$90,000 a day.
That’s how much one contractor can lose after a part fails. When a construction project grinds to a halt, it disrupts an entire chain. As assets sit idle, the ripple effect can mean suspending other projects or incurring financial penalties for delays. Problem is, different vendors specialize in different supplies — with varying degrees of reliability. These gaps create an opportunity for an all-in-one partner that can quickly procure quality parts and equipment.
Call it a question of supply and demand — where service, speed, and subject matter expertise serve as the differentiators. In this niche, you’ll find Gearflow making headway. It was co-founded in 2018 by Ben Preston, a 2021 MBA graduate of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. You can think of it as the largest online platform for ordering replacement parts and equipment, one designed around the urgency of shutdowns in construction. However, volume and variety aren’t Gearflow’s only advantages. Think of the company as a safety net and aggregator — a partner that offers peace of mind by vetting suppliers ahead of time while delivering the flexibility to order from multiple vendors at the same time.
44 STARTUPS FROM 31 TOP BUSINESS SCHOOLS
Thus far Gearflow has raised $4.6 million dollars, including $3 million in its latest seed round In addition, the firm has closed a strategic partnership with CNH Industrial, a $30 billion dollar manufacturer. The partnership stems from the publicity that Gearflow enjoyed after winning the 2020 VentureCat competition at Northwestern. It also earned Preston an invitation to the Zell Fellows program, which provides coaching, networking, and support to student-launched ventures. For him, it would be difficult to slap a value on Kellogg’s impact on Gearflow’s success.
“The network proved to be more valuable than I could have ever anticipated,” Preston explains. “A large majority of our seed funding came from Kellogg alumni or by way of a connection made through the Kellogg network. More importantly, the key advisors we were able to gain along the way have been invaluable. We have been able to put together a world-class advisory board of well-known entrepreneurs, professors, and venture capitalists that would have been very challenging to do without Kellogg’s help.”
Gearflow is just one of the 44 student startups honored in P&Q’s 3rd annual “Most Disruptive MBA Startups.” This year, P&Q invited 40 business schools to submit nominations for MBA ventures. Ultimately, 31 programs participated, including Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, Wharton School, INSEAD, MIT Sloan, and Chicago Booth. To qualify, the nomination was required to have at least one founding member from the MBA Class of 2021. The schools were also encouraged to select ventures with the “greatest potential for lasting beyond business school.”
RAKING IN THE INVESTMENTS
One sign of stability: funding. Take Glyphic Biotechnologies, a protein sequencing platform co-founded by Stanford MBA Joshua Yang. It has already banked $6.025 million in seed funding. Emile Learning, a startup launched by UCLA Anderson’s Michael Vilardo, has positioned itself as the “Netflix of Education.” And it’s investors, including Kleiner Perkins, have socked $5.4 million dollars into the firm. The result: the platform has enabled over 50,000 students to earn high school and college credits online — with the firm adding 51 employees in the past year alone. By the same token, INSEAD’s Capim and UCLA Anderson’s Emerald Necklace Investments have raised $2.45 million and $2.0 million dollars respectively, with the latter besting the S&P Index by over 50% since it was launched. In addition, the Wharton School’s Manuel Godoy and Bernardo Garcia have generated $2.6 million in funding for Félix, a platform that combines AI and Blockchain to make it easier for Latinos to send money overseas.
“Both of us are Latino immigrants and we have lived through the struggle of sending money to our home countries (Venezuela and Mexico respectively),” Godoy tells P&Q. “We are passionate about using our skills to build technology products that can provide immense value to people. We want to solve the remittances problem for the 25 million foreign born Latinos living in the US.”
Sebastian Rivas’ startup, Andes STR, has collected $1 million in seed funding. The Chicago Booth venture is ambitious in scope. A mix of real estate and tech, Andes STR helps investors identify and purchase short-term rentals, such as Airbnb properties, with the highest potential returns. The biggest differentiator: time savings. According to Rivas, his platform cuts the time spent on finding and buying properties from 200+ hours to 2 hours. And Andes STR even manages the property too. The idea for the venture came from banking peers, who were baffled by the “excruciating” process of buying these properties — one Rivas experienced first-hand.
