8 Student Startups in RI that Want to Make Impact at Scale

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The following piece was originally posted on March 18, 2019 via Rhode Island Inno and is republished here with permission.

The Brown University venture prize competition hosted by the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship was another huge success this year, showcasing the finest student startups not only at Brown, but within the higher education ecosystem in the Ocean State.

The pitch night is designed to empower the most advanced entrepreneurial ventures by students and supports teams who have identified a significant opportunity and whose ventures have the potential to create “impact at scale.” Eight teams competed and three big winners — Formally, GoTeff and Embonet — took home a total of $50,000 in prize funding. But the future is bright for all of these startups, which have the potential to make impact at scale and change the world.


When people immigrate to the U.S., they are forced to fill out a number of complex applications whether its for asylum, visas or citizenship. While there are lawyers and nonprofits to help with the burden, they are often overworked, underfunded and may not even speak the same language as the applicant. As a result, 86 percent of applicants go through this process, making them five times likelier to be denied access into the U.S.

Formally is hoping to flip the script with its intuitive form filler for immigration papers. Formally guides people through the application by providing necessary content to help applicants answer complex questions. For instance, one of the seemingly easier questions on the first application Formally will be used on, the I-589, asks applicants if they speak English. Many, hoping to better their chance of success, say yes to this question even when they don’t speak English. What they don’t realize is that they just forfeited their right to an interpreter. Formally explains ambiguous questions to help the applicant make sense of forms that can consist of many pages.

The service will be free to applicants, but Formally will charge organizations and law firms a subscription fee between $1,500 and $5,000 per month to use its services. The company can help lawyers boil four costly hours into one and save hundreds of billable hours per month. While the company is starting with the I-589 application, it has already partnered with one of the largest asylum organizations in the U.S. and is planning to expand its range to other applications such as the H1B visa. Down the road, the company could conceivably develop some type of digital passport, where a person would never have to fill out information on forms twice. The platform will launch publicly April 1.


When most people hear about the country Ethiopia, two different thoughts usually come to mind: Great athletes and famine. But what most don’t know is that the country has tremendous access to the super grain Teff, which contains 35 percent calcium, 51 percent protein, 62 percent fiber, 82 percent iron and is also gluten free. Teff has helped fuel some of Ethiopia’s world-class endurance runners and now the company goTeff is hoping to use the super grain to fuel Ethiopia’s economy. Profits from goTeff will be invested back into Ethiopian farmers to increase their yield.

The company makes different snacks out of the super grain and has thus far developed Teff breakfast meal, but will soon expand to breakfast bars and chips. The company has also been investing in research and development and wants to develop a Teff beer. GoTeff already has 83 pre-orders and is partnering with world class Olympians as its brand ambassadors. The company is planning to go with a direct-to-consumer model by selling at races, 5Ks, marathons and retail grocers such as Whole Foods.


Every year, there are approximately 500,000 open heart surgeries — and not all end well. In fact, between 2 and 17 percent of the people that go through these surgeries suffer debilitating strokes. The strokes can occur when the tube from the cardiopulmonary machine is inserted into the patient’s aorta, which then can dislodge embolic debris that has the potential to reach the brain and cause a stroke. Medical device companies know about the problem and are currently trying to solve it, mainly through an umbrella-like device that captures the debris before it reaches the brain. However, they haven’t quite nailed it down yet.

Embonet believes it has a better way. The company uses a double-layered pocketed mesh design to allow regulated blood flow go through, while capturing debris before it reaches the brain. The concept is the brainchild of co-founder Emily Holtzman, who is a textile expert studying at the Rhode Island School of Design. The company has already created several prototypes, conducted flow simulation and tests have shown the product has greater efficiency than other similar products on the market. Embonet has filed provisional patents through Brown and believes this market will be worth $2 billion by 2025.

