The New Normal Post #7: How Drexel Entrepreneurs are Pivoting in the Age of COVID -19.


The focus of this blog has always been female entrepreneurship – after all, the name of the blog is The Ladies who Launch! But at this unprecedented time of COVID-19, I am pivoting to include male founders, whose stories of how they are adapting to the “new normal” are instructive to budding entrepreneurs everywhere.

Featuring Trey Lewis, Sports Fan and Entrepreneur

Drexel alum, Trey Lewis, grew-up in San Diego, California: a place where the weather is so nice that it was possible for Trey to play outside year-round participating in the sports that he loved. He played every sport under the sun, from swimming to golf to tennis. The only sport he wasn’t allowed to play was football, and with all the headlines in recent years regarding traumatic brain injuries, Trey is grateful to his mom, every day, for putting down her foot.

WeWager Founder and CEO, Trey Lewis

Trey’s father was an entrepreneur and he encouraged Trey’s innate entrepreneurial spirit. When Trey was ten, his dad asked him if he would ever consider following in his footsteps. Trey thought he was joking – he was too young to see himself someday in the same position as his father. It wasn’t until college that Trey realized that he had inherited his dad’s entrepreneurial drive.

Trey chose to attend Drexel University for two reasons: 1) the four seasons and 2) its Co-Op program. The thrill of everyday life in a northeastern climate quickly wore – off, but the Drexel Co-Op program proved to be a positive. Trey was able to hone his skills in the real world and these experiences cemented his belief that a person can learn more in practice than in theory. One of his Co-Ops included an opportunity to grow his business at Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship’s Baiada Institute, where he was given office space, access to technology, expert advice from mentors, and a stipend.

The Original SportsStock Team

Trey was awarded this Co-Op experience for a business that he began in high school with a friend, who was a business fanatic. His friend specialized in stocks, and by the age of 16, had amassed a portfolio worth thousands of dollars. They combined their passions and started SportsStock – a fantasy sports stock market. The premise behind SportsStock was this: sports teams acted as companies in the stock exchange; every team had a monetary value and that value changed depending on their performance on the field. Users of SportsStock could buy into a team with the goal of buying low and selling high.

There proved to be many complications with the development of SportsStock, and Trey decided to pivot. He created a new business – a sports betting app with a twist – and named it WeWager. WeWager is a social sports betting platform, where social media users can connect, compete, share, and participate in peer-to-peer sports betting with other sports fanatics.

As with many small businesses and start-ups, COVID-19 changed WeWager’s trajectory. The sports industry continues to struggle with the complex problem of how to combine public sports competitions with safe social distancing measures. Live sports events, at present, are non-existent, throwing the whole premise of WeWager into question. Trey credits The Close School with teaching him how to take a terrible situation and turn it into a positive: the WeWager team chose to see COVID-19 as an opportunity instead of a hindrance.  WeWager shifted its focus to eSports. eSports is an up and coming sports sub-industry that everyone is watching, even prior to the Pandemic. WeWager is now positioned to become one of the premier sports betting platforms within eSports. Users of the WeWager platform can remain safe while still doing what they love. With this pivot, opportunities for funding and marketing opportunities have increased, along with access to other resources.

As for the future of WeWager, Trey writes, “WeWager is a lifestyle career that I will not only love developing every single day, but it is a company that can also make an impact in the world. This is what makes an entrepreneur an entrepreneur: the ability to see a product as something much larger than anyone else can see it.”

Trey Lewis and WeWager are the featured entrepreneurs on this week’s Proving Ground Pop Up. They will also be the guest this week on Drexel’s Stay-Cation Summer Interview Series on Wednesday, July 22 at 1pm (RSVP here). Trey and WeWager are on Social Media! Website: https://wewager.io/ Instagram: www.instagram.com/wewagersports/



Lindsey Smith: Girl Boss

Lindsey_Smith

One of the qualities that I admire most about entrepreneurs is their ability to see the potential and possibility in all types of situations. It is seldom about one big idea – there are usually several ideas, with the next inspired by the previous.

