User data is precious yet powerful. Tech giants go to great lengths to collect every byte of their customers’ personal information. Often buried deep in the “privacy policy” which is rarely read are agreements that give companies like Google and Facebook access to user data, which is owned by the consumer. These companies apply artificial intelligence (AI) models onto this data to unearth insights that can greatly improve their products and business strategy. Consumers, however, are never compensated for their personal information. Moreover, consumer privacy rights prohibit this precious data from being shared with third parties, so they remain locked up in highly-protected databases of corporate R&D departments. The result is a monopolistic control over consumer data held by few powerful firms, and a lack of compensation for the consumers that are the root source of these corporate insights.

Artificien, a startup founded by Jake Epstein ’21 and Matt Kenney ’21, seeks to give the ownership of personal information back to the consumer and democratize access to user data. Leveraging sophisticated blockchain technologies, Artificien is building a platform to allow users to “sell” access to their de-identified consumer data to interested buyers, who can use these data to derive information that will better guide their businesses.

Who are the interested buyers? They are usually firms that lack access to big data needed for developing advanced AI models. Today’s AI technologies such as machine learning require vast training datasets for development. For example, YouTube’s curator feature, which recommends new videos based on your view history, has great accuracy in predicting user preferences because the AI has been trained over large amounts of historic user data.

Access to insightful user data is often limited to a few giant technology conglomerates. Hence, it is exceptionally difficult for small and emerging companies or research scientists to build and train AI technologies due to their lack of scale and access. Artificien seeks to change this by giving users the power to decide whether they would like to sell access to their anonymized consumer data to willing buyers.

The founders’ plan is to implement this revolutionary, patent-pending technology via a simple interface: users can choose what kind of data they would like to sell, and Artificien will handle the match-making between the user and potential buyers. Types of data include usage data, such as music preferences on Spotify or Amazon shopping preferences. Such data will all be anonymized because Artificien employs a technique called federated learning which trains the AI model directly on the users’ devices. Thus, the consumers’ data never leave their devices. Compensation delivery will also be seamless, immediately credited to the user’s account from which they can withdraw. Usage of a blockchain network provides a flexible architecture, meaning participants can join and leave actively, seamlessly and anonymously.

Artificien’s mission is not only to fairly compensate users for their personal information, but also to open the avenues of AI development to all organizations, not just giant technology companies. In turn, the field of AI can advance at a much faster pace. Increased access can fuel the rapid growth of new startups that can utilize AI technologies towards developing innovative products for the world. Artificien is essentially commoditizing data access with the hopes that increased data accessibility will further spur innovations in user-tailored products and services.

The Artificien team consists of Epstein, Kenney and Tench Coxe ’21. The young entrepreneurs have met and discussed their vision with numerous venture capitalists. Although they have not yet begun funding rounds, they have received invaluable advice from successful entrepreneurs and startup investors. The two founders frequently work in the Hanover downtown Magnuson Incubator Space and are members of the Magnuson Student Leadership Board. Here, they contribute towards planning various programs hosted by the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship (formerly the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, or the DEN) that seek to promote the entrepreneurial culture at Dartmouth. The two sophomores have enjoyed the variety of resources provided for student-entrepreneurs at the Center, including exclusive networking opportunities with Dartmouth alumni entrepreneurs and investors.

Both Epstein and Kenney were interested in entrepreneurship since they stepped onto campus their freshman year. They first launched a coffee brewing and distribution company called Top Floor Coffee from their dorm room, serving Dartmouth students around campus via a delivery and subscription model. They invested in brewing equipment and supplies, and they quickly became experts in the practice. They were approached by Leanbox for a buyout and “hireout” offer, where they would be positioned to spearhead Leanbox’s newest product line of hyper-concentrated caffeine drinks, in return for a combined 30 percent stake in the division. They would, however, have to put their academic careers on pause and work full-time for the company.

Ultimately, Epstein and Kenney declined the lucrative offer. The idea for Artificien was born the summer thereafter, when the sophomores returned from their summer internships. Kenney worked at a bioinformatics laboratory, which designed specialized antibodies using machine learning. This is where Kenney realized the difficulties that labs and small organizations had in accessing the data necessary to train AI models. Epstein worked at a family office that invested in the blockchain space, where he became familiar with the inner mechanisms of blockchain – the technology that makes cryptocurrencies possible. The two founders shared their experiences over the summer and from there arose the idea for Artificien.

Epstein, Kenney, and Coxe have a big vision for Artificien. The team plans to utilize Dartmouth’s flexible graduation timeline, which allows student entrepreneurs to postpone their graduation while they pursue their ventures, to their advantage. They are preparing to begin initial venture rounds this year, hoping to raise enough money to work on the company full-time. Furthermore, the founders hope to impart their wisdom and experiences on like-minded students through their involvement with the various programs at the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship. As the only known firm in its niche industry with a provisional patent on the novel technology, Artificien is very well-positioned to revolutionize the big data space.

Most people have accidentally mispronounced a word or stuttered a bit in an intensely stressful interview. They momentarily experience the struggle to clearly and effortlessly communicate their thoughts, but this feeling is a constant reality for those who suffer from a speech pathology.

According to studies conducted by the National Institute of Health, nearly one in 12 children aged three to 17 suffer from some sort of speech pathology. Yet, according to the National Institute of Health, only 55 percent of the affected children receive any treatment. Why? Because speech therapy is expensive. A single session can cost over a hundred dollars and this cost is not covered by most insurance providers. Moreover, access to speech therapists is limited for children who live in rural neighborhoods. Without early therapeutic intervention, early signs of speech disorders can grow into larger problems later in life.

Dartmouth sophomore Ayan Agarwal had a speech disorder as a child, which fortunately was cured through early speech therapy. Now, as the founder of Blabl, a startup aiming to fix this problem, Agarwal wants to help those 45 percent who cannot afford or do not have access to professional treatment. Blabl is a speech therapist on-the-go, where children can use the mobile app to practice their speech with an avatar companion by telling it a story. The app will track the child’s speech performance over time and report progress to the parent or speech pathologist. It is free, is convenient and can be used at home.

