MBA Startups To Look Out For | 2021 Coronavirus Special

Some of the world's most exciting startups have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Find out which student entrepreneurs feature in our MBA Startups To Look Out For 2021 Coronavirus Special


Oxford Saïd
Oxford MedEx


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Who: Shahrez Khan

School: University of Oxford Saïd Business School

Valuation: $40 million

Investment: None


Q&A


What is your business and what does it do?

Oxford MedEx supplies PPE to healthcare services and hospitals in the United States, Australia, Canada and Singapore. 

We delivered five million items of PPE to the United States and signed a $12 million deal with Canada Health, Canada’s health service.

How did the idea for your business come about?

At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, I heard harrowing first-hand accounts of frontline hospital staff in the UK struggling to treat patients without adequate PPE from my uncle, a surgeon who runs an NHS hospital. 

Realising I had the network, supply-chain, skills and staff to help, I created Oxford MedEx specifically to provide PPE to hospitals in need.

How has your EMBA helped you develop your business?

I had to draw on the lessons from the Executive MBA, which taught me to be agile and adapt to the changing business environment. 

I also utilised the Oxford network to reach out to hospitals and state procurement departments that were struggling to maintain PPE supplies.

Where are you with the business right now? What are your plans for the future?

In the short term I believe demand for PPE will remain high. However our long term aim is to now supply our other range of healthcare products—patient gowns, hospital sheets, scrubs and so on. 

We want to be a key player in the global healthcare industry.

What are your tips for staying positive during the pandemic? 

Spend time with family and stay connected with friends. Exercise regularly. Running and working out at the gym has really helped me to stay positive. 

Hiking and the outdoors. I spent the last summer in the mountains. Absolutely loved going for hiking every day. The outdoors and regular trekking really helped me stay positive. 

Spot opportunities as the pandemic uproots certain industries and serves as a catalyst for growth in others. Have conviction and belief that there is light at the end of the tunnel as the world comes closer to creating a vaccine


LifeWeb 360


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Who: Ali Briggs and Rachele Louis

School: Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management

Valuation: TBC

Investment: Not disclosed


Q&A


What is your business and what does it do?

LifeWeb 360 helps communities who have lost a loved one or have someone at the end of their life to capture memories and support one another. Friends and family can share stories, photos, and videos that are organized to create context and meaning, and can also be turned into a physical memory book.

How did the idea for your business come about?

 We’re here because of our friend Josh who lost his older brother, Seth, in an apartment fire over 10 years ago. 

They had a big age gap, so while he remembers his brother as an older figure in his life, he only knows him as a peer from the memories shared by his brother's friends. Josh shared how terrified he was of losing touch with these friends and the memories of his brother that live on through them, so we built LifeWeb 360 to preserve memories and to preserve community.

With social distancing, it’s difficult for communities to come together in person after someone dies to show their love and support for a bereaved family. 

LifeWeb 360 has found a home with people looking for new ways to honor their person in what amounts to an extension of the wake, a place for capturing the stories of all the people that knew the person in different ways, even if they are scattered around the world.

Additionally, as social distancing rules continue to evolve, having a central spot to easily organize memorial events and communicate changes is critical. 

Finally, our users can opt into reminders on important dates to check in with the family, which is more important during social distancing and isolation than ever.

How has your MBA helped you develop your business?

The kernel of what became LifeWeb 360 started in an entrepreneurship class at Kellogg about customer discovery and human-centered design. 

Because of this, we got off on the right foot with things like focusing on a problem, not a solution, getting out of the (very nice and shiny) business school building and talking to people with that problem, and testing and iterating like crazy in a scrappy way. Our Kellogg professors and classmates continue to cheer us on and support us today as advisors, customers, and friends.

Where are you with the business right now? What are your plans for the future?

We are growing quickly as communities proactively seek out new ways to support people in their life who are grieving amidst the pandemic. 

We are hiring to continue our never-ending journey to improve our product experience for our community, and we’re excited about new partnerships we’re building (and are very open to new ones; reach out!)

What are your tips for staying positive during the pandemic?

Give yourself permission to be stressed out some days, play hide & seek in your quarantine home, have a teammate DJ your virtual team meetings, focus on caring for others, and pick up a new hobby (don’t forget about your local library— the LifeWeb 360 team is loving checking out different cookbooks each week!). 

And, when all else fails, there is always videos of babies tasting lemons on YouTube!


Gift Card Bank


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Who: Khalil Fuller

School: Stanford Graduate School of Business

Valuation: N/A

Investment: $325k raised at time of writing


Q&A


What is your business and what does it do?