LIndsey Smith Pitching her Idea at Start Up Fest, 2018

I see this quality in fourth year Drexel University Close School of Entrepreneurship student, Lindsey Smith. She doesn’t have just one idea – she has many! Woven through all is the belief in the value of a positive body image, healthy self-esteem, and balanced mental health.

Lindsey started her first venture, Fashion Buddy, in her first year at Drexel. Fashion Buddy is a mobile app that allows users to upload pictures of themselves wearing two outfit choices so that other users can vote for their favorite. A user can be at the mall, in a dressing room, or at home, choosing a job interview outfit, and they can request real-time feedback via the app. An important component of Fashion Buddy is that it does not allow comments. It gives only a choice between two positive statements, “Looks good” or “Looks great!”, eliminating the possibility of the negative body-shaming that prevails on other social media platforms.

Lindsey is no longer pursuing Fashion Buddy, but, from it, she discovered what it was about starting a business that really got her juices flowing: the life cycle of a new product. Its development, planning, verification, launch and marketing – its product management – that is what interests Lindsey the most.

With that in mind, Lindsey began work on her next venture – a mobile app called College Bird. College Bird is an on-demand platform that connects companies with college students and recent graduates who they can then hire to complete project-based tasks that they don’t have the bandwidth to tackle in-house. In the age of COVID-19, when many longer-term internships are no longer available, College Bird gives college students and recent grads real-world, resume-building experience, and an opportunity to earn money. Businesses can hire employees who have the most up-to-date skills, without the risk and expense that comes with a full-time hire. These Gig Economy jobs not only give students freedom and opportunity, but they place a value on flexibility, quality of life, and personal growth.

Which brings me to Lindsey’s other two, as she calls them, “side hustles”:

Lindsey‘s Palette and The Wildheart Collection. Both of these endeavors have, at their core, the belief that creativity and personal growth are vital to mental health. Lindsey’s Palette is a fine art venture that sells bright, one-of-a-kind, paintings that combine graphic imagery with feel good messages such as “Good Vibes” and the tongue-in-cheek, “Screw Perfet”. The Wildheart Collection produces limited edition products designed with the purpose of raising public awareness about mental health issues and posts feel-good messages and links to mental health resources on its instagram page.

Lindsey is an example of how incredible creativity and an inquisitive mind propels an entrepreneur from one idea to the next. Which of Lindsey’s ideas will stick? Who knows? But I can’t wait to see what comes next in the evolution of her entrepreneurial journey.

Lindsey will be the guest on the Summer Stay-cation Series of interviews with Drexel University entrepreneurs on Wednesday, June 24th at 12pm. RSVP here to receive the Zoom Meeting ID and password.

The New Normal Post #6: How Drexel Entrepreneurs are Creating Opportunities in the Age of COVID-19

The focus of this blog has always been female entrepreneurship – after all, the name of the blog is The Ladies who Launch! But at this unprecedented time of COVID-19, I am pivoting to include male founders, whose stories of how they are adapting to the “new normal” are instructive to budding entrepreneurs everywhere.

Featuring Harrison Hertzberg, Innovator, Inventor and Entrepreneur

Harrison Hertzberg is a 19-year old, first year student (going into his second year in the fall) at Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship. Harrison was born and raised on a ranch in the isolated wilderness of Northern Idaho. Spirit Lake is a spectacularly beautiful, wild place to grow up, surrounded by dense woods, high mountain peaks and clear, unspoiled, lakes. As the son of an inventor, Harrison grew up with an inquisitive mind and an interest in building things.

The family affectionately nicknamed their home “Invention Ranch” and from a very young age, Harrison worked by his dad’s side, inventing objects created out of materials from the natural world that surrounded him. Harrison refers to his inventions as “innovations” because they weren’t really revolutionary, but more like improvements to everyday objects. Several of his “innovations” utilized natural wood sourced from his family’s forested property. These included the “Soap Stick” (soap molded to a long, handcrafted wooden handle to increase reach), a “Clever Coaster” which solved the perpetual problem of knocking over one’s glass, and designs for imaginative and original pergolas that utilized lumber that he milled and produced himself.

