From artificial intelligence for research and development to customizable sandals, 2018’s Entrepreneurs Fund (eFund) ventures are now in downtown Hamilton, N.Y., taking advantage of a crucial opportunity to elevate their burgeoning companies.
Colgate parent and alumni support enables the eFund, now in its sixth year, to provide selected ventures with $13,000 in seed money, incubator space, and Thought Into Action alumni mentorship throughout the summer. Alumni mentors help teams with everything from big-idea development to the legalities of incorporating a business, supply-chain advice, branding, and bringing products to market.
“During the past six years, the Entrepreneurs Fund has incubated 32 new businesses, supporting them with about $450,000 in seed-grant funding — along with more than 2,500 hours of mentoring from more than 150 mentors — to grow their ventures,” said Wills Hapworth, TIA alumni executive director. “When we last surveyed these companies a year ago, well over 50 percent were still in operation, and they have gone on to create more than 100 full-time jobs.”
This year’s Entrepreneurs Fund winners are:
Co-founded by Gaurav Ragtah ’13 and his brother Himanshu Ragtah, Profillic is opening the innovation bottleneck by providing an artificial intelligence–powered research and development platform for scientists and researchers.
Gaurav previously worked for Google, and Himanshu worked at Tesla. They say that their experiences at those companies helped inform their new goal of building a platform that may one day revolutionize how scientists and researchers create new products and scientific innovations.
Companies often spend millions for product research before beginning the development of a new product or platform. University research labs have heavy constraints on time and money as well. The Ragtah brothers say that Profillic reduces that outlay by harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to do most of the work: combing databases of existing research, patents, and technologies to accelerate research efforts and also find sector-specific grants and investors.
“We’re using AI techniques — machine learning — to crawl journals, open publications, and patent libraries, building a layer of intelligence to sort the information meaningfully in a way that’s easy for people to digest,” Gaurav said. “That’s what we call our knowledge graph, designed in a way that’s easy to use, as opposed to being text heavy — almost like an intelligent Instagram for researchers.”
Have you ever visited a public beach or park and wished you brought along some outdoor equipment? If so, YourYard, a new on-demand service for outdoor equipment rentals, is the answer to your dilemma.
Dean Koman ’17, along with friends Nathan Weinrauch and Zach Flyer, came up with the idea after being bored at the beach: place automatic lockers filled with outdoor equipment at popular recreation destinations, where they can be opened via an online rental system. YourYard is now piloting their product at 10 beaches and parks, and they plan to launch nationwide soon.
“We’re using the Colgate network to test and evolve our idea,” Koman said. “When we’re not here, we’re out at beaches and parks trying to refine our service.”
Recent graduates Brandon Doby ’18 and 1819 Award recipient Lauren Sanderson ’18 are utilizing their eFund opportunity to grow ISO Films LLC, a creative services agency geared toward film production for brands, artists, and athletes.
Sanderson said their time in Hamilton this summer is like an artist retreat, where she and Doby can focus on creative endeavors full time without worrying about rental space. They are now working on client outreach, completion of existing client work, and pre-production of their first documentary project.
“It’s about surf culture as it spreads to indigenous and African peoples around the globe,” Sanderson said. “We’re actively pursuing grant money to help fund that pre-production. In addition, we are working on an exciting project with Jeff Sharp, a Colgate alumnus and Academy Award-winning producer, who was also a panelist at this year’s Entrepreneur Weekend.”
Chase Jackson ’13 and his brother, Sam Jackson, are spending their time this summer growing Deco Slides, which produces slide sandals with swappable straps to match an occasion or an outfit.
“We’re starting to make the transition from fully customized work to more original designs and doing some brand collaborations,” said Sam Jackson. “The eFund money really helps, as we have a provisional patent on our shoes, but we need to get the final patent. We have a lot of capital-intensive work to do with our supply chain, and having money makes it easier to get the unit costs down because you can order in bulk.”
The sandals, which run from $35–$40, can be further customized by buying one of the company’s already designed straps for $17, or by uploading an image to the Deco Slides website for a custom look.
Sheila Dunne ’20 and Luke Goodwin are expanding their digital marketing agency, Dunne Marketing.
“We specialize in social media management, social media marketing, and content creation to help our clients meet their marketing goals,” Dunne said. “ We’ve worked with more than 35 businesses and generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for our clients.”
One of Dunne Marketing’s earliest clients was Trippie, another company founded at TIA by Ryan Diew ’17, who later appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank.
“We try and take over a company’s whole social media presence to shape it and make them thought leaders, or just look really cool — whether it’s outreach or brand reputation management,” Goodwin said.
Dunne said their company has received valuable mentorship in unfamiliar areas of business creation: legal contracts, LLC formation, and operating agreement creation.