Agarwal first came up with this idea in high school and even won a pitch contest during his senior year with it. When he arrived at Dartmouth, Agarwal set off to turn his idea into a reality. He pitched to the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship (MCE, formerly DEN) and won the Founder’s Grant to kickstart his venture. In the Spring of his freshmen year, he pitched and won a partnership with the Dartmouth Applied Learning and Innovation (DALI) Lab. By then, Blabl had become well-known within the Dartmouth entrepreneurial community and Agarwal gained access to mentors from our faculty, alumni and entrepreneurs.

The DALI Lab space matches entrepreneurs with student-led software development teams. As a freshman who lacked an in-depth technical background, designing and coding a speech therapy app was a daunting task for Agarwal. The DALI Lab connected him to a team who provided the technical skills to transform Blabl from a concept into a working app.

This development process, however, was anything but trivial. The first roadblock that the DALI team faced was the inability to use natural language processing (NLP) algorithms to understand what the user says. The original idea of the Blabl app envisioned children having conversations with the avatar, saying anything they wished. However, since NLP does not function as well when used in instances of speech impairments, the team had to pivot. They designed a ‘choose your own adventure’ mode, where the child can create ‘paths’ in their story by reading off the text for each choice. The second challenge came about during the testing phases for the app. With such a niche market, it was difficult for the DALI team to conduct user-testing and receive constructive feedback. The team is finding ways around this obstacle by reaching out for expertise from speech pathologists and visiting local children’s hospitals.

Agarwal’s partnership with the DALI lab began this term and will likely continue into the spring as the app requires a multi-stage development process.

Agarwal also partnered with the MCE, which offers resources on the business side of Blabl. The MCE offers “Startup Office Hours” for student entrepreneurs like Agarwal as well as a 3-week “Introduction to Entrepreneurship” course. The MCE’s other asset is its powerful network of successful alumni entrepreneurs. At events such as the weekly Student Circle, students have the opportunity to meet and connect with alumni who can provide valuable advice from their own experiences.

The entrepreneurship culture at Dartmouth certainly has room to grow. When Agarwal first stepped onto campus, he recounts how difficult it was “to know who to talk to about entrepreneurship.” The MCE is tucked away at 4 Currier Place in downtown Hanover and not many students know of the MCE or the DALI Lab and the resources they offer. Agarwal feels that if he had not come to Dartmouth already passionate about entrepreneurship, he would not have found the resources at MCE and DALI.

Ultimately, entrepreneurship is a way to apply one’s studies in any subject area to the real world. It is a passion, a career path and a way of life open to students of any major of study, and more and more, Dartmouth students are able to explore these possibilities. As a result, it is clear that Dartmouth can benefit from growth in its entrepreneurship program. Ideally, the MCE should not just be a resource for students who already have an idea but should expand to help every student discover entrepreneurship as a part of their liberal arts education.

But, there is light on the horizon. With $45 million in recent donations to the MCE, the entrepreneurship culture at Dartmouth has an exciting future. Both the DALI Lab and the MCE reached their highest memberships ever this year. Earlier this fall, ten new campus startups pitched themselves to the MCE Campus Ventures program, hiring almost 50 students, including many enthusiastic freshmen.

Whether a student has an idea or not, opportunities to become involved in startups have never been more plentiful. At the beginning of every term, students can apply through the MCE to intern at campus startups like Blabl. Students favoring the more technical side of innovation can apply each term to become a student developer or designer at DALI. Finally, students who want to pursue their own startups can pitch their ventures to MCE and DALI to receive grants and technical partnerships. The entrepreneurship culture at Dartmouth, led by bold visionaries like Agarwal, is taking off.

Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the nascent world of online social networking was a space where people could create and foster an online social persona to connect with friends. Jack Dorsey limited the length of a user’s tweet to 140 characters. Evan Spiegel further simplified social networks by replacing the emphasis on written messages with picture and video sharing. Thanks to their innovations, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are today important bedrocks of young adult social media. Contrary to what their creators might claim, however, none of these startups were founded with the purely altruistic goal of fixing a specific public issue.

 

Dartmouth student Sanat Mohapatra ’20 is bucking that trend with a new startup he co-founded called Unmasked. Founded as a non-profit, Unmasked aims to tackle a problem that exists on college campuses everywhere: hidden and pervasive mental health issues within the student body. The increased workload, the difficulty in responsibly handling newfound freedom away from home and the demanding academic environment make college campuses petri dishes for stress and depression. Nowhere is this truer than at elite, competitive colleges like Dartmouth.

 

Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are all platforms where friends can share news or updates with one another. Unlike those, Unmasked has the explicit goal of hiding the identities of its users. Whereas many students are hesitant to display mental health issues publicly due to a widespread stigma surrounding mental health, students may feel free to discuss what is bothering them on the app. By masking their identity, struggling students will paradoxically be taking off their inner masks.

 

Creating an account on Unmasked, which Mohapatra is hoping to release to campus this fall, will require Dartmouth NetID credentials. Students operating the back-end of the app will not be able to see which accounts are associated with which students. Mohapatra and his team are still figuring out the logistics of implementation, but they expect to use some sort of encryption or randomly generated ID number to maintain anonymity.

 

In order to develop the app, Mohapatra is partnering with a team at the Digital Arts Leadership and Innovation (DALI) Lab. During weekly meetings, he provides DALI with content and direction so that they can turn his vision into a functional, user-friendly product. Additionally, he has communicated with the Dartmouth administration for some guidance. For instance, the IT Department has promised to help him integrate the app with Dartmouth’s Web Authentication system.

 

In trying to get approval to use the Dartmouth name in the app title, Mohapatra has also met with Dartmouth’s legal team. He hopes that if he can call the app Dartmouth Unmasked, students will feel more comfortable using it and will consider it a legitimate place to go to for support. Mohapatra discussed with Dartmouth’s legal department any potential liability issues that might arise for Unmasked. He is trying to avoid the mistakes that were made by Bored at Baker. A former anonymous posting app part of the “Bored at” network, which ran into troubles in 2014 when a user posted a detailed guide on how to rape a specific student. Dartmouth’s campus organized in protest after the student said she was sexually assaulted as a result of the post.