In the summer after he graduated from high school, Harrison invented the devise that is the basis of his current entrepreneurial venture – AeroPest – an aerial drone spraying system designed to eliminate and prevent pests in hard-to-reach places. Harrison describes the “aha” moment that led to his invention: “I was on the roof of my dad’s second-story office building, on a steep incline, with my aerosol can in hand, spraying a wasp’s nest with wasps all around me on a 100 degree day. So, I was like ‘this is a problem, right? Is there a solution?’ And there wasn’t, so I decided to do it myself.”

With the advent of COVID-19, Harrison is back on his family’s ranch in Idaho. I am excited to share his answers to my questions in my 6th installment of “The New Normal: How Drexel Entrepreneurs are Pivoting in the Age of COVID-19.”

1) Describe your upbringing.

I have grown up my entire life in the pristine backwoods of rural North Idaho on a ranch. I am an only child. In middle and high school, (with the exception of my senior year), my father would drive me half an hour to the bus stop each morning so that I could spend another hour and a half on the long windy mountain route to attend a project-based Charter school: a daily four-hour round trip commitment for me, and a two-hour commitment for my father. This anecdote serves to demonstrate the unwavering commitment my parents had for my education. Drexel was a last-minute addition to my college applications list. I found The Close School because I had been doing lots of research on experiential entrepreneurial programs.

2) Tell me about the evolution of AeroPest.

AeroPest is a product project venture which creates drone-mounted aerial precision spraying systems for the Pest Control industry. It has evolved most during my freshman year at Drexel. My CTO and I are currently continuing the product development/prototyping process and refining the design and use of the product specifically for Pest Control professionals with no drone expertise. This technology will largely remove the need for dangerous ladder use to access elevated pest nests which is the main cause of significant injury in Pest Control.

Aeropest Logo

3) How has your business pivoted in the age of COVID 19?

Being forced to come home to Idaho has been a curse and a blessing. The curse: our almost non-existent internet, which makes remote learning a complete hassle. I must drive an hour to an open coffee shop with Wi-Fi in Sandpoint, Idaho. The long orange extension cord running from the coffee shop to my car tells everyone that pulls up, “this kid has set up shop… a real out-of-home office.” The blessing: I’ve been able to put my attention to AeroPest. My CTO, Jason Giddings, is here in Idaho and this has allowed us to accumulate all the necessary hardware in one place and to hand-off parts when necessary. Jason is a forty-year-old aeronautical engineer whose daughter I went to high school with. I met Jason while attending the monthly Inventors Association of Idaho meetings as a member. Jason is a serial entrepreneur with his hand in many pots simultaneously. Previously, Jason has launched a glass-laser keyboard product, a phone rifle scope “Intelescope”, and a salivary health test which he is currently selling in bulk due to the pandemic. His other current company “RhinoHide” has created a hardening bulletproof wall filler to ‘harden’ any facility that he’s primarily selling to schools and US border facilities. Jason brings technical expertise to design, fabricate, prototype, build and eventually initiate small-batch manufacturing. Jason also has experience crowdfunding, securing investors, as well as marketing through trade shows which will be a primary sales avenue for AeroPest.

AeroPest has pivoted from a small office space in the Baiada Institute at Drexel University to a large acreage and workshop where prototype testing isn’t hampered by campus or Federal Aviation Administration laws preventing drone flight.

4) How are you turning the hurdle of social distancing into an opportunity for AeroPest?

Social distancing has resulted in more people quarantining at home, and this home living has resulted in more people becoming more aware of the other organisms that share their home! All people, and most importantly, homeowners, have been able to act as human surveillance for the past two months. This is great for Pest Control and great for AeroPest.

5) How specifically are you “thinking outside the box”?

AeroPest is thinking outside the box by creating a high-tech solution for a low-tech industry. To bring this invention to life, in a way that works in the context of Pest Control, we are developing hardware and software that presents a shallow learning curve for operators and an attractive payback analysis for ownership. We are taking an “out of the box” approach by assuming we will be able to educate the industry on the efficiency-increasing applications of drone technology. Drones don’t require physical proximity; this makes drones a great pest control solution during the coronavirus pandemic or a worse pandemic in the future.