Cress Health

Just imagine you are a 30-year-old African American woman battling addiction, which is now the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50. You walk into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and realize you are the only woman of color. This situation is all too common in AA meetings, which can be homogenous, and also logistically difficult for people to attend if they work full time or live in remote areas. To combat these problems, a new company is ready to give people the ability to customize their AA experience. Cress Health is a mobile platform that allows people to create their own digital, personalized support groups. Using an advanced matching algorithm, people are able to join a virtual group they closely identify with and share experiences in an anonymous manner. Cress Health is trying to address a problem that is impacting 23 million people and roughly an $8.8 billion market. According to the company, a whopping 85 percent of people battling addiction do not have access to adequate treatment. The company is planning to charge people a little over $1 per month and go to market through treatment centers. Cress’ goal is to reach 30 treatment centers in the next 12 months and then release the platform to the world.

H2OK Innovations

Tracking down lead pipes in the U.S. is an extremely timely and expensive task. In fact, there is still relatively little data on where all of the lead pipes are. In Flint, Mich., home of the nation’s largest lead pipe catastrophe, experts were only able to identify lead pipes with a 20 percent success rate. Now, a student startup thinks it has developed the technology to identify and track down these lead pipes in a much quicker, more efficient way. H2OK Innovationsharnesses artificial intelligence and data analytics to empower common citizens to aid in the process of identifying old pipes contaminating water so they can be remedied. The company uses glass bead microscopy technology, which can be attached to a phone camera lens, to magnify images times 100 and adequately examine water samples for cyanobacteria colonies. The user can then take a picture of the sample and H2OK’s technology is able to use image recognition technology and machine learning to determine in real time if the water is contaminated. With the data collected, H20K can then map waterways. The company sees a huge opportunity considering there are at least 10 million estimated lead pipes in the U.S. and the government expects to spend $1 trillion replacing these pipes. H2OK plans to work with local governments and sell its data to nonprofits and insurance, filter and utility companies. The company is planning to work with the City of Providence, which estimates that it needs to spend around $93 million to replace the more than 37,000 lead pipes in its Water Retail District. H2OK believes they can reduce the cost of this down to $3 million.

Intus Care

The on-demand economy has become deeply ingrained in daily life whether through transportation, lodging and even dog walking. Now, a new startup wants to extend this concept into elderly care. Intus Care would leverage technology to provide on-demand, in-home care and care coordination to the elderly and disabled. The online and mobile platform would connect homebuyers to geriatric care, which would ideally allow many elderly to avoid nursing homes and stay in their current residencies. Patients would be able to schedule care in advanced and on demand for activities as small as getting dressed. The company plans to hire certified nursing assistants and projects costs for patients to be around $23 per hour, which is 15 percent less than the average CNA salary in Rhode Island. There are roughly 43.5 million informal caregivers in the U.S. and the American Association of Retired Persons estimates the family caregiving market to be worth about $470 billion per year.


In China, there are 78 million high school students that want to complete their higher education learning in the U.S. This kind of demand has made the landscape fiercely competitive, with many Chinese families paying as much as $30,000 for consultants, despite the fact that many of these consultants have never studied abroad and don’t have first-hand experience. SelectEd is trying to rein in the costs of these consulting services and make higher education in the U.S. more doable for those in China with limited resources. The company is an online platform that is a one-stop shop for admissions consulting. SelectEd uses matchmaking algorithms that pairs international students seeking to study in the U.S. with U.S. educational consultants that have studied abroad and therefore know the application process. In 2017, Chinese families spent a collective $4.3 billion on consulting and test preparation. SelectEd will make money by charging a 20 percent commission from each consultant’s client. The company plans to help 300 Chinese students this year and 33,000 by 2021. It eventually plans to expand its services into other countries like India and Brazil.


There are more than 7 million electric vehicles in the U.S., yet 85 percent of these car owners don’t where to access the chargers needed to refuel their cars. And this is mainly because the U.S. still only has about 6 percent of all global public electric chargers. Zap Charging Seeks to give these electric vehicle owners piece of mind by offering on-demand charging for electric vehicles anytime and anywhere. Drivers can call Zap Charging and someone from the company will meet them at their location and provide an average of 20 minutes of charging for 60 miles of range. The market for electric charging is expected to jump to $136 million by 2023. Zap Charging plans to make money through a subscription model with an annual revenue fee per charge rate. The company, which is currently working to obtain a utility patent, has formed a strategic partnership with AAA and now has access to the company’s 15 million U.S. drivers.

Full-time journalist and Content Strategy Lead at GoingVC writing about business, the economy, startup culture movies, sports and much more.

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