2022 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: TrueToForm, University of Chicago (Booth)


University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

Industry: Artificial Intelligence, Apparel

Founding Student Name(s): Janice Tam, Co-Founder & CEO

Brief Description of Solution: TrueToForm is a SaaS platform that generates digital human avatars from a scan on a smartphone, enabling the secure transfer of individual body data across the apparel supply chain for scalable, made-to-measure apparel production.

Funding Dollars: $260,000 friends and family round; currently raising a pre-seed round.

What led you to launch this venture? During the summer of 2020, in the heart of the pandemic, my co-founder Margaret and I picked up a new hobby of sewing and altering our own clothes. As two petite women, we looked for dress forms that would match our own body types. The more we searched, the more we realized that dress forms – a foundational tool for how clothing is made – were not representative of many people’s bodies, including our own. Given Margaret’s experience working on sensing technologies at Apple for five years, we began wondering if it would be feasible to create custom dress forms from a scan of the body using a mobile device.

This led us to develop our first minimum viable product – a scan of the body that created a replica of the torso, or effectively, a virtual dress form. As we began talking to apparel designers, pattern makers, and brands, we saw that the fashion industry was undergoing a massive digital transformation in the wake of the pandemic. Seeing that the future of fashion was digital, we recognized that our technology could enable a much more powerful solution than the physical dress form. This inspired us with the vision of what TrueToForm is today – a 3D avatar solution that enables designers to construct and fit garments using a fully virtual representation of the body.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Building a strong team and recruiting top talent, both internally and externally. We’ve gained buy-in from an active group of customers, investors, and advisors who have become strong advocates for our business. These individuals are at the forefront of 3D innovation in the fashion industry, and they have been instrumental in helping us establish credibility when we were previously fashion “outsiders”.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? The benefits of my MBA program started even before my first year at Chicago Booth, with the Polsky Center’s Startup Summer internship program. I worked at a SaaS startup where I learned the basics of product design, agile development, and how to operate in a high-growth tech environment.

This startup experience gave me the credibility to land my first venture capital internship during my first quarter at Booth. There, I had the opportunity to lead diligence for two high-priority deals, which both resulted in approved investments of $300K and $400K, respectively. By sitting on the other side of the table, I learned firsthand what investors were looking for when evaluating founder teams and early business models.

At the same time, I dove into the entrepreneurship curriculum at Booth to fill the remaining gaps of my knowledge. I recruited a team to accelerate my customer discovery efforts in Entrepreneurial Discovery; I took Accounting for Entrepreneurs to learn about equity, fundraising, and advisory boards; and took Entrepreneurial Selling to learn how to sell. I took Entrepreneurial Finance and Private Equity to understand how to build robust financial models and evaluate exit opportunities, and took New Venture Strategy to think about how to build sustainable competitive advantage.

I also took advantage of the plethora of resources provided by Chicago Booth and the Polsky Center for student entrepreneurs. I worked closely with the Innovation Clinic to build out my equity incentive plan and with the Corporate Lab Clinic to refine our privacy policies and data protection strategy. I leveraged the Polsky I-Corps program to accelerate our customer discovery efforts and launched our beta while participating in the Polsky Build Accelerator. We used the accelerator Demo Day to kick off our first fundraising round and successfully closed $260,000 in external capital from industry veterans in fashion and entertainment. I became the very first Founder Programming Chair of the Booth Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital (EVC) Group at Booth, where I was able to build community through the creation of EVC “founder families” and develop programming on tactical topics such as legal basics and the use of digital tools. In June 2022, we placed as finalists in the Polsky New Venture Challenge, winning $35,000 of investment.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Jennifer Fried, Chicago Booth alum and the co-founder of Explorer Surgical, spoke at one of my first entrepreneurship courses at Booth. I remember being blown away by her story and finding unexpected similarities in our stories – she was working in her dream role in venture capital while at Booth, and then chose to give that up to focus on her business after Booth. Her story gave me the confidence I needed to pivot from my originally planned career path in venture capital to working on my startup full time. More than that, Jennifer was able to achieve incredible success with her startup while also being a mom. It is inspiring to see another female founder demonstrate that it is possible to do it all.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Entrepreneurial Discovery with Professor Mark Tebbe. In this class, I was able to recruit a team of peers to focus on customer discovery for my startup. The class pushed me to test my hypotheses quickly through hundreds of customer interviews and helped me gain a better understanding of my true customer. Moreover, Professor Tebbe became an important mentor for me as I was learning the ropes as a first-time founder. From helping me incorporate my business to advising me on our technology development strategy, I would not have been able to get my venture off the ground without his support.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Steve Kaplan. He was the professor of the Polsky New Venture Challenge accelerator program we participated in when we were at a critical juncture in our journey. We had just completed the last leg of R&D required to sell our product, were just getting our first pilot customers on board, and were looking to begin the fundraising process. Professor Kaplan put us in front of smart investors and experienced entrepreneurs, helped us build momentum, and then ultimately invested in us. He is now one of the first people we call for advice.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? I found incredible support in the local Chicago fashion community during my time at Booth. We partnered with the local fashion school Columbia College Chicago to create a window exhibit showcasing our technology on Michigan Avenue. We developed relationships with the leaders of the Apparel Industry Board, Inc. (AIBI) and the Chicago Sews group, and held an event together introducing TrueToForm to their community members. Furthermore, we got the opportunity to work with local designers like Masha of VARYFORM, who partnered with us to run some of our very first customer pilots.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? Our goal is to build the most trusted avatar solution for apparel design and fitting. This enables us to achieve our mission of making well-fitting clothing more efficient to produce and thus more accessible to the everyday consumer.


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