Our mission is to improve well-being and financial security by supporting people through their time of greatest need. 

Gift Card Bank is a scalable, secure platform that aggregates digital gift cards for essentials and distributes them to low-income families in need. 

How did the idea for your business come about?

The idea for Gift Card Bank came to me after working with food banks in the Spring. They had been hit with a double-edged sword of rapidly increased demand while their volunteer bases were reduced due to social distancing. 

Gift cards are a novel way to use technology to ensure food access for vulnerable families. We help people like Shannon in Houston:

“Last month, I actually ran out of food stamps and didn’t have anything left for groceries. Thanks to your gift, I was able to buy food for the week. I am truly grateful. Thank you.” 

How has your MBA helped you develop your business?

Stanford GSB has an emphasis on interdisciplinary learning, because truly great businesses come from blending insights and expertise from multiple different arenas. 

Gift Card Bank is a prime example: My background is in scaling innovative nonprofits, and my founding team of GSB students have worked in fintech, supply chain optimization, and technology development. 

The MBA experience taught us the importance of moving quickly when an entrepreneurial opportunity presents itself, and building a company that constantly runs experiments. 

We created the MVP for Gift Card Bank in less than four days, and have iterated constantly with ongoing feedback from the market. 


Where are you with the business right now? What are your plans for the future?

After a summer of successful pilots with top tier grocers and food banks, we are ready for scale. We’ve proven that the Gift Card Bank platform can distribute support efficiently, and we plan to grow to $1.5 million in gift card value and help 25,000 families next year. 

What are your tips for staying positive during the pandemic?

Like most people, I’ve struggled to maintain strong mental health at points throughout the year. Something that has helped me emotionally is a gratitude journal. 

I know it may sound so cliche, but taking a few moments to pause and think about the things I appreciate helps put the rest of life into perspective. 

Try writing down:

A person you’re grateful for. Bonus good vibes if you text them a quick “thinking about how much you mean to me” message

Something in your visual field that brings joy. Can be a flower, the light through a window, or even the texture of a rug.

An opportunity you have that you should not take for granted.


Wharton
Hello Ralphie


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Who: Felicity Johnson

School: Wharton

Valuation: N/A

Investment: $635k


Q&A


What is your business and what does it do?

HelloRalphie is a marketplace that connects pet parents with veterinarians for video and chat appointments.

How did the idea for your business come about?

While working in New York, Felicity’s cat, Tiffany, was diagnosed with cancer. 

Felicity struggled with managing Tiffany’s veterinary care appointments, which were always scheduled for the middle of the day, and her full-time job. She often took time off of work to bring Tiffany to the vet because the option for a virtual appointment didn't exist. 

During COVID, pet parents and vets have sought out solutions for socially distant appointments. For parents who don’t wish to participate in curbside drop off and for vets who may be at higher risk, HelloRalphie has been the perfect solution.

How has your MBA helped you develop your business?

HelloRalphie (formerly My Virtual Veterinarian) won the 2020 Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship Challenge, rewarding us $30K in cash and $15K in in-kind services.

Wharton’s Venture Lab is incredibly helpful with promoting HelloRalphie through LinkedIn and the Wharton Magazine. 

The Wharton network helps me daily—whether it’s finding experts for advice, or reaching out to potential partners.

Where are you with the business right now? What are your plans for the future?

The platform has generated over $70K in gross revenue, of which ~$20K is net to HelloRalphie. 

We have over 2600 users and our conversion is 25%. We are building a white-label platform for partners to offer virtual veterinary care to their clients within their ecosystem.

What are your tips for staying positive during the pandemic?

Honestly, I love what I’m working on and am motivated by my desire to help more pets access veterinary care. 

I spend much of my free time walking and playing with my 11-month old puppy, Ralph, who brings me a lot of joy.


METHODOLOGY

For our coronavirus startups list, we reached out to the world’s top 25 business schools as ranked by the Financial Times in 2020. We requested nominations for one startup per school which was launched by an MBA graduate, and is helping those affected by coronavirus. We’ve only featured schools who responded and nominated a relevant startup.

All values such as valuations and investment are to date and were reported to us by the founders themselves. When a confirmed value is forthcoming, it is noted as TBC in this list. For startups where valuation is not applicable, for instance in the case of nonprofits, this has been market N/A.

This feature was put together by the BusinessBecause editorial team: Bethany Garner, Simon Lovick, Thomas Nugent, and Joy Hunter.

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