Blog: October 2013


 By Cynthia Hua

krishna yeshwant

Inspiration can help sustain a startup, particularly during difficult times for the company, said Krishna Yeshwant at a talk last week hosted by the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute.

At the talk, Yeshwant shared his insight into starting businesses as an entrepreneur and general partner of Google Ventures. Previously, Yeshwant started multiple ventures that were acquired by major businesses including Hewlett-Packard and Symantec. More than 50 people attended the event in Linsly-Chittenden Hall.

“When I was starting as an entrepreneur, I was pretty opportunistic. My first two ventures were really about market opportunities, lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” Yeshwant told the audience.

Yeshwant — who holds a medical degree from Harvard Medical School and a master’s from Harvard Business School — has repeatedly applied his medical education to found startups in the healthcare field. His business plan for Diagnostic for All, a company started in 2007 to pioneer better, cheaper diagnostic technology, won business plan competitions for $100,000 from both Harvard Business School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Two Types of Startups

There are two types of startups, Yeshwant said. The first is the opportunistic company which takes advantage of existing market opportunities and the second is the transformative, disruptive, “big idea” company. Despite what might one might expect, the “big idea” company can be a smarter idea at times, even if it does inherently carry more risk.

“When things go sideways, and things go sideways in every company for some time, what is it that keeps people in that company with you?” Yeshwant asked. “People might start floating off and disappear, but with big, transformative ideas, people are there for something different and they aren’t going to leave until they get there.”

For Yeshwant, one the major ideas for startups on the market today is the buzzword of “big data.” The concept of capitalizing on extremely large quantities of data can be a catchall technique for a lot of the solutions sought by startup companies, he explained. When considering applications involving big data, it helps to start with the problem and move into discussions about solutions from there, he advised.

Innovation in Action

When an audience member asked what company today Yeshwant found particularly innovative, he pointed to Foundation Medicine, a startup which works on cancer sequencing. The crucial item to remember, even when working in areas of big data and deep analysis, he said, is to maintain a connection with the consumer. Foundation Medicine stands out because it connects directly back to the patient.

Yale presents a major opportunity for entrepreneurs in the future, Yeshwant observed in conclusion.

“Some of the things happening on the West Campus, the support and activities you guys have going on… there is a kind of general culture that permeates Yale as an institution,” Yeshwant noted. “Yale is clearly an established institution but people seem to be able to reorganize the institution to go after the opportunities that are available and interesting today.”

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By Cynthia Hua

109 design

Teens who have to wear back braces to correct the problematic spinal curves of adolescent scoliosis may soon have an easier time due to the 109 Design team, one of many teams participating in the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute’s Venture Creation Program (VCP).

Undergraduates Levi DeLuke, Sebastian Monzon and Ellen Su developed the Intellistrap device for better scoliosis treatment system and are now accelerating their technology with funding and guidance from the VCP. The VCP provides early-stage student startups with up to $2,500, a mentor, expert advice and dedicated space in the YEI Incubator.

The 109 Design team kicked off their venture through a fellowship with the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design at Yale this past summer. CEID sponsors the summer fellowship annually to offer student projects funding and equipment as well as mentorship.

Existing scoliosis monitoring products rely on outdated technology and are not able to provide patients and doctors with reliable, quality feedback or real-time data on the treatment’s progress. The Intellistrap device, prototypes of which were recently completed, comes as a strap that can be fitted onto existing braces.

109 design

“Our feedback device aims to improve current treatment methods by increasing the effectiveness of bracing,” DeLuke says. “Our device attaches to existing scoliosis braces and gathers data on the quality and hours of brace wear.”

Around 10% of the population suffers from adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS), abnormal spinal curvature without an identifiable cause, and 1% of those cases need treatment. Children and teens between eight and 14 are most likely to be effected, particularly girls. The Intellistrap is meant to reduce the likelihood of surgery for these scoliosis patients, a condition which can be mentally and physically scarring as well as highly costly, DeLuke says.

Braces are often not worn for the time prescribed by a doctor and even when braces are worn, they are often not tight enough to be fully effective. In order to take full advantage of their treatment, patients need reliable feedback. The Intellistrap device will provide that feedback and help to reduce the progression of spine curvature, leaving the patient with a straighter spin at the end of treatment, DeLuke adds.

“We hope to improve the bracing experience for patients by allowing them to understand their treatment and to become involved in the treatment process,” he says.

The appearance and technology of the product have been designed to be unobtrusive and low-profile in order to integrate into current treatment methods seamlessly, according to Su. The device is a “natural addition” to the existing braces, Su says.

At the moment, the Intellistrap is targeted to parents and doctors to help them better understand their children and patients’ treatment, Su says. However, a priority for the company will be making the bracing experience more positive for young patients. During the design process, the team visited clinics to talk with patients and doctors and met with members of Curvy Girls, a national scoliosis support group.

“We intend to be a design company that focuses on solving meaningful problems using the design process, but we also want to bring creativity to these serious issues,” Su says.

The team is currently implementing a pilot study.

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By Brita Belli

start something yale

At Start Something on Oct. 11, YEI's crash course in the lean startup methodology, students were divided into groups based on their interests and challenged to come up with ideas for new startups. Inspirations included art hostels; customized prescription drugs; authentic, easy-to-eat Chinese food; a service to help companies complete environmental surveys; a clothing line; and even a deer repellent. The teams had time to discuss and present value proposition (the proposed benefits one is providing to a customer) and then to follow up with discussions about customer discovery, both key components of the lean startup method.

