2023 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Sharp Performance, Columbia Business School

Sharp Performance

Columbia Business School

Industry: Health/Defense-Tech

Founding Student Name(s): Benjamin Curley (MBA ’23); Andrew Sakmar (MBA ’23)

Brief Description of Solution: Sharp Performance’s team of Green Berets, Navy SEALs, and their performance coaches, takes cognitive performance coaching and training from Special Operations and delivers it to high-risk professionals such as law enforcement officers, firefighters, and military personnel. The rate of stress-related ailments in Public Safety is higher than ever, and the current solutions are heavily stigmatized and reactive. Sharp’s platform acts as a preventative mental performance solution for this community.

Funding Dollars: Pre-Seed

What led you to launch this venture? We believe that the Public Safety function is essential to America’s social fabric and prosperity, and the men and women in Public Safety need and deserve all the support we can give them. Every time you call 9-1-1 it’s the worst day of your life. First responders answer those calls all day one after another, and then go home, take off their uniform, and answer the call of being a parent or partner. Our team understands this difficult transition because most of us have lived it and know that some of the tools and techniques previously reserved for Special Operators can help.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Closing multiple multi-year contracts with law enforcement agencies across the country, and already having customers reach out to tell us we’ve changed their life.

What has been the most significant challenge you’ve faced in creating your company and how did you solve it? Government agencies are known to be difficult to sell into, but our deliberate go-to-market strategy has allowed us to move far faster than anyone thought possible. We won’t share any secrets, but we’ve been able to shrink our full sales motion down to where it’s even faster than most B2B SaaS companies selling into the private sector.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? The MBA network and process were vital. We formed our team through the MBA and met so many great people who turned into investors, advisors, and channel partners. The MBA program also gave us space to do proper customer discovery. We knew we were onto something with Sharp, and the MBA gave us the time to learn while figuring out the best go-to-market.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Palmer Luckey, founder of Anduril Technologies, has been a big inspiration for our team. He set out to build a defense-tech company and serve the men and women who serve us when it was deeply unpopular in the tech community. He has provided the roadmap for building a large venture-backed company selling into government.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Entrepreneurial Law with Professor David Haber. It has helped us avoid many of the most common founder potholes and has set us up to grow. Plus, he liked our company so much that he became our lawyer!

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Dave Lerner from Greenhouse. He invited extraordinary speakers to share their founder experiences and gave our team both the support and the space we needed at different times.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? New York is the dominant market for early-stage healthcare companies, and Columbia has done a great job intertwining with that network. New York is also the greatest city in the world, so it’s powerful to say, “Let us know the next time you’ll be in NYC” and knowing there’s a real chance they will be.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? Our vision is to break the stigma around mental performance and mental health. The number of people uninterested by the incumbent mental health and wellness companies is significantly larger than the number of people who are interested in them. We get it, and that’s our market.

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