There’s a spirit of forward-thinking in the ThinkHouse enterprise. Year after year, the program seeks new opportunities to strengthen the experience for its fellows based on lessons learned from previous cohorts.
Christopher Gergen, one of the four ThinkHouse founders, says it became clear last year that the fellowship’s design was “too immediate for some and too advanced for others,” and needed to be more flexible, since each venture exists within a different stage of development.
To fix this, the admissions team added an extra level of competitiveness to this year’s round of applications.
All this was said in July, right before we published a story recapping the progress made by the 2015-16 graduating ThinkHouse class. Gergen also made these remarks around the time he and other members of the ThinkHouse team were reviewing applications for the incoming cohort, all of which had to meet to a higher, more rigorous bar than applicants before.
So this class brings something unprecedented to the table. The seven startups carry similar (if not equal) experience and viability, which lets them grow together at the same pace. Here’s a look at the incoming fellows and their startups:
This startup stemmed from a mutual frustration among two Appalachian State University alumni earlier this year. Despite holding high academic and extracurricular credentials, Kameron Kales and Chris Comrie struggled to find jobs after graduating.
The startup began as a video resume-making service, but the pair of founders recently pivoted toward what they saw as a better solution.
All jobseekers have to do is send Glance a text message with what they want in a job. Then, Glance pieces together listings and sends them back, saving jobseekers hours of scrolling through job boards, websites or apps to find what they’re looking for.
Kales hopes that the ThinkHouse fellowship will help bring the “chat bot” service to fruition in the Triangle. He expects to land early signups from undergraduates at North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina as they grow the platform.
“If Glance can make the search and application process an easy and efficient process, we’re going to be extremely pleased with the next 10 months,” he adds. “We are passionate about making jobs accessible to anyone, anywhere, from any phone and know the excellent mentorship from ThinkHouse and HQ Raleigh will help us grow tremendously.”
In the summer of 2014, something stood out to Kelly Foran while working in Los Angeles as an intern at both Vitalic Noise, an independent record label, and Interscope Records, a major label. When it came to collaboration, he noticed that musicians always seemed to be frustrated with the involved parties and wondered why the process was so difficult and chaotic.
When the internship was over, he returned to Elon University, where he later earned a bachelor’s degree in business marketing and a master’s in interactive media. There, Foran held interviews, sent out surveys and even participated in several student film projects in efforts to understand the collaboration process firsthand.
He found that, although student artists say they value collaboration, they weren’t collaborating often because it was “hard to find other student artists to work with” or the process was too “complex, inefficient and time-consuming.”
So Foran came up with a solution in Kollaboh, a creative platform that enables artists to connect, form groups, manage projects and collaborate in real-time via virtual workspaces. He refers to it as “the LinkedIn meets Slack for the creative workforce.”
The biggest challenge ahead, he projects, will be in developing the beta version of Kollaboh and then tweaking and iterating the platform to make sure it delivers value to the artists it serves.
Foran’s goal for the fellowship is to “collaborate with and learn as much as I can from the ThinkHouse team, HQ community and my peers, while also making sure to take advantage of the amazing resources, contacts and opportunities that the program provides.”
Tayyab Hussain and Moaad Benkaraache built their startup on a passion they shared around fixing inefficiencies in the supply chain industry.
Trakex, which started as a senior design project out of NC State’s Engineering Entrepreneurs Program, uses measurement hardware devices to quickly and accurately determine the weight and volume of shipment, regardless of shape. The devices are made up of high-tech sensors, weight scales and a platform that contains all the parts.
Hussain says the products “allow companies to make better operational decisions in their warehouses that save them tons of money through better shipment costing, space utilization and route planning.”
Trakex landed $20,000 in sales over a three-week period with early customers and a pilot deal with large supply chain company, DHL. Earlier this year, Trakex was one of three Triangle startups picked to participate in a summer 2016 virtual fellowship by the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator.
In the ThinkHouse fellowship, Hussain likes the idea of growing his startup alongside other fellows. The community aspect of the program “reminds you that you aren’t alone in this uphill climb,” he says.
“Making long-lasting connections with successful people who plan to strive for even more” is something Hussain looks forward to in the coming months.
This startup came through a realization UNC Chapel Hill graduate Tyler Daniel made that “technology is the single largest barrier to entry for potential entrepreneurs.”
He wanted to address this issue that innovators often face when they have great ideas that require skills with technology they just don’t have.
Sprava Solutions provides high quality, affordable software development services that include iOS and Android apps, high-end websites and customized software.
The consulting firm also offers call center services, including lead generation, market research, inbound and outbound calls, customer support and virtual assistance to “help clients turn passion into product and assist them in the process of growing their companies.”
Daniel admits that there are a large number of companies in the Triangle that provide software development and call center services, so effectively marketing Sprava Solutions will be a challenge. But what he hopes to prove is that Sprava can “combine both areas of service at a reasonable rate.”
With hopes to grow as an entrepreneur throughout the ThinkHouse program, Daniel says the classes and mentorship will “help to educate me in areas where I lack experience.”
Alex Smolen, a graduate of the University of South Carolina, founded Vuepeer last year. This sharing economy startup consists of a search engine for peer-to-peer travel accommodations for cars, boats and lodging rentals.
M.K. Ward, who has a Ph.D in industrial/organizational psychology at NC State, makes allergen-free donut hole treats under her brand, A Pig’s Ear.
The startup is based on a quote from her grandma, “Having a beer, wish you were here, in a pig’s ear,” which reminds her that food has the power to bring people together.
This social impact startup, founded by NC State student Nate Myers, connects young adults from low-income homes with the tools and resources they need to learn how to apply multimedia technology toward their creative skills.
Through courses held in the spring, summer and fall, students learn how to produce content reflecting a combination of art, music and social justice themes using photography and videography.