YEI Program Director Alena Gribskov who led the program along with serial entrepreneur Kyle Jensen, told the group: "There's no substitute for talking to customers. It can be very anxiety-inducing, because you have to talk to strangers. But until you do, you will not have real data -- you will only have assumptions."

See all the pictures from Start Something on the YEI Facebook page. Interested in joining? Another Start Something session is being planned for November.

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By Margaret Lee

 joe lane

Joe Lane, a founding principal of the private investment firm Sinter Partners, has been a highly involved mentor with YEI since the earliest days of the Mentor Program. His broad business experience over the past 30 years has made him one of YEI’s most versatile mentors.

Most notably, Joe served as Senior Vice President of IBM and President of IBM Credit Corporation. He was also an owner and Vice Chairman of Bay4 Capital, an independent provider of leasing, management and portfolio services for information technology which was sold to GE Capital.

Joe worked with former YEI Summer Fellow Bob Casey (YC ‘11) on his project, YouRenew, a company that sells used electronics to other companies and recycles the rest. Calling on his experience re-designing IBM's equipment recovery processes, Joe challenged Bob to consider the differences between a capital-intense business model, versus a leaner one that could leverage existing facilities and processes of a potential strategic partner/buyer. Staying lean and focused, Bob positioned YouRenew as an attractive acquisition for Clover Wireless in 2012.

“You really want to comb through the later stages of business development and think about what would make the enterprise attractive to buyers,” Joe says. YouRenew was successfully acquired by Clover Wireless in 2012.

Joe was also involved with Claire Henly (YC ‘12) and David Kohn (YC ‘11) of Red Ox Technologies, a startup built around water desalination that would use the process to create electricity and valuable inorganic salts. Joe was able to help Claire and David challenge their original business model focused on multi-hundred-million-dollar commercial de-salination plants, and redirect toward more manageable applications for energy companies pursuing enhanced natural gas recovery projects. In the end, it was also about finding the right suitor, something Joe always keeps in mind as an end-goal.

Other YEI ventures Joe has mentored include Chairigami, Guidefinder and Lockswipe.

One of his main goals in guiding these startups is to accelerate awareness among suitors. What are buyers looking for? What makes the business attractive? Joe says that incorporating the answers to these questions well and early is key; sharpening the business plan from the beginning, he has found, saves a lot of trouble later on.

How can entrepreneurs take advantage of mentors like Joe more effectively? He recommends involving them regularly as opposed to sitting them on a shelf and touching base every three months. Joe puts it this way: “In the end, it comes down to simple and regular cadence of communication, from the concept level all the way to launch and expansion.”

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By Brita Belli

Computer science innovators at Yale addressed an audience at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute on Friday, Oct. 4, to talk about their experience forming companies and developing ready-to-launch technologies. 

justin daniel hadapt

Justin Borgman, CEO of Hadapt, and Daniel Abadi, Chief Scientist of Hadapt and Associate Professor of Computer Science at Yale, spoke together for the first time since forming their big data startup in 2010. Borgman was introduced to Abadi’s research while interning with the Yale Office of Cooperative Research (OCR). He was evaluating various research papers for commercial feasibility when he came across Abadi’s paper about giving the open-source software Hadoop a common language—SQL—which would make the software available for use by big companies, including retails stores and banks, who have large amounts of data to process.

Borgman’s first challenge was convincing Abadi to commit to starting a company. “I was minding my own business, trying to get published and get tenure,” says Abadi, adding with a smile that “Justin was extremely persistent and convinced me to take the leap.”

The two were matched through the Technology Commercialization Program (TCP) in which graduate and professional school students with industry experience are paired with faculty researchers with innovative technologies to launch new startups. The program is jointly run by OCR and YEI. Hadapt was also given extensive mentoring and financial support through YEI’s Summer Fellowship—a 10-week intensive bootcamp for new Yale ventures. The startup would go on to raise $1.5 million in seed financing and has grown into one of the most promising big data startups in Boston. Today, Hadapt has raised $17 million in venture capital and has about 40 employees.

No matter what happens next, Borgman says, he’ll always be an entrepreneur. “This has been a massive learning experience,” says the former SOM student. “There’s no doubt in my mind I want to do this again.”  

Abadi agrees that being part of a startup has given him invaluable business insight that he’s brought back to his classroom. “I take what I learn and bring it back to the lab at Yale,” he says. “I’ve had exposure to real world problems.”

Solving the Internet’s Traffic Problems 

Yale Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Professor Y. Richard Yang  presented his latest innovations in research to an audience that included current TCP Fellows who were looking to form their own faculty-student startup.

When it comes to managing countless data-hungry devices, Yang’s project, Argos, would help manage the stream by increasing antennas at wireless base stations used for cell phones. Yang, along with researchers at Rice University and Bell Labs, already has a prototype with 64 antennas showing that the technology works. The eventual goal is for each base station to host thousands of antennas (which are stacked inside a cube).

The other technology Yang introduced—YuGate (short for Yale University Gate) —aims to solve the problem of latency, or delay in website response time. Latency, he says, which contributes to long loading times for websites, images and videos, reduces page views by 11% and customer satisfaction by 17%.

“Where are the bottlenecks?” Yang asked. “They are the links between the network and service providers.”

YuGate is a small square device about the size of a thermostat box, that would connect one’s home devices and allow users to control traffic management. YuGate would also function as a user’s “personal cloud,” mesh algorithms for peer-to-peer connections (technology developed at Yale) and function as an on-demand network application broker.

TCP Fellows in the audience had the opportunity to assess Yang's technologies during the talk and to later propose one-on-one meetings to discuss forming a startup that could mimic Hadapt's success.


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