Two recent NYU Law graduates who received 2019 summer grants from the NYU Law Venture Fund for their social enterprise startups have been chosen as winners in the social venture category of NYU’s $300K Entrepreneurs Challenge, hosted by the W. R. Berkley Innovation Labs at the NYU Stern School of Business.
Riley Jones ’20, who appeared on last year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 list of social entrepreneurs, co-founded Bloc, a technology platform that aims to empower workers from historically marginalized communities, such as people of color, who have often been displaced by evolving technologies. Phantila Phataraprasit ’20 is the co-founder of Sabai Design, which manufactures affordable and environmentally sustainable furniture for young professionals. The two startups will divide the $75,000 prize, with Bloc receiving $50,000 and Sabai receiving $25,000.
Jones says he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that both social venture finalists were also part of the NYU Law Venture Fund’s inaugural summer grant group. As NYU Law Venture Fund summer grantees, Jones and Phataraprasit received not only financial support, but also access to a group of alumni mentors offering expert guidance as they worked on their startups.
The Entrepreneurs Challenge provided further resources such as workshops, boot camps, and one-on-one coaching sessions. Jones’s team of coaches helped him think through various considerations related to value proposition and marketing strategy. Phataraprasit’s coaches advised her on her pitching.
Both students took advantage of feedback from the NYU alumni and faculty who judged the semifinal round to further fine-tune their business models. Jones focused on better explaining his competitive advantage and financial modeling, while Phataraprasit concentrated on strengthening her branding and demonstrating her company’s traction and growth.
This year’s semifinal and final rounds were each delayed by a month because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but both Jones and Phataraprasit say they have seen their startups continue to grow even in the midst of the crisis. Bloc has created a COVID-related job search guide to address the heightened challenges currently faced by those seeking employment. “If nothing else, this time has definitely highlighted the need for our product,” says Jones. “People need jobs. People need ways to prepare for them.”
Sabai Design, meanwhile, experienced a brief halt in manufacturing, but is up and running again. “We’ve actually seen an increase in sales,” says Phataraprasit, “[maybe] because people are spending more time at home and realizing they need a couch.” Sales have grown month over month in 2020.
Due to social distancing, the participants made their pitches in the competition via videoconferencing, which both finalists say causes less anxiety than standing before a panel of judges in person. “Obviously, you’re in the comfort of your own home,” says Phataraprasit, “but it’s still a little nerve-wracking in terms of having questions asked of you live.”
Posted June 2, 2020; updated June 18, 2020