“When sophisticated investors find it too hard to invest in something, that’s a hint that there is an opportunity there,” Rivas jokes. “It took me months to learn everything I needed to learn, a couple more months to find a decent deal, a couple of weeks to arrange the financing, and the whole process was super stressful. And then managing the property myself was simply impossible with the long hours I was working at the time. I handed the property off to a management company, but they did an awful job taking care of it: I literally got a call from the police at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday notifying me that there was a shooting in my apartment! At that point, I asked myself, “Why isn’t there a trustworthy company that can take care of everything for me?” I was not only fed up, but also motivated to help others so they don’t have to go through the same ordeal.”
ACCESS AND TRANSPARENCY
Ease and access is also at the heart of another Chicago Booth startup: ML Tech. Here, Leo Mindyuk co-founded a high-frequency trading platform, one that “connects experienced crypto researchers with institutional capital.” His goal is to “democratize” this emerging marketplace, so analysts can monetize their strategy at the speed of change.
“Being an early researcher in crypto myself, I met a lot of people like me who run algorithmic trading strategies in crypto and wanted to get access to better infrastructure and capital to generate better investment returns. Meanwhile, through my work and professional connections, I realized that a lot of institutional investors wanted to get exposure to the emerging asset class, but it is difficult for them to find good researchers who can develop successful trading strategies in a transparent and secure environment. My co-founder and I came up with the idea to provide the infrastructure that will allow researchers to develop successful investment strategies, while solving the problems for institutional investors who want to get exposure to crypto.”
At Harvard Business School, Megan Murday has been bootstrapping Metric, a mix of investing, technology, and ESG. The goal, she says, is to furnish greater transparency in datasets beyond returns so investors can better “align sustainability, equity, and profitability.” To do this, she has developed a benchmarking platform that “recommend(s) ESG KPIs, managing targets, and providing data that can be used for LP reporting and portfolio management.” Murday’s idea stemmed from witnessing the limits of government and learning the value of incentives.
“Growing up in a deindustrialized South suburb of Chicago, I saw that systemic issues are multifaceted and do not serendipitously resolve themselves,” she writes. “I thought government would be the most straightforward solution, but a Georgetown policy degree and DC internships showed me that the public sector does not have the speed or scale to single-handedly address climate change or socioeconomic inequality.”
A TWIST ON DISRUPTIVE MODELS
ScholarSite, a Berkeley Haas startup, adds a twist to the usual education-technology connection. Rather than targeting traditional age students and educational institutions, ScholarSite sets its sites on professionals and businesses, bringing professors and experts to corporate meeting rooms and cube farms. Here, employees can engage in-person and online with these experts, who themselves enjoy added exposure to students outside the traditional classroom. Thus far, ScholarSite — which has received $800K in seed funding —has sold out two cohorts (140 seats) for Economics of Digital Platforms, a course taught by Haas Professor Steve Tadelis, a former economist with Amazon and eBay. More than that, these cohorts included employees from Google, Dropbox, and Upwork.
“We don’t believe leading experts (and their content) should only be accessible to those who can afford to attend elite schools,” explains Nicholas Rudder. “We feel that our background in academia, coupled with our experience in tech and media, makes us the perfect team to break down the ivory tower.”
Joylet is seeking to break down a different barrier. A baby gear rental firm, Joylet differentiates itself by offering flexible terms. As a result, new parents don’t have to buy expensive new items with short-term use that end up just taking up space or getting tossed out. Since its launch, Joylet has won first prize at two startup competitions, a tip of the hat to a sharing economy concept with serious staying power.
“[My partner and I] met in 2019, at a time in our lives when everyone around us was having babies,” writes Natalie Poston. “As we started to explore parenthood ourselves, it was obvious that the traditional model of baby gear ownership was outdated. Buying new gear for every baby can be wasteful – there’s already too much baby gear in circulation and oftentimes it can’t be donated, which means gear ends up in a landfill. We knew renting could not only be a more sustainable solution, it could reduce the stress parents felt about cost, reliability, storage, and choosing gear their child will like.”