6) How do you imagine your business will look post pandemic?

AeroPest hasn’t been adversely affected by the coronavirus. Pest Control isn’t an industry that fluctuates much on its own and it has seen steady growth due to global temperature increases contributing to rising pest populations. My business is so young and so early in development, that it never knew a pre-pandemic existence. Additionally, the basic premise of my product is mitigating downside risk: the remote spraying drone serves to mitigate high-risk situations such as ladder use. In a post-corona world, a remote spraying drone could also serve to de-risk physical proximity and the subsequent possibility for viral transmission.

7) Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

In 5 years, hopefully AeroPest will prove to be successful. In addition to having a hand in AeroPest’s future trajectory of product offerings, I hope to be involved in other product projects that overlay into the drone world, which is one of my passions. In 5 years, I see myself as a Drexel graduate with venture experience under my belt and a plethora of Pest Control and drone-related industry connections to support my future endeavors. 

8) What makes a person an entrepreneur?

An entrepreneur forgoes the path of least resistance in an effort to make and share … entrepreneurship appears to be such a daunting mountain to climb – starting a business, doing anything yourself. The employer/employee track seems a lot easier. But, I guarantee entrepreneurship is more rewarding, even if you’re not successful.

Harrison Hertzberg

Harrison will be our Featured Entrepreneur during the week of June 1st – June 5th on our Proving Ground Instagram page. Follow us at http://www.instagram.com/provinggroundpopup/ to learn more about Harrison, his life, innovations and entrepreneurial adventures. Also, like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pgpopup/.

He will also be our guest on Wednesday, June 3 at noon, for our Summer Stay-cation Series of Zoom interviews featuring Drexel entrepreneurs. RSVP at https://bit.ly/HertzbergZoom to receive the link and password to attend.

The New Normal Post #3: How Drexel Entrepreneurs are Creating Opportunities in the Age of COVID-19

SafeSense HandleBars

The focus of this blog has always been female entrepreneurship – after all, the name of the blog is The Ladies who Launch! But at this unprecedented time of COVID-19, I am pivoting to include male founders, whose stories of how they are adapting to the “new normal” are instructive to budding entrepreneurs everywhere.

Featuring Jibran Nabeel and Robbie Decker of SafeSense

SafeSense Logo

SafeSense was founded in 2017 by Jibran Nabeel and Robbie Decker, undergraduate Science in Engineering Students at Drexel University. As avid cyclists, Jibran and Robbie have had many near accidents while riding the busy streets of Philadelphia. After a friend was rear-ended, they decided to come up with a solution to make the roads safer for cyclists.

SafeSense is the world’s first Artificial Intelligence powered bicycle accident prevention system. Its warning system consists of smart handlebar grips which light up, vibrate and beep to alert riders of impending danger. They are powered by technology that combines a camera, ultrasonic sensors and a mic-array to detect vehicles and dangerous obstacles. It also includes accident detection technology – if an accident occurs, an SOS message will be transmitted with the accident’s location. SafeSense is lightweight, aerodynamic, and anti-theft. Its business slogan is “Bicycle Safety Beyond the Helmet.”

With COVID – 19, most states have issued stay-at-home orders. Residents are being told to stay indoors, unless they are running an essential errand or participating in an approved recreational activity like bicycling, walking, hiking or jogging.

I jog the streets of my Philadelphia suburban neighborhood most afternoons. Occasionally, I see a fellow jogger or pedestrian. I rarely see a serious road cyclist; instead I see a handful of young children riding bicycles with a parent. More serious cyclists have chosen to stay off the roads during this pandemic. With hospitals already overwhelmed and at capacity, cyclists are choosing to stay home rather than risk an accident that could further strain an already-strained healthcare system.  

This hesitation to ride makes it clear that the cycling industry needs to come up with defensive solutions to make our roads safer for cyclists, sooner rather than later, and it makes the solution offered by SafeSense even more imperative. I asked Jibran and Robbie to share how SafeSense is meeting the demands and challenges of the “New Normal”.

