Alumni startups get seed funding

Carnegie Mellon’s Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund (OFEF) recently gave $800,000 to 16 startup companies. The OFEF, awarded by the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), was established by Jonathan Kaplan (TPR ’90) and his wife, Marci Glazer. Kaplan, a Carnegie Mellon alumnus who created the Flip Video Camera, meant to give early-stage financial support to startups founded by other Carnegie Mellon alumni.

“Research and learning at Carnegie Mellon generates great ideas and talented innovators,” said Robert M. Dammon, CIE board member and dean of the Tepper School of Business in a university press release. “The Kaplans’ contribution to create and sustain the Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund is a valuable asset to our students and recent graduates that are seeking to successfully introduce new products and services to the marketplace.”

The fall 2013 OFEF recipients are Bistrobot, Digital Dream Labs, LegalSifter, Midnight Madness Distilling, SolePower, and Trance. The spring 2014 recipients are BandPass, Collected, Green- novation, Impaqd, Innovesca, LifeShel, Naturi, PieceMaker, popAD, and Solvvy Inc.

These companies are part of the fourth and fifth rounds of the OFEF, which has funded 37 companies with over $1.8 million since its inception in June 2012.

The companies funded by the OFEF represent a diverse array of industries and products, from food to shipping to technology. The alumni who founded them, although concentrated in computer science and engineering, come from many of Carnegie Mellon’s different colleges and graduate programs.

Midnight Madness Distilling, for example, was started by Doug Heckmann (DC ’13), Casey Parzych (CIT ’14), and Anthony LoRubbio (DC ’13) as an entrepreneurship class project and, starting in the fall, plans to produce a “Swiss- imported herbal liqueur,” according to the OFEF website. The company also produces craft spirits under the brand Fortis.

SolePower, founded by Matt Stanton (CIT ’12) and Hahna Alexander (CIT ’13), earned a spot on Popular Science’s 2014 Invention Awards list with an insole that produces power every time the wearer takes a step.
Naturi, founded by Aditya Dhere (TSB ’14), Anes Dracic (TSB ’14), and Jennifer Mrzlack (TSB ’14) takes on the growing health food industry with “artisanal, organic Greek-yogurt that gives you peace of mind and body.”

Naturi is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign with a $15,000 goal, based on a platform of healthy and delicious food.

LegalSifter, founded by Elliott Williams (SCS ’08) and Lars Mahler (SCS ‘14) is a machine-learning program that summarizes, sorts, and searches legal documents, while Trance, founded by Harper LaFave (SCS ’12), Marwa Nur Mahammad (SCS ’12), and Julien Altieri (SCS ’12), is a social network for dancers and dance enthusiasts to share and watch dance videos.

The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship was born from the marriage of startup incubator Project Olympus and the Tepper School of Business’s Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship. The center administers several programs for budding entrepreneurs at Carnegie Mellon, including the OFEF and the Innovation Scholar Program, a program for entrepreneurship-minded undergraduates.