The New Normal Post #5: How Drexel Entrepreneurs are Creating Opportunities in the Age of COVID-19

Stealth.ify

Featuring Shannon Morales of Echo Me Forward and Stealth.ify

Shannon Morales was raised by her mother and grandmother in Northern New Jersey. She is the child of an African American and Colombian mom and dad and is also a first-generation college graduate. Shannon graduated from William Paterson with her bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance and is currently pursuing her MBA in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the LeBow College of Business, Drexel University.

Shannon Morales – Leveling the Playing Field

Shannon is also a single mother with three young daughters. As a biracial person, a woman, and a single mom, she has experienced more than her share of discrimination. Navigating a career in finance after graduating from Paterson was particularly challenging; she immediately despaired at her inability to find equal access to opportunities in the workforce. At one job, she was actively discriminated against. This was a turning point in her career trajectory: she realized that she would never have the same access to opportunities as her white colleagues and if she was to get ahead, she would need to create her own opportunities. Shannon decided to become a social entrepreneur and to work on building a business that would level the playing field for minority professionals such as herself.

Echo Me Forward became that business. Echo Me Forward is a software tool that enables employers to find and hire diverse tech talent. It targets industries that lack minority representation and gives companies the tools they need to change the disparaging racial inequity of their workforce. It also provides digital content, connects professionals with career opportunities, hosts networking events, provides career coaching, soft skills training, and mentorship to ensure that minority professionals have the tools they need to succeed.

When the pandemic began, Shannon recognized another challenge facing minority, urban communities – minorities were dying from COVID-19 at an alarmingly higher rate than whites. Shannon again saw an uneven playing field and decided to embark on developing a software tool that would provide healthcare and best practices information as well as real-time geo-physical risk assessment information. She calls this app Stealth.ify.

Describe your pre-pandemic business model.

Pre-pandemic, I was focused on my business venture Echo Me Forward – a recruiting and employer branding tool that connects diverse talent to equitable workplaces. The platform modernizes traditional employer recruiting sites, such as ZipRecruiter, by looking ahead to the future of work and taking into account the rise of remote work and an employee’s desire for career development opportunities, diversity and inclusion, equitable pay, and sustainability initiatives.

How has your business pivoted?

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, I decided to launch a new web app, Stealth.ify, that tracks the spread of COVID-19, while incentivizing social distancing. The name Stealth.ify is derived from a video game feature that allows players to use the stealth mode to avoid dangerous areas. Then Google and Apple announced that they were coming out with a similar app; I felt discouraged and knew that I could not compete with these two big tech companies. But then, I started to look at things from a whole new perspective: I wasn’t creating a widespread government solution, I was creating a local, community solution – one that took into account how moms, dads, grocery store workers, and others could use public information to keep their families safe. I went from focusing on a larger market to focusing on smaller, urban communities that lacked resources and awareness tools. By shifting my focus, I was able to stay true to myself and to my social entrepreneurship mission of lifting-up vulnerable, minority populations.

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

Being continuously innovative is key to the survival of all businesses, especially during times like these that force us to take a step back and to truly evaluate our business models. Companies like Uber and Facebook are always “thinking outside the box” by expanding their product lines to stay relevant. The key to a sustainable business is to “innovate constantly and innovate fast”.

How specifically are you “thinking outside the box”?

As a business strategist at heart, I love finding innovative new ways to solve a problem. The idea of having a Covid-19 tracker was not new, but the idea to gamify it and incentivize people to stay away from high risk areas was. People inherently don’t like being told what to do. It’s this mentality that made me re-think how to go about creating a solution for social distancing. Stealth.ify will continue to pivot to adapt to the market at least a few times during this pandemic. For example, we are currently looking at an employer solution that would create social distancing features inside businesses post-pandemic.

Discuss the importance of resiliency and flexibility.

I fell into entrepreneurship because my former employers could not see my vision for process improvement within their businesses. It was tough trying to express myself through work and being limited by myopic viewpoints. However, with each closed door, I built a resilience towards difficult situations. Resilience builds character and being flexible is necessary when going into business for yourself. Don’t get me wrong – I still receive a lot of push back and no’s, but the beauty of it now is that it is on my own terms. Sometimes creating your own path is the only way you will be heard.