What was SafeSense’s pre-pandemic business model?

The focal point of SafeSense’s pre-pandemic plan was to visit bike shops to get input and feedback from people on what they think could be changed and improved with our sensor. We are not at a product-ready stage, but we did have a roadmap and deliverables in place for prototyping and testing.

How are you turning the hurdle of social distancing into an opportunityHow has your business pivoted?

Social distancing has been a problem, but we are using this as an opportunity in several ways. There were several enhancements and add-ons for our product that we were putting off, but social isolation has given us the time to explore additional features and to focus on software development. There are a lot of things that can be accomplished remotely: we are contacting suppliers and manufacturers who otherwise wouldn’t have found the time for us pre-pandemic. But now due to the economic situation, these same suppliers and manufactures are now on board for all opportunities, including working with smaller companies such as ours.

How important is “thinking outside the box” to the survival and growth of your business?

Thinking out of the box plays a critical role in any given scenario. Our entire team thinks outside the box, hence the reason that we are here trying to solve a problem with our startup. How do we optimize our business for the post-pandemic economy? We are working on some ideas.  The pandemic has created a situation where people have become more reliant on an internet economy. So keeping that in mind, we are still searching for ways to optimize our product to meet the demands of the new, upcoming economy. Some of the things that we have considered, for instance, is breaking up our product into two parts and offering a stripped, bare-bones version of SafeSense first. Nothing is set in stone for us. As time goes on and we face different challenges, we will optimize our strategies accordingly. 

How important is resiliency to you? 

Resilience plays a huge role in achieving any type of success and we are being resilient and relentless in making sure that we do everything that is now possible that wasn’t possible before (such as working with companies that previously wouldn’t give SafeSense the time of day). As a team, we are all on-board in making sure we realize our objectives and don’t lose sight of the end-goal, which is to make cycling safer.

Bicycling is an approved exercise activity during the current Stay At Home orders. What are your thoughts on cyclists choosing to NOT ride rather than risk injury? How will this impact the future of SafeSense?

Many cyclists are choosing not to bike but at the same time, since gyms are closed and activities are limited due to quarantine, a lot of people who don’t normally bike are biking; we think that its going to create a huge impact in the post-pandemic society because cycling is a healthy activity and more and more people are embracing it now. So, we are hopeful that the potential market for SafeSense will actually see growth. 

To follow SafeSense‘s product development journey and to receive updates, visit:

website: https://www.safesense.xyz/

linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jibran-nabeel-39a124123/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/safesensetech/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SafeSenseTech/

SafeSsnse Team Members
SafeSense Team Members Joshua Shelley, Toan Huynh, Jibran Nabeel and Robert Decker

The New Normal Post #2: How Drexel Entrepreneurs are Creating Opportunities in the Age of COVID-19

Up until now, I have featured only female entrepreneurs on this blog. (After all, the name of the blog is The Ladies who Launch!). But at this unprecedented time of COVID-19, like a good entrepreneur, I am pivoting to include male founders, whose stories of how they are adapting to the “new normal” are instructive to budding entrepreneurs everywhere.

Featuring Adam Pawelec and Monika Maj of WhyFit

WhyFit is a wellness app designed to help employers help employees lead healthier lives with a focus on a holistic approach that includes mindfulness, food, nutrition and exercise. WhyFit’s target market is small to medium-sized companies; each company pays a monthly subscription fee for each employee user. 

When WhyFit first began (under a different name – Mad Body), it targeted the employee rather than the employer. Mad Body was having difficulty retaining users and founder Adam Pawelec realized that people, despite their good intentions, struggle to keep to their fitness goals. Life gets in the way, and, in particular – work. On average, people commute an average of 2 hours per day, work 8 hours, and return home to domestic responsibilities: dinner, childcare, chores. People spend an average of 90,000 hours at work over the course of their lifetimes – 1/3 of their lives. This was WhyFit’s aha moment – if the typical person has trouble incorporating fitness into their outside-of-work lives, then the answer was to bring health and well-being on site into their inside-of-work lives! With partner Monika Maj, he pivoted and began targeting employers, rather than employees, and WhyFit was born.

