Start Me Up

At the Columbia Startup Lab, the ideas keep on clicking.

by Rebecca Shapiro Published Fall 2014
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Radford plans to launch the site in New York in the next few months, focused on the Hurricane Sandy survivors still in need of assistance. The national site, which won’t be tied to any specific relief effort but equipped to handle whatever might happen in the future, will launch in 2015.

In the meantime, whenever Radford can get out of the lab, he’s spending his leisure time in a place that someone in his line of work might not find relaxing: the outdoors.

“I’ve been working in disaster relief for a number of years now,” says Radford, who was a management consultant in the private sector before moving on to relief work with the United Nations and the Red Cross. “When you see the havoc that nature can cause, it’s easy to forget how peaceful and beautiful it can also be.”


Reinventing the Wedding Registry

When Emily Washkowitz ’14BUS and her fiancé got engaged, they were thrilled to have so many family members and friends wishing them well. Unfortunately, they were all doing so in the same way: by giving the couple toaster ovens. In the months leading up to their summer wedding, the couple received six, when they hadn’t even wanted one.

“Let’s be honest,” she says. “It’s 2014. We were already living together. We already had a way to make toast. What we really wanted was to save for the future.”

Washkowitz felt sheepish asking guests for cash, though, and she wasn’t alone. When she found only a trashcan and a spoon left on a friend’s registry, the friend admitted that she also didn’t really need any more household items. She had only registered for them so that she could return them, and use the cash for a nest egg.

“I figured that there had to be a better way of meeting the needs of modern couples,” says Washkowitz.

In April, she launched Shareswell, a website for giving and receiving stock. In its initial incarnation, users would create a registry for their special event (wedding, baby shower), listing different stocks that interested them. Friends and family could then choose which stocks and how many shares to give, with the option of adding a cash gift that a recipient could apply toward a more expensive stock. In August, Washkowitz added a feature that allows gifters to use the site without a registry; she says that she expects more customers to use the site that way as wedding season dies down and the holiday season begins.

Shareswell isn’t a broker-dealer, so recipients need to have a brokerage account to facilitate the stock trades, but the site aims to make that process as simple as possible. There’s a list of approved brokers so that new investors can open an account and integrate it into their registry in one step.

“We wanted to provide a user-friendly entrance into the world of investment,” she says. “People are easily intimidated by anything financial. This platform makes it simple.”

Washkowitz knows this firsthand; though she was a student at Columbia Business School when she started Shareswell, she does not have a financial background.

An art-history major, Washkowitz made the rounds interviewing at galleries and museums when she graduated from Harvard in 2008, and then took a leap of faith, signing on to work at a fashion startup called StyleCaster. She grew from marketing associate to director of client services over her four years there, and learned what it took to start a business. But Washkowitz also felt there were gaps in her education that made it hard to succeed in the startup world.

“I was on the phone with one of our investors, and it just hit me that I was faking it. I didn’t know enough about the financial side,” she says. “That’s when I decided to go to business school.”

Still Shareswell’s only employee, Washkowitz is now focused on hiring, fundraising, and making the first round of improvements to the site. There’s still plenty to polish, but she says that she and her husband are proof enough of early success. They closed all their traditional registries when the site went live and directed guests to Shareswell. By their June wedding, they were managing a healthy financial portfolio, including shares of companies like Apple, Twitter, Nike, and Chipotle.


Upgrading Emergency Care for the Mobile Age

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are close to 130 million emergency-room visits in America every year. For many people, these visits are the only time they will see a physician.

As a medical student at Cornell, Benjamin Jack ’07SEAS became fascinated with the revolving door of emergency medicine, and specifically with what he perceived as the significant problem that ERs had following up with patients and ensuring that they took the next step in their care.

“When patients get discharged from the ER, they leave with a piece of paper that tells them what to do next,” he says. “Eighty percent of them don’t understand the instructions and don’t get the care that they need.”

He found that patients who didn’t take control of their post-discharge care became a strain on hospitals and insurance companies. The less vigilantly a patient continued his care after leaving the hospital, the more likely he was to quickly get sick and start the cycle again.

It seemed that only human intervention would help, but the caseloads of ER doctors are far too heavy for them to follow up individually with each of their patients. Jack wondered what would happen if a third party got involved.

Jack teamed up with Aditya Mukerjee ’12CC, who had a degree in computer science and a few years of startup experience under his belt. As Jack finished his last year of medical school (he graduated in May), he and Mukerjee developed the idea for BoardRounds, a cloud-based service that identifies and arranges post-discharge care for emergency-room patients. Doctors using BoardRounds will be able to enter a patient’s information and follow-up instructions into their system. From there, BoardRounds will contact the patient and handle the logistics of the next steps.

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