For entrepreneurs, tapping into a like-minded community can provide that extra push to keep going. That’s precisely the goal of the Polsky Founders’ Fund Fellowship, or PF3, at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, where nine entrepreneurs are spending the year growing existing ventures.
Left to right: Joey Dumas, Gordon Taylor, Rho Kook Song, Lance Larsen, Andi Hadisutjipto, Dane Guarino, Austen Mance, Jinjing Xia, Mike Pintar, and LaoTu team member Dora Yao.
PF3, now in its first official run, serves as a yearlong incubator for Chicago-based entrepreneurs, providing everything from funding to coworking spaces to quarterly check-ins. Graduating University of Chicago students, Booth students, and decelerating Booth students can apply for the program. Here’s a look at the newest fellows:
Current Full-Time MBA student Lance Larsen and Dane Guarino, ’16, Cofounders of Markit Medical
Combatting sticker shock after a medical procedure can be difficult. So fellows Larsen and Gaurino created a platform that integrates into the physician-referral process and lets consumers estimate the costs of their procedures and doctor visits before committing to a certain physician or treatment. The founders are marketing the service to insurers eager to help their customers find more transparency when it comes to medical costs. In addition to giving them the opportunity to grow their database, the fellowship has been a rewarding experience because the pair has been able to further hone their concept, said Larsen. PF3 “allowed us to run proof-of-concept tests before we had insurance companies as customers,” he said.
Mike Pintar, ’16, COO of NETenergy
After years of hardware development, the team at NETenergy is almost finished with a thermal battery they hope will shave at least 30 percent off of commercial cooling costs. The battery stores cold energy and is similar to an electrical battery. During peak energy use—when rates can surge up to six times the off-peak rate—the battery uses stored thermal energy to reduce both costs and carbon emissions, said Pintar. As the team of five works to perfect the battery hardware, the fellowship has turned into a community to celebrate both successes and mistakes. “We can talk and share war stories,” Pintar said.
We were able to bring in an advisor who is a former ride-sharing executive, which allowed us to understand more about the industry.
Current Full-Time MBA student Andi Hadisutjipto, Founder and CEO of Riviter
The world of image recognition is expanding quickly. Applying the latest technology is especially useful for innovative online retailers, said Hadisutjipto. Riviter uses a visual search algorithm to improve retailers’ ability to market relevant products to consumers online. PF3’s quarterly check-ins for fellows “have been a great organizing function,” Hadisutjipto said. “These help to keep us accountable to higher-level goals and get us in the practice of reporting to our investors.”
Current Full-Time MBA student Rho Kook Song, Cofounder and CEO of Freenters
As printing costs at universities grow, students have another option. Freenters works with sponsors to pay college students to print ads along with their documents, said Kook Song. The company, which has more than 15,000 users and is already active on campuses, is now moving toward a software-only model, a transition that’s been helpful to speak about with other fellows. With most PF3 teams located at a coworking space in the city, it’s easy to “casually bounce ideas off each other,” Kook Song said. “Those spontaneous conversations are worth it.”
Austen Mance, AB ’16, Founder of Enlistics
Applying analytics to the hiring process can mean huge rewards for businesses looking to find the best employees. At Enlistics, Mance helps firms analyze the strengths of sales candidates through their social media data (much like credit-card companies check credit scores), minimizing the risk for employee turnover. The support from Polsky has allowed the team of five to attend auto-industry conventions to roll out their services to car dealerships, where sales-team turnover remains extremely high, Mance said.
Polsky helped us to reach out to our base in Shenzhen.
Gordon Taylor, ’16, Founder of Carla
Even with widely available ride-sharing services, getting to a large-scale event can be a hassle when prices surge and hopes of finding a car wane. Taylor’s early-stage carpooling start-up hopes to address the problem by providing transport to large events such as Coachella and Burning Man or even local football games. The platform allows car owners to rent their vehicles for carpooling with their peers. While new to the ride-sharing space, Taylor said the fellowship has helped him get better acquainted with the industry. “We were able to bring in an advisor who is a former ride-sharing executive, which allowed us to understand more about the industry,” he said.
Joey Dumas, ’16, Cofounder and CEO of UnMannedKind
As drone technology becomes even more sophisticated, the regulatory environment becomes more complex. Dumas, a former pilot, is hoping to provide advisory services to companies eager to integrate drones into their current airspace and flight-planning systems as well as help in navigating the ever-changing regulation landscape. For Dumas, the encouragement and advice from PF3 fellows who are further along in building their firms is key. “As the rest of my classmates are starting to get full-time jobs and paychecks, having that network and cohort is very helpful,” he said.
Jinjing Xia, MA ’16, Cofounder of LaoTu
With greater focus on the safety of China’s food supply, start-ups including LaoTu are moving in. Cofounder Xia hopes to build out a platform for rural farmers making ecologically produced products in China. That’s because connecting farmers to their urban customer base promotes the kind of “environmental caring” that’s key to sustainable agriculture, she said. For Xia, who founded the company last year, reaching the user base from Chicago’s campus seemed out of reach at first. But as a PF3 fellow, Xia was able to tap into the Booth network in China, connecting with experts in agribusiness to get a sense of the market and the needs of consumers. “Polsky helped us to reach out to our base in Shenzhen,” Xia said.
—By Alina Dizik