 

Mohapatra is pursuing methods to moderate the app in order to prevent that type of problem. A group of trained students will help run the app as moderators and supporters. This team, who will appear anonymous like any other user, will ensure that each student’s post receives a response. Additionally, Unmasked will rely on a community moderation ethic, so that each user is responsible for keeping the app a safe space for everyone. If that inappropriate Bored at Baker post were on Unmasked, it would quickly be flagged by a user, removing it from public view until a moderator reviews it. Users who post malicious comments could be permanently banned from the app. In addition, Mohapatra is considering pursuing punishments for students who post particularly inappropriate or offensive content. Those students may face disciplinary consequences as well as being blocked from creating a new account.

 

Mohapatra had the idea for Unmasked around a year ago. Using the now-defunct Yik Yak, he observed the well-known community of “trolls” on the app who just wanted to mess with other users. However, he also noticed another prominent group using the application.

 

“What is interesting is that with anonymity, there was another whole community of people who were looking for support on Yik Yak,” Mohapatra told me. “They saw this anonymous outlet as a good place to really be real and say what was going on.”

 

Unfortunately, the confluence of these two different groups of people led to some poor interactions. Mohapatra gave an example of one such interaction.

 

One student would post a message like this: “Hey, I just failed a test. I don’t know what to do. I’m struggling a lot.”

 

The trolls’ response: “Go kill yourself.”

 

Mohapatra imagined an anonymous community in which anyone could be “real” and discuss their issues without fear of social backlash. During the spring term of his freshman year at Dartmouth, Mohapatra began reaching out to struggling Yik Yak users via direct message. What he discovered were people with serious issues who had no one to help them. Mohapatra developed a supportive relationship with some of these Dartmouth students over the course of the term. Just before Yik Yak shut down in May 2017, Mohapatra posted a message to the app asking if people would be interested in using an anonymous app devoted to providing peer-to-peer support. He received a resoundingly positive response.

 

Referring to one particularly depressed student whom he was trying to support, Mohapatra said, “he reached out to me and he essentially said, ‘Hey. Obviously I’ve been struggling a lot, but I think your idea is really interesting. I’d love to be involved.’” Mohapatra said that this message showed him that “there’s a lot of value in creating community connections so that people who are struggling know they’re not alone, so that they could reach out and talk to people and have a level of empathy with one another.”

 

Mohapatra has been asked how Unmasked will differ from Dartmouth’s own mental health support pathways. The difference, he says, is that all of Dartmouth’s methods involve “vertical power relationships.” For sensitive issues, students might feel intimidated to share everything that’s bothering them to an employee at Dartmouth, especially if those issues involve drug or alcohol use. Unmasked, on the other hand, will be a “horizontal power relationship” so that students can feel comfortable going to peers for help.

 

Unmasked will also fix another issue with Dartmouth’s mental health support system. During test weeks, Dick’s House gets inundated with requests for support appointments. Since not all students can be seen in a timely manner — and since Dick’s House determines the urgency of who to help by a phone call, which could deter some people from seeking support in the first place — Mohapatra hopes that students will be able to use Unmasked to get help when other methods have failed.

 

During his freshman spring, as he was developing the idea for Unmasked, Mohapatra learned the lesson that many prospective startup founders have come to appreciate: having an idea is not the same as turning it into a real product. “How do I develop this app?” he asked himself. “I’m an English major, not a [Computer Science] major.”

 

He pitched Unmasked to the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network for funding but did not get selected. With no money to develop the app and no experience in coding, Mohapatra hit a dead-end and decided to put the idea on hold for the time being. During his sophomore year at Dartmouth, he joined Dartmouth’s Mental Health Focus Group. This past winter, a fellow member of the group approached him offering to help get the app off the ground.

 

That student, Jenna Salvay ’20, combined efforts with Mohapatra to apply to partner with DALI. When DALI accepted them, Mohapatra and Salvay had to come up with $7,500 to cover the partnership. Since they were accepted in March, they have been busy applying for grants and looking for other funding sources to meet that goal. Though they have not yet been awarded any startup grants, they have created a GoFundMe page, and they have partnered with Alpha Theta to raise money. For now, Mohapatra and Salvay are using DALI’s “rainy day fund,” which allows its partners to work with DALI without yet reaching their funding goal.

 

Fundraising is a huge challenge for any new startup. “Obviously funding doesn’t come overnight and I’m not necessarily surprised by how many different outlets you have to try to locate to raise money, but it’s definitely something to think about if you’re looking to do something like this,” Salvay said.

 

Mohapatra has been attending networking and entrepreneurial conferences at Dartmouth in the hopes of getting fundraising advice and finding alumni to provide funding. As much time and effort as finding funds takes, though, it is hardly all that Mohapatra and Salvay have to do. Mohapatra said that he spends hours each day working on networking, sending emails to directors of comparable programs at other schools, working through potential liability issues, planning for its release, brainstorming marketing strategies and more.

 

The Unmasked team is putting together ideas for a sort of viral marketing campaign this fall. For instance, Mohapatra is considering setting up a “confession booth” in Collis, where students could sit down, talk about their problems anonymously and leave (with encouragement from Mohapatra to get the free app if they wish to continue the discussion).

 

He wants students on campus to immediately notice the marketing tactics because he knows that Unmasked will benefit most from word-of-mouth recommendations. “Everyone knows someone who could be helped by getting the app.”

 

He is particularly concerned with getting word out to the new ’22s on campus. Without yet having a social safety net to rely on, freshmen at college campuses are most at risk of developing mental health issues. If freshmen were to use this app, he thinks they would realize that they are hardly the only ones going through troubles.

 

In the words of Oscar Wilde, “man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” This quote was part of Mohapatra’s inspiration in finding an alternative to college-sponsored mental health solutions. For this app, though, Mohapatra’s time commitment is well worth it. With Unmasked, he is taking bold strides to provide a workable alternative to campus mental health issues, an alternative that could make a significant difference in the lives of countless students for years to come. Don’t be surprised to see Unmasked at colleges everywhere in the years to come.

At the Dartmouth Entrepreneurs Forum on April 1, 2016, dozens of students, aspiring entrepreneurs and interested individuals attended informative workshops and sought out the advice of esteemed speakers. Among the speakers were Amanda Reed, a general partner at Palomar Ventures, and Alex Tonelli, current CEO of Vocate. Speakers detailed general entrepreneur principles, stating that a successful entrepreneur radiates a selling ethos and that the entrepreneur’s main motive for work should be passion.

