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Four alums who founded companies share their stories, inspiration

University classes, opportunities helped shape companies in health care, fashion industries

The Open Curriculum enables students to personalize their degrees and begin pursuing their career interests. For some, following their interests has led to the development of companies that solve complex consumer issues.

From women’s maternity health supplement brand Premama to Perkies, a sticky bra with reusable adhesives, The Herald spoke to Brown alum founders of four companies about finding inspiration and support at the University.

Luna Pharmaceuticals Inc., Premama Wellness

Premama Wellness, a subsidiary of Luna Pharmaceuticals Inc., currently sells supplements for “each stage of motherhood,” according to their website.

Dan Aziz ’11, who was a Business, Entrepreneurship and Organization concentrator, started his entrepreneurial journey shortly after coming to Brown.

During a class project with three other students for ENGN 0090: "Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organizations," taught by Executive Director of the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and Professor of the Practice on the entrepreneurship faculty Danny Warshay ’87, Aziz came up with the idea for Premama.

During a trip to Whole Foods, Aziz came across a pregnant woman who mentioned there was no alternative to the large, chalky “horse” prenatal pills, as she called them. Aziz wondered why the prenatal supplements were “only being sold in pill format,” when he knew that other supplements were sold in different formats.

During a winter break, Aziz’s team interviewed 300 pregnant women, 96% of whom said they took prenatal pills but wished there was an alternative option.

From there, Aziz and his partners began developing a product to solve this problem for expectant mothers, eventually clinching a win at the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition during his senior year.

After graduation, Aziz began pursuing Premama full time, which has since raised over eight figures in capital. Premama products are sold at major retailers such as CVS, Walgreens and Target.

Aziz believes that Premama’s focus on prenatal care has allowed the company to build trust with expecting mothers, opening up avenues to diversify their product line.

“If we can build their trust at this core time when they're changing (and) their shopping habits are starting to be much more attuned to what's going into their body … then we can expand,” to overall women’s health beyond prenatal care, Aziz said.

ShapeUp

ShapeUp, a software platform that provides competition and wellness initiatives in a structured and accountable way, was started in 2006 by Rajiv Kumar ’05 MD’11 and Brad Weinberg ’03 MD’11, Kumar wrote in an email to The Herald.

As students at the Warren Alpert Medical School, Kumar and Weinberg “realized that so many of the patients (they) were seeing in the clinic were struggling with obesity, diabetes and heart disease, yet there were so few resources available to help them change their lifestyle,” Kumar wrote.

Inspired by Brown alum-founded startups like Nantucket Nectars, Andera, Turner Broadcasting and The Motley Fool, Kumar and Weinberg decided to create ShapeUp with the encouragement of Barrett Hazeltine, professor emeritus of engineering, and the late Josef Mittlemann, adjunct professor at the University.

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ShapeUp was designed to provide “social support, accountability and a structured, digital program to help (users) eat healthily, exercise more and manage their weight,” Kumar wrote.

ShapeUp was acquired by Richard Branson’s Virgin Pulse in 2016. Since the acquisition, Virgin Pulse has grown rapidly, reaching $300 million in revenue and employing over 1,500 people, Kumar wrote.

After gaining significant support from the Brown community, Kumar co-founded Brown Angel Group with Mathew Farkash ’03 in 2019 and has “been focused on supporting and financing the next generation of Brown alumni-founded startups,” Kumar wrote.

There are nearly 1,000 alums around the world who provide $300,000 in funding on average, according to the BAG website. They have invested over $8 million in 26 different Brown start-ups, including Premama.

Intus Care

Intus Care, a health care analytics platform, was created by Robbie Felton ’21.5, Evan Jackson ’21.5, Samuel Prado ’22 and Alexander Rothenberg ’22 in 2019, The Herald previously reported. The company uses data analytics to predict elderly patients who are at high risk for hospitalization or readmission in order to improve the geriatric care process, according to their website.

As of Nov. 2, Intus Care raised $14.1 million in Series A financing led by Deerfield Management. They will use the money to build out Intus Care’s infrastructure, including hiring software and data engineers and business professionals and launching an internship program, founders said.

According to Jackson, Intus Care owes much of its success to the support and flexibility they received at Brown.

“The Brown Venture Prize, … classes, Professor Hazeltine, Professor Chaltas and the flexibility of the curriculum are what allowed us to do this,” Jackson said.

The founders decided to pursue growing the business full time. Since graduating, they have been able to devote a larger portion of their time to understanding the nuances of geriatric care.

In the next several years, Jackson wants to serve high-risk patients nationwide, providing care to lower-income seniors. On top of helping patients, Intus Care also aims to expand their services for providers.

“It's hard enough to be a provider with staffing issues. It's really a tough job, and we want to be able to help providers everywhere to do their job as effectively and efficiently as possible,” Jackson said.

Perkies

Perkies, the only sticky bra on the market with replaceable adhesives, was created by Rose Mangiarotti ’18 in the spring of 2017.

Mangiarotti, a lacrosse student-athlete, started working on her business in Warshay’s ENGN 1010: “The Entrepreneurial Process” in her senior spring, she said. Prompted to come up with an idea to solve a customer pain point, Mangiarotti developed Perkies to remedy her own negative experiences with stick-on adhesive bras, she said. Perkies would offer sticky bras with removable and replaceable adhesives, she said.

Shortly after coming up with the idea, others suggested Mangiarotti enter pitch competitions, including the Brown Venture Prize, Mangiarotti said.

After graduating in 2018, Mangiorotti was accepted into Breakthrough-Lab, Brown’s eight-week summer intensive accelerating program for Brown and RISD student ventures that allowed her to further develop and expand the product line.

While Perkies has always been about making women feel confident, the company now centers a larger part of their mission around breast cancer, as they donate 5% of proceeds to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Mangiarotti said.

Today, Perkies products can be found on Amazon and Amazon UK, and the company has been written about in Forbes and Brides, Mangiarotti said.

Regarding the future, Mangiarotti looks up to Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx, who continued to grow her company for 20 years before selling.

“Growing organically is my goal,” Mangiarotti said.



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