “Airbnb of retail.” Founded by Hanna Kanabiajeuskaja and Laurent Baillot, Spaciously helps local creators to place pop-ups inside established brands like Kiehl’s and Lululemon. Thus far, the firm has been placing 15 pop-ups in shops per month. In contrast, SureBright targets the internet space. Founded by Manish Chauhan and backed by $2.5 million dollars in investment, SureBright supplies warranties and insurance to online merchants, where half of the transactions lack such protections.
“We take care of regulations, customer management, claims, and everything else related,” Chauhan explains. “At zero money and time cost, we can improve your net profits by 30%, average order size by 5%, and reduce loan default rates so that you sit back and see your earnings grow!”
TACKLING WORLD-SCALE ISSUES
The Class of 2022 isn’t afraid to tackle the big issues, either. Case in point: HOPO Therapeutics, a biotech startup launched by Hannah Weber out of the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School. Weber is developing medicines to prevent lead poisoning, an often-overlooked affliction endured by a billion people worldwide (or comparable to Malaria or HIV). Across the pond, Ishaq Bolarinwa launched Anfani at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. Targeting small and mid-sized business, Anfani acts as an energy broker by providing affordable renewable energy to overlooked businesses in Nigeria – home to Africa’s largest population and GDP. South of Oxford at the London Business School, Panos Kyrkopoulos and John Frangis are working to overhaul the UK’s child care system through Little Steps Financing. The firm’s mission hits close to home for Kyrkopoulos. With two toddlers at home, he notes that childcare ate up to £3,000 a month in his household budget. On top of that, he notes, UK childcare costs have skyrocketed, with fees rising eight times faster than income over the past 14 years. Now, Little Steps Financing is starting to make a difference. For one, it is partnering with one of London’s largest nursery chains. More recently, Little Steps Financing has been selected to join the FCA Innovation Sandbox, an incubator run by the British government.
“The firm uses its advanced technological capabilities in risk, operations, and finance to provide parents with interest-free (0%) financing tailored to cover childcare fees,” Kyrkopoulos adds. The firm’s financing solutions tackle the issues of childcare affordability in the UK and overseas that push parents (and especially mothers) out of work and deprive children from accessing high-quality early years education. Solving those issues, the company creates additional benefits for employers (high employee retention rates), the suffering childcare industry (high occupancy rates), and the government (growth in workforce, GDP, and wage tax bills).”
Environmental preservation is another popular issue for MBA entrepreneurs. At IESE Business School, you’ll find Ines Serra Baucells, whose passion is soil. She marvels over its beauty and history – and even collects samples. This passion has also led her to form BIOSORRA, a social enterprise that provides affordable and ecofriendly biofertilizer.
“The biofertilizer increases crop yields by up to 150% for smallholder farmers in Kenya while removing 2,5x tons of carbon from the atmosphere for every 1 ton produced. This focus on sustainability enables BIOSORRA to sell carbon credits to companies to offset their CO2 emissions according to decarbonization objectives. Ultimately, this means BIOSORRA is able to both accelerate climate justice for underserved communities while alleviating food insecurity and poverty.”
TAPPING NEW MARKETS
At Stanford GSB, Nicole Rojas and Dávid Pardavi centered their efforts on reducing Methane emissions, which they say represents 42% of greenhouse emissions. How do you get cattle farmers to buy into reducing these emissions? That’s where Lasso comes into play. A software platform, which has drawn $1.4 million dollars in funding, Lasso enables farmers to track their performance and rewards them for reductions.
“Lasso automatically collects on-farm data, calculates carbon footprints, and monitors emissions across farms,” Rojas notes. “Lasso then generates reduction recommendations, aggregates emissions reduction project data for verification, and connects farmers or brands with emissions reduction funding (e.g., offsets, government incentives).”
Sometimes, disruptive startups target populations that can be overlooked. At Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, Mackenzie Loy opened The New Majority. She uses equity crowdfunding to support startups whose services deliver community impact. Along the way, Loy adds, these investments enable “historically marginalized and underrepresented communities to invest in each other.” After joining MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Megan Krishnamurthy and Hannah Rose Potter came upon an epiphany: a majority of Millennial women felt isolated and lonely professionally. In response, the duo started Something Brazen, where trained facilitators support 5-7 member support groups. And the response, to say the least, reflected the need.
“Within one week of launching our website to the public this past summer, we had 250+ women sign up for our paid pilot, which was held this fall in New York City,” Krishnamurthy explains. “It was amazing to see how much interest there was in our first product. We instantly knew that we were onto something.”
GIVING EVERYONE THE CAPABILITIES OF A DATA SCIENTIST
For many MBA disruptive startups, technology is the differentiator. The More Watter Co., a startup launched from the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, connects exercise data from devices like Fitbit with comparable data and resources to create customized fitness regimens. IE Business School’s Better Than Good also takes a personalized approach to preventive healthcare, adding a rewards system from wellness partners to engage and reward users. However, technology is truly the driver at Hue, a Harvard Business School startup. An AI platform catering to the beauty shopper, Hue was launched by three HBS women with executive experience at Google, L’Oreal, and Airbnb. Aside from successful track records in product development, marketing, and analytics, the trio also shared another similarity: none could find makeup products that matched their skin tones. Soon enough, they learned that three-fourths of women share the same struggle. In response, they created a community of beauty consumers, from all skin tones, to guide makeup choices.
“Hue’s technology matches shoppers to their Hue Twins™ – a community of real people who share the same skin tone, skin type, purchase history or beauty preferences as you,” says co-founder Janvi Shah. “We directly integrate on beauty brands’ and retailers’ websites, so shoppers can browse authentic video and photo reviews from their recommended Hue Twins™ to get a clear view of how a product looks on real people like them.”
Sometimes, MBA founders just put a new spin on an old problem. How do you turn buying second-hand clothing into a satisfying experience? Check out Beni, a venture launched out of Northwestern University Kellogg School, which uses a browser extension to direct online users to resale outlets offering the same items. Want a yummy ice cream? Head to St. Louis for Ice Cream For Bears, a concoction from Washington University alum Tim Berg, which uses raw sugar to sweeten the mix. Let’s not forget TrovBase, the pride of Sam Jordan – a spring grad of New York University’s Stern School. She describes her solution as a data management platform that democratizes the collection, analysis, and management of data. In other words, it provides consumers with the capabilities of a data scientist. For academics, that reduces the potential for mistakes that can result in research being retracted – a major plus for a segment where 60% of its members lack formal data management training.
“We wanted to build a tool that acts as methodological insurance,” Jordan notes. “We take care of validation and give researchers the confidence that their data is accurate and that they are doing analysis like an expert data scientist.”
Page 3: In-depth profiles of 43 MBA founders.