GWU Grad Student Launches Food Startup

As my research on student startups highlights, food ventures are popular. A recent George Washington University grad student has launched a social venture (Halona Foods) to get more value out of ‘ugly’ produce.

From DC Inno:

As a grad student at George Washington University, Stephanie Westhelle committed her academic life to studying sustainable development. That’s how she found herself researching and visiting small farms around the area.

“It was disheartening to see how many thousands and thousands of pounds of produce are left behind,” she said. “I think the one that was the most disheartening and really made me move forward with my idea was a small farm in Maryland that had lost about 80,000 pounds of apples due to some bruising that happened because of a hail storm… I came up with the idea to start making apple crisps from [them].”

Westhelle is the co-founder and CEO of Halona Foods, which she founded just a little over a year ago. She works with micro-scale farms (small, typically family-owned farms that usually bring in under $1 million in sales annually) to give new life to produce that would normally be considered waste. She and her team buy the irregularly-shaped, bruised or otherwise hard-to-sell fruits and veggies and turn them into snacks, like zucchini chips or apple crisps.

Halona Foods is not the first DC based food startup created by students to try to bring more efficiency to the use of farmed produce. Georgetown’s Misfit Juicery has had a nice run so far — recently being selected to join Chobani’s food accelerator.

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Startup Gospel and Ecosystems in Alaska

Ever since reading Jack London, I’ve wanted to go to Alaska. Looks like July is the time toklondike_puppy go as its Alaska Startup week and there are events throughout the state, from lean startup workshops to pitch competitions. 2017 is the Year of Innovation in Alaska. From Naomi Klauda at the Alaska Journal of Commerce:

The seasonal cycle featured the Innovation Summit in Juneau Feb. 15-16, the online Alaska Business Model Competition Feb. 4, the Alaska Business Plan Competition in April, the techy Interior HackaThon in Fairbanks and the fall Arctic Innovation Competition.

“You can enter at any point, but it starts with seeding the idea — there’s a total of six that we make a point of highlighting that illustrates a cycle,” Shepherd said.

Startup week or Startup Weekend offers immersion into ideation.

“Within one year you could go from idea to launch with $60,000 in investments,” Shepherd said. “To launch right here in Alaska means you no longer have to go anywhere else from idea to launch.”

It is quite amazing, but not surprising, to see that people (entrepreneurs, policy makers, educators, etc) are setting about building an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Alaska. There is likely no place in the US that retains so much of Turner’s Frontier as Alaska – but I’ll have to go next July to find out. For more on Turner’s frontier in the entrepreneurial age, check out my recent paper — Small Business Economics: An Entrepreneurship Journal or SSRN version.

Books for Innovators and Entrepreneurs | #Sprintbook #CleanDisruption

I started reading Tony Seba‘s Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation — I decided to read more books in 2016, now that the Phd on student entrepreneurs is done.

A few weeks ago while in Tokyo I heard Tony speak and spent some time with him after his talk. While I’ve followed solar, Tesla, and the like from a distance, the deep dive with Tony and his book has converted me.

With detailed statistics and crucial discussions of new disruptive business models, Tony presents a vivid potential picture of the near future. Speed and scale of change will rival anything we’ve seen in recent years. The ramifications of this change are massive — could keep you up for days on end thinking about the end of oil and all that will entail — just let your mind go for a moment. Check out Clean Disruption — at least download the first chapter or watch some of Tony’s videos.

The other book I am quickly reading is Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just 5 Days. Its comes from key team members at Google Ventures —  Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, Braden Kowitz. While I’ve just started it, its clear it fits in the lean startup, sprint_coverstartup weekend, hackathon, design thinking, maker revolution that we are witnessing. And to be honest, how could anyone interested in innovation and problem solving, not want to learn some of the frameworks, techniques etc employed by Google / Alphabet (GOOG | Nasdaq)

The notion/ethos that action, experimentation, questions, and speed truly matter in effective problem solving, innovation and entrepreneurship is where we are. (As a side note — this is going to cause increasingly dramatic problems for higher education in the coming years)

Sprint, from the get go, includes nice graphics and appears to be a clear, detailed map for mere mortals to follow. The challenge for most of us will likely be brain power, commitment, courage, resources, and collaborators. But I look forward to experimenting with this roadmap with our innovators at Mason and others. Will update more when I get deeper into this one, but it looks like it could be a nice starting point to play with and explore in the coming months.