Keynote speaker Langley Steinert, the co-founder of TripAdvisor and founder and CEO of CarGurus, gave an interesting piece of advice to entrepreneurs about their mission and product. According to Steinert, what matters is not whether an entrepreneur can raise money and build a profitable, growing business, but rather if the entrepreneur is able to solve an individual consumer’s problem with the offered product or service.

Inherently, businesses offer products or services that attempt to solve consumer problems. Some businesses offer products that are reductive, providing the consumer convenience, while others are more empowering, they allow the consumer to be able to do more than what they are capable of alone. And to generalize, there are really a myriad of ways the consumer-business interaction takes places and the consumer’s motive for remaining in that interaction is is generally dictated by the way in which the business can solve his or her problem. To generalize, consumers face essentially an unlimited number of problems that are resolved by seeking products or services. On the flip side, businesses attempt to meet the demands of a certain group of targetable consumers as efficiently as possible.

What Steinert is putting an emphasis on, however, is not the fact that businesses exist to offer solutions to consumers. Rather, Steinert urges intelligent product architecture that allows entrepreneurs to solve an individual’s problem. In today’s society, the paradigm of an average consumer with a representative set of problems and needs does not exist. Each individual is different in that they have their own unique set of problems. And even when taken to a further level of distinction, among individuals with similar problems, the best solutions to their problems may be distinguished for each individual by things such as personal preference and adaptability. Essentially, what Steinert is arguing is that in order for a business to be successful, it must offer a high level of personalization in its products or services.

When we dissect Steinert’s emphasis on personalization in product design, it is apparent that in principle, the benefits of personalization are quite clear. At a very base level, when a business provides a level of personalization in their product or service offerings, it provides a more wholesome, satisfactory customer experience than if it had not. The clear benefit here is the establishment of customer loyalty, consequently decreasing customer attrition. Through a cascading effect, personalization is a company’s tool in differentiating itself from competitors, obtaining a more defensible business model and increasing business performance.

Although the theory proves appealing, it is interesting to see uses of personalization in practice, and how it has affected the relevant business. An example of a business that has successful adopted this model is Pandora Internet Radio (commonly known as Pandora), a music streaming and automated music recommendation service. When Pandora was conceived in 2000, the initial vision for Pandora involved creating individualized radio stations that only contained music that the user enjoyed based on his or her patterns of musical preferences. Thus, from the very beginning, Pandora had attempted to incorporate a level of personalization in its product. An article by Henry Truc, an experienced financial writer and editor of equities.com, shows the lengths to which Pandora goes to create a personalized experience for users. Truc states that “what Pandora does better than anyone else is collecting and utilizing data” and that the number of ways in which this is done, most notably a simple system of giving a “thumbs up” to preferable songs and artists. This is a key driver of what lends to Pandora being able to boast that “it knows its users’ music preferences better than anybody else”. Pandora has reached tremendous success since its conception, boasting $1.8 billion in revenue in 2014 with more than 250 million users worldwide. And it’s hard not to attribute Pandora’s success to the way in which its personalized product is able to completely trounce terrestrial internet radio (radio that is constituted by stations which play their own selection of music) and curate content for its users.

During his talk at the Entrepreneurs Forum, Steinert himself describes how his personal venture at TripAdvisor, a travel website company now dedicated to providing reviews of travel-related content, nearly faced bankruptcy because he did not buy into the importance of this concept. In its early stages, TripAdvisor was a content search engine. During this time, Steinert found himself at a point where growth had halted and only four months’ worth of cash for operating expenses remained. Steinert took great strides in attempting to make changes before realizing that he had the wrong product and the wrong idea for how TripAdvisor could serve the customer. Upon moving from the content search engine it was before to the input based, user behavior-tracking tool that it is now, Steinert and TripAdvisor have reached tremendous success. As Steinert put it, showing the most popular hotel in Boston for you versus showing the most popular hotel in Boston on TripAdvisor has made the difference.

When organizational processes and customer offerings are constructed with the needs of the individual customer in mind, the business and consumer are co-creating a mutually valuable outcome. In the case of Steinert’s TripAdvisor and the nearly ubiquitous Pandora Radio, customers receive a rewarding experience that should, if correctly catered and executed, solve their problem. As a result, the business is able to generate revenue, establish customer loyalty and orient itself to retain both as a positive feedback loop for long-term success. Thus, personalization should be considered as a key component of product architecture and a driver of business value.

As part of this term’s theme of Innovation, we have launched a new series aimed at highlighting business ventures undertaken by students right here at Dartmouth. This issue’s spotlight, Dartbike Rentals, was initially founded in the fall of 2013 by Erik Nordhal and Danny Reitsch, both members of the class of 2016 and two friends who felt that they had identified an underserved need at Dartmouth. Erik Nordahl is studying Economics and Math and hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Danny Reitsch, from Rockford, Illinois, studies Economics, Computer Science and German and also serves at the 2016 Class President.  Dartbike Rentals follows a simple business plan. For $100 a term, students receive a bike along with a lock to use throughout the term. Currently holding a fleet of 50 bikes that they rent out on a term-to-term basis, Erik and Danny both see growing demand for rental bikes, which they hope will allow them to eventually increase their inventory and be able to serve a larger audience. In the following interview, Erik and Danny tell us about their experience starting their own business, the challenges as well as rewards they have faced and finally their prospects for the future.

Dartmouth Business Journal (DBJ): What made you decide to start Dartbike Rentals?

Nordahl and Reitsch (NR): All of us at Dartbike Rentals have personally experienced both the conveniences and hassles that come with owning a bike on campus. While a bike can save a lot of time (some of us save 1-2 hours of walking per day from biking to class, practice, and other activities), the maintenance, storage, and lack of local mechanics are difficult to circumvent. We wanted to bridge that gap and provide students with an alternate option: to rent a high quality bike at a moderate price, free of the hassles that come with owning a bike.

On a more personal level, we are all people who truly enjoy the challenges and rewards of owning and running an on-campus business. We all enjoy and embrace the challenges that inevitably arise from starting a business and believe that the rewards, both monetary and educational, far outweigh the costs.

