Author: Hanju Lee

Awards

Summer Award Winner: Weel Working to Solve Major E-Commerce…

Summer Award Winner: Weel May Solve Major E-Commerce Conundrum

 
Mobile users accounted for more than half of Internet traffic in 2017, yet retail purchases from mobile devices resulted in less than 25 percent of e-commerce spend. So, why are consumers reluctant to buy on their smartphones and tablets? Eyan Goldman has answers.

“Most e-commerce vendors don’t want to spend the money to develop and maintain an app which people may not adopt,” the rising sophomore at Johns Hopkins University says. “Additionally, e-commerce hasn’t yet integrated a social experience like what is traditionally found in retail shopping.”

The solution, Goldman believes, is a social platform known as Weel that transforms how shoppers interact with websites and enables them to easily connect with friends. Weel’s progress and potential earned it FastForward U’s third-ever Summer Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Award.

“Eyan and the Weel team demonstrated uncommon dedication, as well as a comprehensive understanding of their product’s marketability and the next steps in its development,” says Darius Graham, Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ director of student ventures. “We’re excited to see how much progress the team will make over the summer.”

Weel’s platform — which Goldman, a computer science major, is developing with Cal Lavicka, a high school friend currently studying at Carnegie Mellon University, and Johns Hopkins classmates — uses an intelligent layout system that simplifies the user interface of e-commerce webpages to make browsing, shopping and purchasing on websites much simpler.

A social component of Weel enables shoppers to elicit peer feedback simply by pressing and swiping the image of a product to a Facebook friend. This action seamlessly sends all of the product’s data to the friend who can weigh in before a user makes a purchase.

“Our platform transforms the way users interact with retail websites,” Goldman says. “Weel is designed to work on any website instantaneously as our technology does not require the consent of the host website.”

Weel plans to roll out a beta of its platform for iPhones this summer and to have a full launch in early 2019. (Those interested in participating in the beta can contact Weel at beta@joinweel.com.)

To monetize the platform, Goldman plans to engage brands and provide them opportunities to show Weel users products similar to what they share with friends. When a user purchases one of the suggested products, Weel would receive a portion of each sale.

“With Weel, brands don’t have to fear being hurt by having an online ad placed on a website with which they’d prefer not to associate,” Goldman says of his platform’s advantage. “Additionally, brands also have the opportunity to advertise directly to someone who they know is interested in a similar product.”

The Summer Award, funded by an anonymous Johns Hopkins University alumnus, provides Weel with $10,000, a space to work for the summer and mentorship from the FastForward U team and the Summer Award donor.

Weel will use the funding to cover Lavicka’s rent in Baltimore as well as bring on two interns who can develop the platform’s user interface. Without the award, Goldman says, the team would have had trouble making progress in June, July and August. Goldman and Lavicka live in New York City, but the city would have made getting space and talent cost-prohibitive.

The value and opportunity of the Summer Award has made it highly sought after among Johns Hopkins’ student ventures. This year, 14 highly qualified teams applied for the award.

“We were really impressed with the applicant pool for this year’s Summer Award as it represented the most advanced undergraduate startups at Hopkins,” Graham says.

Receiving the Summer Award is just the latest support Weel has received from FastForward U. Last fall, the group filled out FastForward U’s general interest form to better understand the resources and support it could provide. Shortly thereafter, Weel was named to the 2017-2018 Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund cohort and received additional mentorship and guidance.

“FastForward U has been unbelievably helpful,” Goldman says. “We definitely wouldn’t be as far along as we are today without them.”

Weel is the third team to win the Summer Award. The first two teams, FactoryFour and MoTrack Therapy, have used the funding and mentorship the award provides to advance their companies.

FactoryFour, known as Fusiform when they received the award in 2016, has moved into its own space in Mount Vernon, added clients and was recently named to Technical.ly Baltimore’s realLIST as it develops a solution for digital fabrication.
 
MoTrack Therapy, last year’s Summer Award winner currently developing a platform for better at-home injury rehabilitation, was recently recognized as a finalist at Baylor University’s New Venture Competition and won $1,500.