Here are some reviews of Sprint by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz:

Goodreads  and Upstart and Financial Times (what never read it — then please do acquaint yourself with the FT)

Black Millennials Missing the Entrepreneurial Revolution? #diversityintech

My research on high growth firms created by students at US colleges and universities uncovered that lack of female participation in high impact entrepreneurship on campus.

Lack of diversity is a big issue in tech and Tech Crunch Contributor Duane Dennis offers a personal look, with some data, at the lack of black participation in high growth/high tech entrepreneurship. From Dennis:

I’ve found that accelerators are especially important in providing a more intensive education, especially when run by experienced entrepreneurs. The Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator (GFSA) program director is Bill Aulet, famed educator, author and entrepreneur; the HAX accelerator is managed by Duncan Turner, entrepreneur and former IDEO designer.

However, in both cohorts, there were very few minorities. In GFSA, there were four blacksout of about 50 founders; in HAX there weren’t any represented among the 15 companies. This happened despite the worldwide diversity efforts that have been put in place by both organizations for general minority and state-specific populations.

The stats seem to back up my anecdotal evidence. Although most accelerator programs do not track the ethnicity or gender of participants, 500 Startups does. A voluntary poll of participants revealed that out of 250 startups and 500 founders, 80 were Asian, 60 were female, 15 were Hispanic and only nine were black.

and later….

For non-entrepreneurial families of first- or even second-generation graduates, the question is all about risk, regardless of color or nationality. Investing in a college fund is a big commitment, and entering the entrepreneurial sphere rather than the job market seems ridiculous when you have student loans, a lucrative job lined up after college and that looming 90 percent knockout rate.

Finding the investments, support and partnerships to do this is the biggest challenge for entrepreneurs. It is getting easier to start your own business — and this time, as we see more entrepreneurs step into the arena, it is important that we don’t leave behind our minority groups that are typically left behind.

Later in the piece Dennis offers specific policy and educational recommendations — which point to creating supportive environments for young entrepreneurs. His limited data offers some similarity to the lack of diversity that I see among the student founders of high growth firms.

NMSU NSF I Corps Team Pivots from Bullet Proof Backpacks to Improved Helmets #concussion #NSF #ICORPS

Nice story from New Mexico State University highlighting its participation in the NSF Innovation Corps — “Researcher teams with student” reads the headline.

The story highlights the value of the NSF I Corps and lean startup methodology as the firm pivoted from its initial focus on bullet resistant backpacks to its current focus on bringing improvement to the helmet industry. Its interesting to note that it was a university resource, Studio G, that appears to have coordinated and supported this team from NMSU. From the story by Vicki L. Nisbitt:

NMSU chemical engineering graduate student Brian Patterson is working with the technology through Studio G, and pursued the I-Corps funding opportunity with Xu and Studio G Director Kramer Winingham. The goal is to commercialize the lightweight and affordable material.

“Business ideas that are presented through this program have a direct impact on research and development and are closely related,” Patterson said. “Therefore, it’s important to understand the business components as they dictate the R&D direction.”

The team interviewed 100 potential customers to gain a better understanding of the market for their technology.