DBJ: Walk us through the steps you took to create Dartbike from where to source the bikes to determining how to price the rental?

NR: After we had the idea, we did some research for potential bikes that would be a good fit for riding around campus at a price point college students could afford. After contacting several manufacturers, we were able to narrow our list down to a couple of brands, and develop relationships with those companies.

As far as pricing the product: it’s always a difficult task. We sent out a lot of surveys and asked for students’ feedback about their current bike options. With the cost of our bikes in mind, we then carefully considered this information and set our prices competitively.

As far as organizing the business: I think all of us at DartBike Rentals have realized that ideas run much smoother in our heads than they do when implemented in reality. Unanticipated challenges arise, however, and we enjoy reacting to those challenges in order to build our company and provide our customers with a product we take pride in. We have been forced to be meticulously organized and responsive. All of us have been lucky in that each individual on our team has been very enthusiastic with their involvement in DartBike Rentals and has been able to pick up where other members leave off. Although difficult, it is a lot of fun to work on this business with a great group of students and friends.

DBJ: From what demographic of Dartmouth student have you seen the most traction?

NR: We’ve seen traction from all demographics of Dartmouth students. Everyone needs to get around on campus, and everyone loves saving time. However, student athletes and students that live in off-campus housing have been good segments for us.

DBJ: What were the biggest challenges you have had to deal with?

NR: Our biggest challenges include maintenance, theft, and damages. Maintenance is difficult because some problems that arise are very unique. On the rare occasion that the bike is severely damaged, we have mechanics that can repair the bikes. Theft is difficult for obvious reasons, however, we have our bikes registered with Safety and Security. That way, in the off-chance a bike gets stolen, we can alert S&S and have more eyes out for the bike.

DBJ: What do you find most interesting and rewarding in terms of running your own business?

NR: It is very rewarding to see all of our customers riding our bikes around campus, and know that we made it possible. It is also great to have taken risks on ourselves and see them pay off. Starting DartBike Rentals was a bit daunting, but we have gained confidence from our success up to this point.

DBJ: What do either of you see yourself doing after College?

NR: We are still unsure of what we want to do after school, but running a business is definitely high up on our lists.

 

At first glance there seems to be very little in common between snowy Hanover and the unassailably-temperate Silicon Valley. However, setting aside glaring climatic and geographical differences, the iconic entrepreneurial spirits and boundless ambitions that have come to define the unwavering capital of innovation are also prevalent here at our Dartmouth College.

Meet Shinri Kamei ’16 and Krystyna Miles ’16, prospective BE candidates in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering respectively at Dartmouth’s Thayer School fo Engineering.

“We had a ton of ideas early on, and we didn’t know that THIS was the idea we wanted to pursue until we went to restaurants and realized that it was a real problem,” said Miles, referring to her and Kamei’s start-up venture, Tray Bien, conceived in their Introduction to Engineering (ENGS 21) class during the fall of 2013.

Posed in class with the challenge of identifying a problem and a solution under the theme of mobility and portability, Kamei and Miles’ group “…went to dinner at Molly’s as a team and asked our waitress if she ever experienced wrist pains, to which she replied, ‘Oh my God, all the time. We all have tendinitis, and most of us are just waiting for carpal tunnel”” recalled Miles.

Over the ensuring weeks, the extensive and iterative interviews with waiters and waitresses in Hanover restaurants became the basis of the inspiration to create a new ergonomic serving tray that would prevent wrist such as tendinitis and carpal tunnel related to the holding and handling of serving trays.

The trays are trademarked under the name Tray Bien which is a play on the French words “very good,”. Tray Bien won the Phillip R. Jackson Engineering Sciences Prize among a group of 14 ENGS 21 projects.

“At first we considered other project ideas too. For example, we thought about a device that would transport accumulated hair in shower drains to a trash can without physically touching the hair clump,” said Kamei.

Ultimately, after presenting all their ideas to a panel of Thayer professors as a part of ENGS 21, the group concluded that Tray Bien proved most promising.

After the class ended, the group consulted a patent lawyer over winter break and pursued a provisional patent with the encouragement of the Thayer panelists who witnessed the project grow, mature and take off. On their first day back for the winter term, Miles and Kamei met with Professor Gregg Fairbrothers of Tuck School of Business and director of the newly revamped Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network. He directed them to a contact at Adams-Burch, a large wholesale supplier of food service equipment. In mid-March, the duo hosted a booth at Adams-Burch’s annual Great Ideas Trade Show in Landover, Maryland and showcased their idea to over 200 industry professionals.

“We were just holding our trays all day from nine to six, and trying to get people’s attention. In the end, we took 2,000 pre-orders in the two days we were there. Before that point, we didn’t know that any of this was possible, because we didn’t know if there really was a market for this type of product. The tradeshow was the proof of concept that encouraged us to keep moving forward,” explained the duo. “When we came back toe school in the spring, we entered the Dartmouth Ventures entrepreneurship competition and for the first time in the competition’s history, won both the first place prize and the people’s choice award.”

Currently, the duo is talking to more than 10 manufacturers who have expressed tremendous interest in making their trays.

“We are looking at samples they sent us, and we’re hoping to pick and finalize a contract soon since we already have a distributor lined up,” said Miles. “They [the distributor] are the same people who made it possible for us to attend the trade show, and after witnessing our success, wanted to work with us.”

When asked about the actual work behind the success of Tray Bien, Miles and Kamei admit to the long hours that their project consumed but also describes their experiences as tremendously rewarding the informative.

“Nothing ever just happens,” explained Kamei. “There was a ton of work and focus that went into it, but if you seek the resources here you can definitely find them. Even before the final product is done, it’s so much more than just project design. You have to be out there talking to people, learning about the market, etc. This entire experience has basically been a crash course in entrepreneurship because before this we didn’t know anything about business and the food services supply market, and the best way of learning is by doing, and that’s just what we are doing.”

“But what really made this whole experience great was being here at Dartmouth. Being students, just in general, really helped our whole story, in terms of people being interested in our product. And being at Dartmouth, we had access to many mentors and professionals in the Dartmouth and Tuck community who sincerely wanted to help.”

