2022 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Beni, Northwestern University (Kellogg)


Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

Industry: Retail Tech

Founding Student Name(s): Sarah Pinner (CEO), Kate Sanner (CMO)

Brief Description of Solution: Beni offers a free and easy-to-use browser extension that makes secondhand shopping seamless. With the click of a button, Beni intercepts online shopping searches and directs users to the same or similar products on leading resale marketplaces such as The RealReal, Rent the Runway, Vestiaire Collective, eBay, Kidizen, and more.  For example, when a shopper finds a product on a retail website (i.e. Nordstrom), Beni surfaces the same or similar secondhand items aggregated from resale marketplaces.  Watch this quick 2 minute explainer video for more.

Funding Dollars: We have raised over $1mln in venture funding with our pre-seed raise and are currently closing a seed round.

What led you to launch this venture? When I (Sarah) came to the MMM program, I knew I wanted to work on something related to reducing waste and accelerating the circular economy.  The idea specifically for Beni came out of conversations I frequently had with friends where they’d say something like “ugh, I know I should buy secondhand, but I just don’t.” As a proponent of circular models like resale, I was intrigued by the clear reality that, although shoppers increasingly recognize the financial and environmental value of buying secondhand, they still don’t buy secondhand. Through our user research, this is largely because the actual experience of shopping secondhand is time-consuming, clunky, confusing, and rarely top-of- mind. We launched Beni to address this problem and, for the first time, make the experience of shopping secondhand frictionless. In doing so, we believe that shopping resale can become the new norm – a win for our wallets, our closets, and our planet.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Our biggest accomplishment so far has been launching our beta, and now having Beni available for our users  to install. While Beni is designed to be simple and seamless for the user, the level of technology, data, and partnerships behind the product is massive. I am so proud of the whole team for the way we have come together to make this product a reality.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? It’s not an exaggeration to say that Beni would not exist without our experience at Kellogg and without my experience in the MMM program. The most powerful ways in which the program helped me is through resources and people. Our resources spanned from receiving access to office space in the building through Kellogg’s entrepreneurship program to free subscriptions to data platforms (and everything in between). We also received financial support through a variety of programs at the school including opportunities within Kellogg’s Social Impact department and the Zell Fellows program. This support was critical not only to fund the business, but also to de-risk my choice to work on Beni full time during the summer after my first year instead of taking a “traditional” internship. This said, even more importantly, I had the chance to work with the most incredible classmates while building my venture while at Kellogg.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? There are so many!  One, of course, is Yvon Chiounard, the founder of Patagonia.  One of my favorite books is his Let My People Go Surfing, which highlights how you can build a business with integrity, keeping people and the planet at the center. I am also inspired by Melanie Perkins, founder of Canva, who has shown great perseverance in building her business.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Rick Desai, a partner at Listen Ventures, taught our New Venture Development class which is designed to help student entrepreneurs design and run experiments to develop their start-up ideas. This class was so impactful to us largely because of the frameworks and resources Rick brought to us as students. To this day, we still use the “riskiest assumptions” framework we learned in his class to help us make prioritization decisions. Rick continues to be an important and valuable mentor to us.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? We were involved in a number of Kellogg and Northwestern entrepreneurial programs which both directly supported us with dedicated workspace at The Garage and connected us to the larger Chicago startup ecosystem.

For example, after pitching Beni at Demo Day for The Garage’s Jumpstart accelerator program, we connected with an investor who has since invested in Beni.  A number of other investors in Beni have come through similar experiences and connections through Northwestern events and community members.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? Beni’s overarching purpose is to transform the norms of consumption by accelerating the circular economy. We know this is a lofty goal and we are taking it one step at a time. In September, we officially launched the Beni browser extension on Chrome and Safari (both desktop and mobile) after months of building and testing. Going forward we are excited to continue to grow the community of Beni users and resale partners. We will also expand the functionality of the extension to further reduce pain points in both buying and selling through resale online. Our goal is that, by making resale convenient and accessible, we will help build a world where at least 1 in 5 garments are traded through circular business models by 2030.


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