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Wednesday, September 18, 2019
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E3 Student Ventures Vie for Funding, Look to New Partners

Lea LeBlanc has spent this school year thinking about underwear.

A student in the E3 (Emerson Experience in Entrepreneurship) minor, LeBlanc ‘17 is developing a thin, comfortable, fashionable undergarment for women with incontinence—a product inspired by her active 93-year-old grandmother.

“There’s such an unmet need toward the growing elderly community,” said LeBlanc, who added that as Japanese Americans, her family approaches old age a little differently from many Western families. “Our priority is always that my grandmother is happy and comfortable, and I think this product can really improve her quality of life.”

The product—LeBlanc is calling it Wunder—is one of 19 student ventures competing for cash prizes and judges’ feedback at the annual E3 Expo on Friday, April 21, in the Bordy Theater. The guest speaker will be Jules Pieri, co-founder and CEO of The Grommet.

This spring, the students were part of a fledgling partnership between E3 and the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. Emerson students visited the Trust Center multiple times to network with the MIT entrepreneurs; some Emerson students helped out their MIT counterparts with marketing ideas; and in at least one case, LeBlanc’s, an MIT student helped with product development.

Senior Executive-in-Residence and E3 Director Lu Ann Reeb said for this first year, she and her counterparts at MIT wanted to keep the arrangement “really organic,” but Reeb has high hopes for the partnership.

“I’m really excited to reconnect with them after the semester’s over,” she said. “We’re going to meet in May to really plot out some more definite structure to it. We’re hoping [product development] teams someday have MIT and Emerson students together…And what I think is great about this is you could even get to the point where there are multiple institutions involved.”

Trust Center Associate Managing Director Trish Cotter and Entrepreneur in Residence Donna Levin ’12, co-founder of Care.com, could not immediately be reached for this article.

At the Trust Center, LeBlanc said she met people who work in textile engineering and have backgrounds in chemistry. One MIT student is advising her on what fabrics to use.

“Through these conversations, I learned so much about the journey of creating a fabric and how that would translate into a design,” LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc is currently working with a pattern maker on a design and hopes to have a prototype by the end of the summer.

James Monroe-Chausse ‘18 wants to start 707 Records, an independent label that puts more money back into artists’ pockets than the traditional financial model.

A label puts up all the money for recording, distribution, and marketing, and the artist pays it all back once the record sells; after that, typically, the record company makes a dollar for every dollar the artist gets, he said. Musicians would still have to pay 707 Records back for upfront costs, but after that, the label would take just 15 percent.

“The goal is to create a community of musicians where they don’t have to worry about money,” said Monroe-Chausse, himself a musician who is working on the venture with fellow student Andrew Romano. “We’re giving them a lot more creative control, as well.”

Monroe-Chausse spent some time at the Trust Center this semester, talking to MIT students about their ventures, comparing problems, and brainstorming solutions.

“I found it very helpful, especially because I have a drastically different venture than a lot of kids at MIT do,” he said. “A lot of them were talking about how they were struggling with marketing to their clients in a more creative way…They’re not really thinking about the consumer, about what they want and what they need.”

First-semester senior Rey Sleiman Sawan said until about a month ago, when he became swamped with work and had to step back, he was helping MIT entrepreneurs with “telling the stories” of their products.

Sawan is the creator of Furn, a Lebanese food truck that offers a completely immersive experience via virtual reality. While they wait for their order, customers would don VR goggles and be dropped into Beirut, complete with the sights, sounds, and, courtesy of Sawan’s food, smells of a Lebanese market.

“There’s a big gap in the tech industry and people are growing more serious about different cultures,” Sawan said, “and the only true way and the only organic way to [teach people] is to put people on the streets of these cultures.”

The E3 Expo gets underway at 12:30 pm, where students will present their ventures to a panel of judges, including the Trust Center’s Cotter; David Breen ’78, founder of VDA Productions and member of the Emerson Alumni Board; E3 tutor Leslie Medalie, founder of Leary Public Relations; and Lindsey Simeone, director of special projects for MassChallenge.

Other student ventures are:

Body of Mind, a mobile fitness/meditation app for young professionals; NooN, a symmetryscape photography business; KiPS, a wearable geotracking device for young kids; IndieGlow, an ecommerce site for independent cosmetic companies; OddSpace, the “Airbnb of local event spaces”; Waitlist, a mobile app that tells you wait times at local restaurants; Comidefy, a service that helps young women build professional brand and video resumes; Aisles, an app that finds all the items on your grocery list within supermarkets; Piddle, an app that locates public restrooms in major cities; Cambiar, a global art and fashion fundraising festival; Rowation, a talent agency for up-and-coming comedians; PowrOn, a web resource for up-and-coming YouTube stars; Santa Foundation, a nonprofit that helps low-income families; Envy Life, a T-shirt company that promotes and supports young artists; Wine Apostle, a website to educate consumers about domestic wines; and Journee, a web platform to help international students apply to college in the United States.