“Hopefully, we will have the product rolled out by the summer. And whatever profit we accumulate in year one, we will want to roll back into the company. Right now we are just students doing this for the learning curve, and we have some licensing offers that we are hoping to look more into at the end of the year. Ultimately we want to determine whether or not we are in the best position to be distributing our trays because we know that there is probably someone out there who can do a better job. For now though, we want to keep it for a while because the process has been so great as a learning opportunity.”

“For now though, we want to keep it for a while because the process has been so great as a learning opportunity.”

Every Dartmouth student knows that his or her college education is expensive. Families make sacrifices to pay tuition: students and parents take on debt, alumni are constantly solicited for donations, and tax-exempt money flows to colleges rather than to other non-profits. Therefore, it is important to ask if the administration uses the money efficiently. Dartmouth claims to spend $117,000 per student each year to educate us. Less than half of this is covered by tuition. Consider also that full tuition at $60,201 costs about three times more in inflation-adjusted dollars than it did in 1980. If tuition had risen only with inflation, a Dartmouth education would today cost about $25,000 for full tuition plus room and board. One can certainly question if the education and overall experience is three times better today than it was in 1980.

High expenses are not a problem unique to Dartmouth. College tuition nationwide has increased at an average rate of 7.45 percent per year since 1978, and with it the amount of debt with which students are being saddled. The Department of Labor demonstrated that college tuition has experienced the greatest cost increase over the last 30 years, increasing two to three times the overall rate of inflation, significantly outpacing the consumer price index and even medical care.

In “Tuition Rising: Why College Costs So Much”, Ronald Ehrenberg, Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics at Cornell University argues that top institutions, with long lines of high quality applicants flocking to their doors, have chosen to spend more money every year. “The objective of selective academic institutions” he contends, “is to be the best in every aspect of their activities.” As a result, they seek out all possible resources and “wind up in an arms race of spending to improve facilities, faculty, students, research, and instructional technology.” In “Over Invested and Over Priced,” Richard Vedder, director for the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and Professor of Economics at Ohio University, points out that this is due to the simple fact that colleges, as non-profits, have no bottom line. Under no pressure to be efficient, colleges often incur costs to buy things that improve magazine rankings, not knowing if this truly improves teaching or research. A report from the Goldwater Institute found that in 2007 it took 13.1 percent more employees to educate the same number of students than it did in 1993. Furthermore, the rate of increase of total university employees per students as greatest among private universities, which in 2007, had an average of 53.6 employees for ever 100 students, equivalent to fewer than two students per employee, an increase of 20 percent from 1993.

If the increased spending is going to enhance the quality of learning, one could argue that increased spending is well worth it. However, universities are not using their greater size and increased revenue to hire more teaching staff. In “Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All Administrative University and Why it Matters,” Benjamin Ginsberg, Professor Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, points out that the rise in college spending can be attributed almost entirely to the growth of administrations. He laments what he terms an “administrative blight” which is personified by what an army of “deanlets” and “deanlings”. Between 1975 and 2005, the growth in the ranks of administrators has far outstripped in the ranks of administrators has far outstripped the increase in faculty. The larger result of this, he contends, is that resources have been shifted to feed primarily the ever-increasing number of administrators who do little to advance the main instructional aims of a university. Indeed, between 1993 and 2007, inflation-adjusted spending on administration per student increased 61 percent while instructional spending per student rose only 39 percent during that same period.

Dartmouth has become the poster child for administrative bloat. In fact, Dartmouth spends more solely on administration per student that the average American university spends on everything per student. Information at The Center for COllege Affordability and Productivity shows that the large spending categories at Dartmouth are $37,000 per student for academic support, and $24,000 per student on research. Dartmouth is spending a staggering $88,000 per student before instructional costs are even considered.

Dartmouth currently has the highest tuition among the Ivies, and also has the dubious distinction of being a leader in splurging on administrative costs. Comparing Dartmouth’s 2013 Financial Report to Brown’s (the Ivy that is closest to us in size) is thought provoking. Brown and Dartmouth appear to have around the same number of total employees, despite the fact the Brown 36 percent more students! Brown pays its professors approximately 10 percent more per year than Dartmouth does, yet Brown’s total annual spending was somehow still a staggering $105,491,000 less than Dartmouth’s in 2013.

Digging into Dartmouth’s financial statements, one can discover that the university spent $326,856,000 on salaries and $112,937,000 on benefits in 2013, while Brown spent $294,674,000 on salaries and $94,185,000 on benefits. Overall Dartmouth spent a total of $86,715,000 more on compensation, or a difference of about 22 percent, despite the fact that they have about the same number of employees and that Dartmouth pays 10 percent less to Professors.

Furthermore, data from the Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), reveals a disturbing trend for salaries of Dartmouth instructional employees (professors) versus non-instructional  employees (administrative staff). The data indicate that from 2006 to 2007, salaries of Dartmouth professors actually dropped almost $40,000, while salaries for academic support employees (which includes Deans and other non-instructional functions), and salaries for institutional support (which includes employees not directly related to academics such as legal and fiscal managers) both have been increasing.

I was puzzled by this anomalous trend showing that salaries of professors had dramatically declined starting in 2007, while salaries of administrators dramatically increased at the same time. I contacted Dartmouth CFO, RIchard Mills, but he was not able to provide an explanation.

Dartmouth also appears to be more profligate with its endowment than Brown. Dartmouth’s 2013 Financial Report indicates that Dartmouth drew $183,816,000 from its endowment, giving it, on a per student basis, a little over $44,000 to work with, while Brown had about $23,000 per student. Dartmouth has been using vastly more of its endowment that Brown has. However, as these graphs indicate, Dartmouth’s spending does not seem to be going to increase the quality of the Dartmouth education, but rather seems to be mainly squandered on increased administrative salaries. In fact, further data from IPEDS indicates that Dartmouth spends a much smaller percentile of its budget on instruction than Brown does, and vastly more on academic support (a difference it shares with the rest of the Ivies as well).