How are you connecting with your peers?

I connect with peers through zoom and google meets. Since the launch of Stealth.ify, my life has been pretty much an all-day zoom meeting. I’m sure others can relate!

How do you imagine your business will look post pandemic?

Post-pandemic Stealth.ify will branch-off and become a B2B solution for employers to help their employees’ social distance. We also plan to keep our core functions for local communities that include access to healthcare resources, vaccine locations, and a telemedicine component. We want to be a reliable platform that gives local communities access to trustworthy health information both locally and globally.

To learn more about Shannon’s business ventures, visit:

https://stealthify.io/

https://www.instagram.com/stealth.ify/

https://www.instagram.com/echomeforward/

The New Normal Post #4: How Drexel Entrepreneurs are Creating Opportunities in the Age of COVID-19

Phoodie Logo Text

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 Gaurang Bham of Phoodie

Gaurang Bham was born and raised in Northeast Philadelphia to Indian immigrant parents. He was a self-described “fat kid” who loved the rich food-culture of Philadelphia (which he considers one of the greatest food cities in the United States by the way!). Checking out the best foodie spots in town has always been a favorite interest for Gaurang. He was also interested in computers and technology: after graduating from Central High School, Gaurang went on to study Software Engineering and Entrepreneurship at Drexel University.

During one of his Drexel Computer Science classes, Gaurang was assigned a group project. The scope of the project was wide-open and could be anything as long as it involved programming. Gaurang’s group decided to design an app that would use foot traffic to optimize college facilities and called it “Crowds”. After the class ended, Gaurang continued work on “Crowds”.

It was at that time that Gaurang learned that one of his favorite restaurants was struggling. Like many Philadelphia restaurants, it was family-owned and struggling to survive with razor-thin margins. Could a third-party sales processing and delivery service app such GrubHub help smaller local restaurants increase business? Gaurang discovered that Grubhub (and DoorDash and UberEats) charge such high commission and delivery rates that they are actually bleeding these independently-owned restaurants dry. Restaurants pay a commission rate based on location and density of restaurants in their area. The more competition, the higher the commission (commissions average from 15 – 25% plus an additional 10% for delivery). If a restaurant wants to stand out, it can pay even more for a sponsored listing. Without a sponsored listing, a restaurant can get lost in the crowd.

Gaurang realized that “Crowds” could be used to help drive foot traffic to restaurants. Guarang shifted its focus and renamed his app Phoodie. Phoodie uses machine learning to analyze foot traffic, sales and food inventory to identify slower times when a restaurant needs business most. It then suggests to restaurants that they offer a discount at that time, notifies app users that a discount is available and then allow customers to purchase directly from the app, coupon code applied, for pick up. Both customer and restaurant benefit: restaurants see increased sales and reduced food waste and customers get a deal.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, most restaurants are closed for eat – in dining. If they are open at all, it is for curbside pick-up or delivery only. On the surface, it seems like an ideal situation for a third party sales app such as Phoodie. Is it? I asked Gaurang to discuss the opportunities and challenges presented by COVID-19.

What was Phoodie’s pre-pandemic business model?

Phoodie, like any food ordering app, provides a restaurant-facing and customer-facing app. We used machine learning to automate pricing at restaurants based on demand. When restaurants are slow, the app suggests lower prices to entice customers to order takeout. We charged a variable commission rate based on sales performance through our app. (We do well when we help you do well!)

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

For the first few weeks, I had no clue what we were going to do. Phoodie was pre-launch and pre-revenue. The Food/Drink industry has been hit arguably the hardest from the pandemic and Phoodie was based on a unique value proposition powered by sales demand at restaurants. And it was pick-up only with no option for delivery.

It seemed like there was literally nothing we could do to launch our business. But as the CEO, I felt like I had to save face and be strong for my team even though I had no idea how to move forward.

