Reilly Brady of More – Empathy

America is in turmoil. While suffering from a seemingly never-ending pandemic, America is also facing an “it’s-about-time” reckoning over racism. And it’s still answering for the predatory sexism brought to light by the Me Too movement. If that wasn’t enough, its citizens are ideologically divided on the verge of a national election. Who doesn’t need MORE EMPATHY now?

Reilly Brady

This is a question that Reilly Brady has been pondering as she considers her place in the world. Reilly is a Senior at Drexel University, majoring in Behavioral Health and Counseling. She is also a prolific maker and small business owner. For the past few years, Reilly has run a handmade jewelry company, called Tilly’s Art Box. Tilly is the nickname her parents gave Reilly when she was a little girl. Although she has great sentimental affection for the name, Reilly has decided that it is time for Tilly’s Art Box to re-brand to include her social agenda in her business model. Tilly’s Art Box is now More -Empathy, a brand whose mission is to raise awareness about the issues of diversity, inclusion, and accessibility; to advocate for non-profits that support under-represented populations; to raise awareness about the importance of mental health wellness and to normalize the discussion of mental health issues in the workplace.

Whew! That is a lot to think about, especially for one so young. Although More – Empathy may be in its start up infancy, Reilly believes that, for there to be true change in this world, brands and businesses need to step up and declare what they stand for – right from the start. Reilly aims to establish a company whose values reflect who she is as a person and as a business leader.

Reilly began making jewelry during her freshmen year at Drexel University after she contracted e.coli. Already prone to anxiety, this illness sent her mental health into a tailspin. She moved out of student housing and home to Doylestown to live with her parents. She began drawing and making jewelry and discovered that the act of creating helped alleviate her anxiety. These creative pursuits led to the establishment of Tilly’s Art Box; first, as an Etsy store, and then as a marketplace website, using the social media platforms of Instagram and, especially, Twitter for marketing.  She describes her jewelry aesthetic as “Funky, fun and different” with a bent towards bold colors. (Sounds a lot like Reilly’s personality, actually.) As Tilly’s Art Box has evolved to become More – Empathy, so has Reilly. She continues to learn new skills that include working with polymer clay and learning how to screen print as she plans to add a fashion component to her collection in the future.ti

If you would like to see more of Reilly’s work, you can visit her website at www.more-empathy.com. Her Instagram is www.instagram.com/moreempathynow; Twitter: https://twitter.com/moreempathynow. She is this week’s Proving Ground Pop Up’s Featured Entrepreneur at www.instagram.com/provinggroundpopup/.

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