If ever there was ever another time for a business pivot, that time is now. Workers are (temporarily?) off-site, working from home. How will WhyFit pivot to face the unique challenges of a work-from-home workforce? I posed the following questions to Adam and Monika. Here are their answers:

What was WhyFit’s pre-pandemic business model?

WhyFit is a platform that helps employers run and manage their employee wellness program and fitness initiatives. Using the platform, employers can find vendors and services such as yoga instructors, massage therapists, fruit and healthy snack delivery to bring to the workplace. The platform was also designed to bring employees together in fun activities and it provides content – employees can participate in challenges, access fitness routines or learn about nutrition and stress management.

How are you turning the hurdle of social distancing into an opportunity? How has your business pivoted?

We have had to re-think the WhyFit platform and create new initiatives that embrace the new work-from-home (WFH) environment. We are pivoting to virtual or live wellness initiatives. We are now offering virtual classes such as yoga or stretching sessions with a live instructor. Employees can join a youtube live stream from the comfort of their own home. For those that miss out, they can re-watch a recorded version. Employees can still participate in various challenges and they can set reminders to help them in adapting healthier nutrition, activity, and stress management habits. Additionally, WhyFit is focusing on creating initiatives that help solve common problems in WFH environments such as isolation, distractions and work-life balance. 

We realize that remote-working may be a big adjustment for companies and we are reminding employers to promote a healthy work/life balance. They can still encourage wellness through our initiatives, challenges, and services to a remote workforce. For the next two months, we have decided to waive our subscription fee to make it easier for employers to offer our solution to their employees in these troubling times. 

How important is “thinking outside the box” to the survival and growth of your business?

We are closely following LinkedIn, online forums and apps where employers and employees discuss their working conditions and issues relating to the work environment. Initially, all we heard from different sources was how amazing it was to work from home. At that moment, we thought we were going to have a very hard time growing since most of our product was designed for on site wellness and not for a remote business model. Nevertheless, we know that there is always room for improvement! We decided to dive deep into researching the problems associated with working-from-home. We discovered that companies with employees that had been working fully remote, pre-pandemic, had already been talking about the many issues that affect their employees well-being and productivity; issues such as isolation, being distanced from other coworkers, home distractions, and work-life balance. Instead of listening to the initial excitement from crowds praising the WFH model, we looked into the new working patterns and quickly made product development decisions based on these patterns. We were already prepared for employers as WFH issues began to surface. We quickly adapted our product and we are now adjusting our sales process and marketing. 

How important is resiliency to you? 

The pandemic makes it obvious that we have to adjust our business model and product – it will last at the very least a couple more weeks before people will slowly start going back to their pre-pandemic routines. We also believe that the pandemic is going to permanently change many employers’ and employees’ routines. Some employers may continue to run portions of their employee base from home and employees who have been exposed to working from home may look for new WFH opportunities. We had to be resilient to quickly adapt to the pandemic; otherwise, we would have made no progress from a growth and product development perspective. Once everything returns to “normal”, we will have a much better product that fits both styles of work. 

How important are Mentors to you at this time? 

We have used the Mentor Match program in the past and we are continuously in touch with all the mentors we have interacted with through this program. They have been essential to our learning and growth, and are always willing to connect us with professionals to help with sales, marketing, and business development. We continue to update our mentors on our progress and value their feedback. 

How are you connecting with your peers? 

We connect digitally and virtually. We have a Facebook group chat where anyone can set up a time for group calls. This is where we also play games as we had been doing during breaks when we were all on site in Baiada. Additionally, we have had phone calls daily with our peers where we talk about current situations, the economy, and business progress.

What new learning are you planning?

We are focusing on learning about the problems employers and employees experience associated with the WFH environment, particularly in regards to employee well-being.

To learn more about WhyFit and to connect on Social Media, visit LinkedIn and  WhyFit.

WhyFit FundRun Image
WhyFit founders Adam Pawelec and Monika Maj with Bob Knorr of Timeless Tartans and Alma Matters during Drexel’s recent Fund Run Competition.