Juan Felipe Cardona has a vision for travel that is personal, authentic, and life-changing – an alternative to hotel chains, all-inclusive resorts, and Americanized food. Instead, Cardona (SFS ’14) hopes his business VamosA will provide unique, off-the-beaten-path experiences for travelers to Latin America.
Cardona’s organization was one of nine student and alumni ventures in the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative’s 2016 Summer Launch Program. The 16 participants presented at a showcase event on July 26 at 1776, as a culmination of the eight-week program.
The program, now in its sixth year, is designed specifically for current Georgetown students and alumni who want to launch a new venture. This year’s participants hailed from across the university, including from Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, the School of Continuing Studies, Georgetown College, and the Walsh School of Foreign Service, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Cardona, assistant director of executive degree programs at Georgetown McDonough, sees ¡Vamos Ya! as a marriage of adventure tourism and experiential learning for people who want to interact with locals and learn the history and culture of the area.
“The Summer Launch Program has been most valuable in keeping me accountable to my own commitments to move forward with my company,” Cardona said. “It was really motivating to come in each week to meet with a group of mentors and peers that was genuinely interested in my accomplishments. Knowing I had such an intelligent, supportive, and creative group backing me up in the launch of my company this summer gave me a lot of confidence to put myself out there.”
Cardona is planning information sessions and networking events to continue the customer research he started over the summer and to build a community around ¡Vamos Ya! He is leading a pilot program to Cartagena, Colombia, next spring, and plans to design a trip to Cuba in the future.
The Perfect Match
About a year ago, Doug Grant’s fiancé found out that her close friend needed a blood stem cell transplant. At first, Grant thought that he or his fiancé might be a match. They weren’t. So, he started researching how difficult it is for donors to be matched with patients.
He learned there is a very high attrition – or “fall through” – rate in the traditional donor system. It could be years before a potential donor in the registry is contacted, and often that person is no longer is willing or able to donate. At the same time, it is difficult for minority patients to find matches, since most of the donors in the existing national registry are white.
Grant and his co-founders John Fernandez, Onik Quddus, and Craig Poland – all 2016 graduates of the MBA program – have come up with a solution in the form of Hemeos, an independent blood stem cell registry. Hemeos uses a compensation model, made legal by in the 9th Circuit Court's 2011 Flynn versus Holder ruling, and focuses on recruiting minority donors.
The team used the Summer Launch Program to get advice from mentors and to develop the company's funding pitch to investors.
“The Summer Launch program helped to hone Hemeos' focus, as we had to answer some really critical questions about our business,” Grant said. “We also were able to establish a partnership with another startup in the program, GOODPartners, which is going to help both companies grow.”
They are developing the necessary software to operate the registry, meeting with hospitals across the country, and have recruited about 1,000 donors. They hope to go to market this fall.
Style on Demand
Americans only wear 20 percent of the items in their closet – and both men and women spend hundreds of dollars each year on new clothes, Josh Phillips (MBA ’14) said during his presentation at 1776.
“We want to help consumers make smarter fashion decisions,” he said. From what to wear on a first date to how to dress on a job interview, Phillips sees the need for honest, knowledgeable style advice.
His venture, CliqueStyle, aims to make personal styling services convenient, affordable, and accessible. The platform would match a shopper with a fashion-savvy stylist based on their mutual style and location. Then, they would meet at a local mall for an in-person styling session with a flat fee per hour.
“When the program started in June, my business was just an idea, and I wasn't sure how to get it moving forward,” Phillips said. “During the eight-week program I learned how to go through the customer discovery phase, how to test my concept, and how to get started. The business went from an idea to completing test runs with real customers in such a short period of time.”
Phillips plans to continue moving CliqueStyle forward using the mentors and contacts he met during the Summer Launch Program.