While Dartmouth offers more generous financial aid than many colleges, it nonetheless still has the highest tuition cost of all the Ivies, and 50 percent of its students graduate with some amount of student debt. Nationwide, experts fear that a student debt bubble could endanger the economy. Many students have crushing levels of debt. There is a larger, more general question about how America as a society is allocating its resources. Perhaps the Ivy League colleges in particular need to take the lead in stopping the “arms race”, committing to not only containing, but actually reducing costs and tuition for the good of society as a whole.

This article is intended to be the first in a series exploring different aspects of financial management of Dartmouth and colleges in general. At an institute of higher learning where lucid and rigorous thinking is celebrated, it seems vitally important that the entire school community is concerned about how Dartmouth is managed.

When John Donahoe was an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College, he was a normal student-athlete – bright, focused, and quite involved on campus. He probably did not envision himself as the future CEO of one of America’s biggest corporations. But what he did know was that he had a passion, a drive, and desire to be a leader. Donahoe always felt comfortable in leadership positions, whether it was in his fraternity or leading his teammates on the basketball court as a member of the Big Green basketball team. Before describing his career story, Donahoe wanted to make it clear that many of the goals he has achieved, and hurdles he has had to jump would have been made extremely difficult without his role model, his father.

“My father served as a major influence on my life. At the time, I did not even know that he would serve as such a huge role model to me,” said Donahoe. “But the things I’ve learned from him have been unforgettable. The greatest value I ever emulated from him was his ability to treat everyone the same way. I remember visiting his office when I was young and being astonished by how he knew everyone by name. Whether it was the parking attendant or CEO, he treated everyone the same way.”

Donahoe graduated from Dartmouth in 1982, where he majored in economics and performed at the top of his class. He is now on the Board of Trustees at Dartmouth, and was elected Vice Chair in 2008. Donahoe claims that at Dartmouth, one professor, John Hennessey, had a significant impact on him. Hennessey was a professor of business and ethics at the college, and helped found The Institute for the Study of Applied and Professional Ethics.

“Professor Hennessey taught me the key values of self-reflection and how to use my head and heart. He made it clear that ‘I’ was a word that should not be in my vocabulary.”

Donahoe stressed the importance of Dartmouth and how he feels it prepared him for the business environment he is in today.

“The Dartmouth education creates an outstanding foundation for people who want to lead,” he said. “With a number of different perspectives, you learn how to work and dialogue with others and are forced to interact with so many different people. This has really helped me in the position I am today as CEO of eBay, where half of the 27,000 people who work for us are out of the country. Dartmouth made me comfortable and taught me how to bring people together to achieve common goals.”

Within a year after graduating, Donahoe joined the Boston consulting firm Bain & Company. Working as an Associate Consultant, he was immediately placed into leadership roles. Donahoe was given tasks in charge of recruiting and summer internship plans. He did this on top of attending Stanford Business School and achieving an MBA. Tom Tierney, a Bain & Company executive at the time who later served as CEO, served as a mentor to the young Donahoe.

“Mr. Tierney was a master of constructive feedback. After meetings, he would not just tell me I did a good job. He would tell me many things I could improve and work on. Even though it was not necessarily what I wanted to hear at times, I knew he did it because he cared. His advice made me very stronger, making sure the job I was doing was not just ‘good,’ but ‘great.’”

At Bain, Donahoe worked with the former CEO of Bain Capital and current Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. He said that Romney was one of the most capable executives and leaders he has ever met.
“Mitt is so smart, objective, and shows a strong ability to listen well. I think it is outstanding that he has been able to switch to the campaign mode as a politician, because it is certainly not an easy transition coming from the executive role in business.”

Donahoe’s success grew at a young age after his role as an associate consultant. At age 31, Tierney placed Donahoe in charge of the San Francisco office for Bain & Company. Several years later, in 1999, Donahoe became Bain’s Worldwide CEO, where he directed the company’s 30 offices and 3,000 employees. He served the position for 6 years, until 2005.

Donahoe then went to eBay in February of the same year, leading as President of eBay Marketplaces, which is responsible for or all elements of eBay’s global ecommerce businesses.

He rose to President and CEO of eBay in March of 2008, when icon Meg Whitman stepped down after 10 years of leadership. He made clear his missions at eBay.

“My objective coming in was to create an opportunity for people to make livelihood out of our innovations and make eBay an impact on the world. To be able to globally connect people and customers with whom we care about is a very rewarding thing.”

Donahoe’s job, however, was not made so easy in his first 2-3 years. Several months after he stepped in as CEO, the United States encountered the start of an ongoing recession. Donahoe was faced with serious adversity as the recession put eBay into trouble. But perhaps Donahoe can thank the traits he built early on in his life in finding a way to tackle this problem.

“It is times like this where you have to learn how to trust your instincts, and really learn something about yourself,” Donahoe said. “In times of adversity and uncertainty, you have to find inner strength to some extent, and build character to find out what you’re really made of. The experiences I had prior to being CEO of eBay helped me get through this.”

Donahoe is obviously making the right moves. In January, eBay completed its acquisition of brands4friends, Germany’s largest online shopping club for fashion and lifestyle. More recently, eBay reported a 254 percent increase in profits for the company’s fourth quarter, credited to its sale of VOIP service Skype to Microsoft.

It is important to note that John Donahoe is not just a CEO. Outside of the office, he is a father of four, andhas been blessed with twenty-seven years of marriage. Donahoe’s wife, Dr. Eileen Donahoe, works on the other side of the political spectrum, in President Obama’s administration. Dr. Donahoe graduated from Dartmouth in 1981 with a BA in American Studies. In November 2009, she was appointed by President Obama as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Previously, she served as a former affiliate at Center for International Security and Cooperation of Stanford University.

“Almost all of my time outside of work has been spent watching my children grow up,” said Donahoe. “One of my favorite things to do was watch and coach them in sports. I loved every second of it. In my personal time, I still enjoy basketball, but no longer play, but I do golf on occasion and enjoy reading.”

Donahoe has many words of encouragement for aspiring business leaders. When asked about advice for college students who have aspirations to someday hopefully be in a position that he is in, Donahoe replied, “You really have to take your own growth and development seriously. Being successful takes a lifelong commitment to learning. You always need to have the urge to get better. The worst thing you can do is hide behind your own strength.”

