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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘After the Launch’ features Boston-area start-ups

Published: December 5, 2014
Section: News

This Wednesday, Dec. 3, in the Hassenfeld Conference Center, WINC (Women, Inc), a Brandeis initiative for women to support business and politics, organized “After the Launch.” The event was sponsored in conjunction with the International Business School (IBS) Asper Center for Global Entrepreneurship program.

The entrepreneur panelists had a chance to introduce their business and answer general questions asked by students. The participating eight firms were Philo, MassChallenge, Disease Diagnostic Group, SongwriterLink, Leanbox, SQZ Biotech, Catie’s Closet and Jess, Meet Ken. Feierstein asked questions to each of the companies.

Panelists responded to the first question, which concerned at what point they decided to focus on their business instead of a career or school. “Philo is a television service for college,” Tuan Ho answered. He said he never meant it to become a business. Philo started in a Harvard dormitory, when Ho and his roommate wanted to watch cable TV. They encountered a problem: Harvard did not provide cable TV. As physics majors with engineering mindsets, the two dug in and solved the problem. “For some reason we had a [TV] server. And we used that server to re-broadcast the television to the laptops to watch television.” When a hallmate found out about this, he offered to pay for the service on his own computer. At that point, Ho was convinced that this could be a business.

Joanna Meiseles from MassChallenge introduced her idea for Snip-Its. When she had her first child, she thought it would be great to have a child-specialized haircut business. A child’s first haircut experience is memorable, and children often dislike it. Snip-Its provides a more fun environment. Meiseles also shared her current work as the director of MassChallenge. She said startups, regardless of the field, face similar problems. It comes down to money, people and strategy problems. MassChallenge is a company that helps startups from all stages throughout the world.

John Lewandowski from Disease Diagnostic Group (DDG) shared how he got involved with his business. In Cleveland, he became interested in medicine and enjoyed helping patients but wanted to help a larger population. With this in mind, he started his company to cure malaria. On top of running a company, he was continuing his studies as a Ph.D. candidate at MIT. He offered advice to people who might want to do both work and study: “Make a flexible timeline.”

Lisa Occhino, the youngest panelist, graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in music business. Her background helped give her the idea for her company, SongwriterLink, which connects songwriters looking to collaborate. Occhino thought that Berklee was the best place to try her beta website, enabling her to use unique resources and the people around her.

“As a student I was also in one of these conferences, and I had a fire in my belly,” recalled Shea Coakley, founded of Leanbox. He remembered his college life, and how the idea for his startup bounced around in his head for a while. After graduation, he took a traditional career path and got a job that was high paying and high stress. During work, the most important thing to him was getting fresh food. He got his business idea from that insight.

SQZ Biotech founder shared the basis technology, CellSqueeze, for his company and its use in medical practices. CellSqueeze squeezes cells that open up pores in the membrane. When the pores are open, the device can deliver molecules inside. SQZ Biotech are the people who provide the technology to deliver the molecules. This has shown effects in immunotherapy, treating leukemia and cancer. The University of Pennsylvania conducted a study using CellSqueeze on 21 patients with fatal diseases, and 18 of them became cancer-free after four years. Identifying the molecules are key in preventing the disease.

The only non-profit startup, Catie’s Closet, was launched after creator Mickey Cockrell worked in the retail sector for 30 years. Catie’s Closet provides free clothes and necessities to 12,000 impoverished students. She shared the two stories behind the creation of her company. In 2009, she read an article about two homeless high school students living under a bridge in her town. She could not believe that people were living in such conditions in the community in which she grew up and wanted to aid them. The second motivation was her niece, after whom the company is named. She caught an unknown disease when she was 14 and passed away when at only 20 years old. As a way of continuing her legacy and raising awareness of Catie’s tissue disorder, Cockrell named the company Catie’s Closet.

Ken Deckinger is the founder of a new dating website, Jess, Meet Ken. The site functions in that a woman posts a man to recommend to other girls. If another woman finds him interesting, the site connects the two women. Then afterward, the actual meeting between the man and the woman happens. Ken said this is how he met his wife Jess, and thought this idea could be competitive with other dating websites.

“After the Launch” was a night filled with energizing panelists and advice.