Goldman believes Weel can follow in the footsteps of those two budding ventures.

“My dream for Weel is to have it become a really popular and useful resource for people,” Goldman says. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think that there was at least a shot at that.”
 

Learn more about FastForward U!

 

Meet the Entrepreneur

Meet the Entrepreneur: Andrew Ishizuka Aims to Help Patients…

Meet the Entrepreneur: Andrew Ishizuka Aims to Help Patients Fight Advanced Cancers

 
A disease to which seemingly everyone has a personal connection, cancer causes approximately 600,000 deaths in the United States annually.

Avidea Technologies intends to blunt cancer’s impact through the development of its proprietary nano-scaffold technology that may one day enable them to engineer safer and more effective immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer. Its approach may also have broader applications to infectious disease prevention.

The Maryland-based startup is currently developing this technology at FastForward 1812, where it keeps office and lab space. One of the company’s co-founders and its Chief Scientific Officer, Andrew Ishizuka discusses Avidea’s mission, Maryland’s startup support system and how entrepreneurs can adapt to an increasingly busy schedule.
 

In five words, what does your company do?

Applied immunology and drug delivery.
 

What are your goals and how will you get there?

Avidea’s main focus is the development of a personalized cancer vaccine for treating patients with advanced cancers. Avidea, with several academic collaborators, has developed a vaccine technology and process for generating cancer vaccines that are unique to each patient. The benefit of a personalized cancer vaccine is that it can teach the immune system to recognize and eliminate cancer cells without affecting normal, healthy cells.

We’ve carefully tested our approach in rigorous preclinical models over several years and are now poised to undertake clinical trials. To get there, we are currently completing a series of carefully regulated experiments for the FDA prior to starting the trial. Entry to the clinic will be a major milestone for our company.
 

What makes Maryland a good home for your startup and a good place for growing a business?

Maryland has all the resources to build and grow a biotech startup, including mentorship, pitch competitions, ready access to capital, and legal and consulting services. The real selling point, however, is the scientific community.

Avidea was founded by scientists who trained at Johns Hopkins and the National Institutes of Health, and we continue to collaborate with labs in the area, including ones at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, NIH and University of Maryland. There will always be considerable competition in biotech. We strive to differentiate ourselves on the strength of our science, which is bolstered by our cooperation with Maryland universities.
 

What resources from Johns Hopkins have helped Avidea grow?

Avidea is based in the FastForward 1812 innovation hub managed by Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures. In addition to leveraging the facilities and broader Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ network, we also make use of the larger core facilities at the medical school on a regular basis. This gives us access to otherwise cost-prohibitive advanced instrumentation, accelerating our product development cycle.

Importantly, we also collaborate with Johns Hopkins investigators who contribute scientifically to our product development.
 

If you could give your past self one piece of advice for creating a startup, what would it be?

“Your schedule next month will not be lighter.”

Having the opportunity to build a company is a tremendous privilege, but the demands and diversity of activities required of co-founders increases with each stage of growth.

Every day, I’m excited about our work and inspired by its potential to improve human health. I’ve found that the most effective way to manage my time is to prioritize tasks based on their importance to the long-term growth of the company, remembering that maintaining a healthy work-life balance for myself is aligned with that goal. Building a company positioned to grow over the long term is a marathon, not a sprint.
 

What book are you currently reading?

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield. Hadfield is an accomplished astronaut perhaps best known for his captivating music video of him performing David Bowie’s Space Oddity aboard the International Space Station. I enjoy reading about people who have made significant contributions in their career to learn about how they managed different challenges. I suppose it helps with the ups and downs of managing a startup.
 

What innovator do you look up to? Why?

Jane Goodall. I admire that she – as a woman facing considerable entrenched biases – struck out into an entirely new field, and through her determined efforts changed the way people view animals.
 

What’s your favorite non-work-related thing to do in Maryland?

I started sailing on the Chesapeake about five years ago and probably enjoy thinking about the physics of sailing about as much as relaxing out on the water.
 

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