Donahoe made it clear that failure can sometimes be a good thing. “You can always learn from your failures. I have faced much adversity and humility, especially during the recession. There were hate videos of me, and there were people who believed I made wrong decisions and was not leading the company in the right direction. But I fought up to the challenge. Never let failure scare you off, because you will be surprised about how much character you can build in a time of difficulty,” Donahoe claimed.

Donahoe looks forward to the future of his company. With the rapid pace of change and innovation in the Internet space, Donahoe admits that his job is tiring, but exciting. “With innovations such as the iPad, iPhone, smartphones, etc. technology is constantly changing. With eBay mobile apps providing a dominant force in the business, I believe eBay is very well positioned to help consumers. At eBay Inc., we have our assets assembled, and are geared in helping this new technology thrive.”

Donahoe is again up for the challenge. He will take those core values, built through his incredible experience, and lead eBay into the future.

By definition, fear and  greed mark periods of irrationality. These evil twins of speculation signal a move away from investment and into a world in which rumors, gossip, and irrational behavior rule the landscape. In the current market, a whisper of a potentially undesirable German Parliament vote could send markets down 3%.

History and psychology indicate that this is simply a bear market strung along by fear, an irrational decline that, although troublesome, will eventually return to “normal” levels. But even though the current stretch of fear is prolonged, intense, and volatile, the sobering backdrop of global financial crises and an extended recession continue to loom over the market.

Then perhaps the fear isn’t fear at all, but a justified symptom of a changing financial system.

Domestic macroeconomic issues include lagging unemployment numbers, slow GDP growth and a tremendous decrease in investment. On top of that, the housing market has begun to decline once again, corporate profits have taken another beating, and banks again are rumored to be undercapitalized. “There are issues about the weakness of banks and uncertainty about how the government will respond to another banking crisis,” says Professor Zitzewitz, an economics professor at Dartmouth College.

Even bigger issues lie overseas – the prolonged Greek debt crisis, and concerns over the solvency of Italy, Spain, and Portugal, threaten to send the Eurozone into a financial crisis of epic proportions.

With all of these potentially disastrous domestic and international issues, Thomas Flexner, Global Head of Real Estate at Citibank, believes that the market is behaving somewhat rationally. “This is reasonable fear based on the uncertainty of the markets,” he says. “Irrational implies that the fear is misplaced or unfounded.”

If, indeed, the fear is rational, then the consequences are severe. It suggests that the incredible world economic growth over the past several decades has been inflated.

“In the past twenty years, global markets were magnified by credit creation – easy central bank policies and easy leveraging created credit that turned into purchasing power, propelling global GDP,” says Flexner.

The debt owed to the creditors has to be paid back, slowly and painfully. This paying down of debt could drastically limit the advance of the global economy for many years. If our fears come true, then we could be entering a new economic reality of shrinking credit and a diminished financial  system.

At the same time, some investors continue to make big bets on our financial system, confident that the American economy can come out of the recession unscathed and unchanged. Some might argue that the bear market has been exaggerated, that although some of the concerns are real, the sharp decline in the equities market has been intensified by fear and rumor-mongering.

On August 18th, 2011, the Dow declined a whopping 415 points based on a “trio of disappointing economic readings” and a Morgan Stanley report that the US and Europe may be heading for another recession.

Those losses were erased a few days later as the Dow posted consecutive gains of 322 and 145 points based on an “FDIC report that the number of US banks in trouble is declining.” The Dow slipped 388 points on September 22nd, 2011, for a 3.48% loss based on “several reports…warning of the dangers of another global recession.”

Again, the losses were erased by a 272 point rise two days later on rumors that the German Parliament would vote to expand the bailout fund for Greece.

From this, it seems that the extreme upswings and downswings in stock prices can be attributed to only a few economic reports. To a rational observer, a few poor (but far from disastrous) economic readings should not lead to a 3.48% decline in the blue-chip stock index of the most financially powerful nation in the world.

The tremendous attention that investors are paying to small,  insignificant data points may be evidence that the levels of fear currently exceed market rationality. “The market is moving around more than justified by the news,” Professor Zitzewitz says.

The fear could be stemming from group psychology. The closeness of the financial community, in which relationships rule all, could potentially lead to prolonged bouts of groupthink in which traders and investors move together in herd behavior, acquiring information only from those already within the circle and of the same mindset.

As a result, the effects of a single, unfounded rumor is intensified as it moves through the collective conscious of the financial markets, unchallenged by outside analysis.

Prospect theory also suggests that people who have already achieved gains would be risk-averse, while those who have suffered losses become risk-loving.

It’s possible that as investors received overwhelmingly favorable returns in 2009 and 2010 have now become risk-averse, and even the slightest tremor in the financial bedrock would lead them to quickly shift their investments to less risky instruments.

Ironically, it is the very fear that leads investors to take their money out of stocks that makes the stock market decline. The actions of the investors are a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The fear, volatility, and global decline in financial markets may not be justified, but by their very existence, create an environment that reaffirms their fear.

As Flexner states, “Fear, unfortunately, becomes self-fulfilling. It’s investor’s fear that creates redemptions, forces hedge funds to sell their liquid assets, and eventually decreases the values of those very assets. That’s the biggest problem with fear. Fear in the financial markets transmutes itself into  reality.”

The day has finally come for the long-awaited Republican debate, and today the candidates have been roaming around Hanover trying their best to rally student support. Griffin Perry, son of Republican primary candidate and current Governor of Texas Rick Perry, hosted an informal student function at Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity earlier this evening, where he mingled with undergraduates and took questions from the crowd.

When explaining his father’s outlook on the American economy, he bluntly stated that “government does not create jobs” and did not comment further.

Lately, the “Occupy Wall Street” protests have been gaining traction and attention, despite the movement’s lack of clear objectives. In response to a question about the relationship between the economic crisis and this protest, G. Perry stated that certain people “protest just to protest” and merely enjoy “making noise.” However, he qualified his disapproval, saying that without full knowledge of the movement’s aims he preferred not to come to a definitive conclusion on its value.

G. Perry made it clear that the focal point of the Rick Perry campaign is the Governor’s record of fostering the “Texas Miracle,” in which almost 300,000 jobs have been created in Texas since 2009, though the Governor’s role in creating these jobs remains disputed.

Governor Perry is expected to release his economic plan on Friday, October 14th.