The I-Corps program and activities prepare scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and broaden the impact of their projects. One of the I-Corps objectives is to have an entrepreneurial student who shows potential in business and technology handle the commercialization…

07/20/2015: Left to right: Mechanical engineering Research Associate Professor Roy L. Xu, chemical engineering graduate student Brian Patterson, and Studio G Director Dr. Kramer Winingham are using a $50,000 award from the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program to further develop a protective shield material that can help save lives. (Photo by Darren Phillips)
Left to right: Mechanical engineering Research Associate Professor Roy L. Xu, chemical engineering graduate student Brian Patterson, and Studio G Director Dr. Kramer Winingham (Photo by Darren Phillips)

The DTMI material also has applications in football helmets and could help reduce concussion risk for players. The helmet shell materials with DTMI designs could increase impact-energy absorption at least 130 percent, compared to the current shell materials.

“A key finding during the I-Corps program was the opportunity for an advanced helmet shell design that could reduce concussions and adapt to other helmet technologies,” Winingham said. “This appears to be the best initial application for Dr. Xu’s technology.”

Continue reading “NMSU NSF I Corps Team Pivots from Bullet Proof Backpacks to Improved Helmets #concussion #NSF #ICORPS”

Visit to Halcyon Incubator | #SOCENT #Incubator #DC

Earlier this week I was fortunate to tour Halcyon Incubator in the Georgetown neighborhood of DC. The year long social entrepreneurship incubator, offers 8 early stage social entrepreneurs the opportunity to live and work in the Halcyon Incubator_Infographic_930x1628WEB_072815House (a bit more on the property later).

For the first 5 months the entrepreneurs participate in the ‘residency’ phase with skills sessions, pitch opportunities, weekly lunches, mentors, consultants and others supporting their ventures development. For the next 7 months the entrepreneurs live and work in the Halcyon House — a gorgeous, amazingly decorated mansion in Georgetown (virtual tour) with everything from a ballroom to beautiful grounds with a pool.

The newest cohort of Halcyon Fellows are just moving in and beginning their year in the program. They are a diverse lot solving important problems and I look forward to meeting some of them and watching their progress over the next year.

The deadline to apply for the next cohort of fellows is October 14, 2015. If you are an early stage social entrepreneur please check this program out. If you know an emerging social entrepreneur, share the application with them.

The library on the top floor of the Halcyon House. Various sessions are held in this room for the fellows.
The library on the top floor of the Halcyon House. Various sessions are held in this room for the fellows. Awesome space for social entrepreneurs.

Do College Drop Outs Thrive?

The WSJ ran the headline, College Dropouts Thrive in Tech, a couple of weeks ago (sub required). The article highlights well known dropouts (Jobs, Zuckerberg) and Thiel Fellowship winners, even referring to one as a wunderkind (a concept I reference in my forthcoming research on student entrepreneurs at US colleges and universities).

From the piece ,

Messrs. Weinstein and Kramer live at Mission Control with 10 others, including two women; half are under 21 years old. Three, including Messrs. Weinstein and Kramer, are Thiel Fellows. The house was originally leased by fellowship organizers for grant winners; other young entrepreneurs moved in as some initial residents left.

More dormitory than frat house, there is more working than partying at Mission Control. Residents come from varied backgrounds with diverse interests, but share some common traits: a brush with early success, disillusionment with the education system, an irreverent world view and healthy self-confidence.

The housemates share their schedules through a Google calendar and conduct group chats on Facebook Messenger, alerting each other to events like Wine-and-Cheese Wednesdays, Freestyle Fridays, and house dinners. There are impromptu all-night sessions of role-playing games such as Werewolf, but the most popular activity is tinkering with technology

I pulled the above quote because my research investigates whether the campus offers frontier like attributes that support innovation and entrepreneurship. The picture painted above provides some insight, but the data set — 2 Thiel fellows — is too small and not sure how representative these folks are of ‘dropouts.’

My data, which includes many students in the information industries — ranging from software and saas to e-commerce and search engines, includes notable dropouts, but most of the students that created high growth ventures while in school do in fact graduate.

Interesting commentary on the article over at Y Combinator Hacker News.

More to come. I will be defending my PhD in mid-July.