My team and I focused on building our product and helping our partner restaurants in whatever way we could – spreading the word, featuring them on our social media, and through referrals. Eventually, I reached a crossroad where I realized that Phoodie could either:

  1. Build the product and wait until the pandemic blows over to launch. This would be a huge risk: the post-pandemic restaurant industry might be totally different than the pre-pandemic industry. We could spend invaluable time building our product for nothing. Or we could
  2. Figure out a way to add a delivery option and put dynamic pricing on hold. We could simply release our app as a totally free alternative to the big name GrubHub, DoorDash and UberEats, who are continuing to charge restaurants an arm and a leg even in these extremely difficult times.

Opting for option 2, we forged a partnership with Habitat Logistics, a local delivery provider for restaurants in the Philadelphia area. We are now aiming for an early May launch with the plan of providing a totally free food takeout/delivery service in which 100% of the sale goes back to the restaurant.

We earn 0% commission, but at the end of the day, restaurants learn they can rely on us. They can increase their sales and we do a good thing for the Philly Restaurant Scene. I would call that a win-win!

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

I think at this point, if you are not thinking outside the box, your business is at a standstill. If you are in an industry that does not conduct most of its business online, you are back to square one for the first time since the birth of that industry. All metrics are being re-made, so now is the time to experiment.

For us, thinking outside the box is more of a “nothing to lose” situation. If we wait for the pandemic to end, our product could be obsolete. If we try to sell the service “as is”, restaurants will slam doors in our face because a discount-based app is tone-deaf in the current climate. And if we give up, all the hard work my team has spent is for nothing. Besides, what else am I going to do with all this free time?

Releasing a free food ordering platform means we make a name for ourselves and we do a good thing and make an impact on the local food scene. That is our primary goal – making an impact.

How are you connecting with your peers? 

As a technical founder, I have designed my entire team’s framework around being remote-accessible. All our meetings, even pre-pandemic, are logged in a team calendar with Google Meet Conferencing Links attached so anybody can be involved. So luckily the transition to a totally remote workforce was the easiest thing about this shift.

Our team syncs up at least once a day for 30 minutes to go over what they have worked on, any issues they ran into and any questions they may have. This gives me insight into the pace in which we are moving forward and how to better-position each team member. Additionally, I have 1:1 calls with team members to go over more in-depth issues.

Prior to the pandemic, our team had a very close-knit relationship and it has been hard to find opportunities for the team to bond outside of work. We all ate lunch together at least once or twice each week and would set aside time to bond through a shared love of games (Our team is particularly competitive when it comes to Super Smash Bros.). Without a shared space to work, along with some teammates living in different time zones, opportunities for that have diminished.

That being said, I am currently trying to schedule the entire team to have a set “Happy Hour” of sorts for all of us to play games online, chat and catch-up.

How important are Mentors to you at this time? 

Mentors have played an incredibly large part in both my and Phoodie’s development. I would argue that our mentors have had an even larger impact as a result of the pandemic. Things have been crazy and having mentors to bounce ideas and strategy off-of has been incredibly comforting during this pandemic.

What new learning are you planning?

The past several weeks has extended my knowledge tenfold. I had a technical co-founder who left the company earlier in the year who was responsible for our entire database and back-end architecture. With his absence, I had to become an expert in all things Amazon Web Services. So that has really been the bulk of my learning!

How important is resiliency to you? 

If there is one thing that I try to impart to my team it is the value of “grit”. Things are never going to be easy in life and now, more than ever, I feel like a lot of entrepreneurs are seeing that reality up close and personal.

I was born and raised in Philadelphia and came up through the devastatingly underfunded public-school system. I am now a graduate from Drexel University with a Degree in Software Engineering, I have a startup about to launch and a corporate job lined up for the summer. The only thing that has gotten me this far is my resiliency and determination. Even getting Phoodie to where it is now was a 4-year process!

There are no shortcuts, not before the pandemic and certainly not after it. Grit means you want it even more. It means you are hungrier. And as Philadelphia Eagles Center Jason Kelce put it so eloquently, “Hungry dogs run faster”.

Phoodie Team: Gaurang Bham (center)

If you own a local restaurant that would like to be a part of Phoodie’s pilot program, please reach out! Email Gaurang at gaurang@phoodie.io.

Follow on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/phoodie.io/.

Visit Phoodie’s website: https://www.phoodie.io/.

Like Phoodie on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/phoodie.io/.

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.