If you joined the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) for its inaugural Dancing With the Start-Ups (DWTS) competition at the 2016 Global Board Leaders’ Summit, you heard from 12 cutting-edge start-ups in the financial, energy, and health care industries. Founders and CEOs from each start-up had four minutes to pitch their companies to a panel of expert judges. NACD recently caught up with the winning companies—Vital Vio, BoostUp, and Disease Diagnostic Group—to see what they have been up to in the past seven months.
Illuminating the War on Germs
Vital Vio created a lighting system that kills bacteria using its proprietary white light continuous disinfection technology. Their products currently are used in major hospital systems, pharmacies, public restrooms, athletic facilities, and—starting in 2017—even your home.
Vital Vio’s under-cabinet light illuminated in eco-mode.
Colleen Costello, president and cofounder of Vital Vio, explained that refining Vital Vio’s disinfecting technology to VioSafe, a single LED light, was a game changer for the company, allowing them to use the technology in the home. VioSafe lights continuously kill germs and, when used in combination with regular periodic cleaning, significantly reduce the number of germs on surfaces. “The individual LED is smaller than a thumbnail,” she noted. “This expanded the opportunities of where continuous disinfection lighting can be placed.” Some popular areas to place the light in the home are under cabinets in kitchens, bathrooms, and offices. These are some of the most-touched surfaces, which also make them the most likely to be covered with a multitude of bacteria.
Vital Vio began to take shape in 2012 when Costello’s grandmother contracted a MRSA infection during a routine hospital stay. Costello, who at the time was studying at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, did some research and found that one in 25 patients contract a health-care-related bacterial infection in hospitals. She and a team of researchers worked to develop a better way to control bacteria levels, and Vital Vio was born.
In 2017, Costello’s focus is not only on innovation, but on identifying potential new licensees. The company is working with several strategic partners to increase utilization of Vital Vio’s technology in their products. Vital Vio also was selected as a finalist for the Edison Awards, an annual competition that honors excellence in innovation, creativity, and ingenuity in the global economy.
While Vital Vio has broadened adoption of its products, it faces new challenges. “We’ve moved from the disruptor stage to focusing on further adoption in different markets,” Costello said. “We’d like our technology to be similar to a LEED certification, so it’s a standard practice for facilities.”
Saving Money Made Simpler
Most of us have saved for a major purchase, and we know that saving isn’t easy. BoostUp is an app that helps people establish a daily savings plan and crowdsource additional savings from friends and family, making saving for those big purchases more achievable. Users are further incentivized through special offers from partners. BoostUp founder and CEO John Morgan noted that the app has about 55,000 users who are typically aged between 18 to 34 years. The company also sees other opportunities to engage younger savers, potentially through a parent/child joint savings relationship.
One of the new features that the BoostUp app has added is RoundUp, which is a microsavings tool. Savers connect their most-used credit or debit cards to the app to pay for every-day purchases. RoundUp then automatically rounds up the purchase price to the nearest whole dollar and saves the spare change into the connected BoostUp account.
Morgan suggested that this extra money can be great for vacation funds. “It’s like finding that $20 bill in the pocket of those jeans that you haven’t worn in a few months,” Morgan said. “You set the account up, go about your daily life, and six months later you have extra money in your account. It’s another night out in Vegas, or an upgrade to first class on the plane.”
Morgan noted that BoostUp is partnering with some travel companies to identify related savings incentives. BoostUp is also working with some new partners—including Redfin—and has renewed a multiyear partnership with Hyundai. A new type of partner the company hopes to engage is auto lenders. “The lenders could help consumers who have auto loans through RoundUp,” Morgan explained. “It’s setting money aside passively and getting to a point where you can skip a monthly payment because your RoundUp had enough funds to cover it or you can make an extra loan payment.”
Curing Disease Through Technology
Left to right: Mark Lewandowski, Alphonse Harris, and Founder John Lewandowski.
Using only a laser pointer and refrigerator magnets, Disease Diagnostic Group is saving lives around the globe—in fewer than five seconds and for less than five cents per patient. Disease Diagnostic’s technology screens, tracks, and diagnoses infectious diseases through a portable, reusable device. The company has focused primarily on malaria but in the past few months has broadened the scope of the technology to address a wider platform of diseases, including dengue fever. “Zika is next on our radar,” CEO and Founder John Lewandowski said.
One additional challenge Disease Diagnostic faces is finding test groups. “These diseases are rare, and it’s hard to get in touch with the right samples and the right individuals,” Lewandowski explained. “You need to find the right authorities to help you on the path toward commercialization. Sometimes you outgrow whom you are working with, or your path and priorities change.”
Over the long term, Lewandowski said he hopes that the company will continue to expand the technology to test for even more diseases. To do this, Disease Diagnostic will continue to focus on finding the right strategic partners. “To pitch a new product, you’re fighting two battles,” Lewandowski said. “One, you’re in a new market and need to convince people [to invest], and two, to prove the effectiveness of the device. On top of that, you need to prove the technique of the device as well.”
The inner working of the simple device that diagnoses malaria.
Disease Diagnostic is prepared to work through these challenges. If successful, the company is poised to be a game changer for global health. Imagine a future where more diseases could be diagnosed less expensively and effective treatment could be administered immediately. Lewandowski said that while the company is only able to work on one to two diseases at a time, the more the company is able to prove the effectiveness of its diagnostic technology, the broader its impact could be. “If we prove the business case, then we can be licensing out to flu, TB, anything a particular partner has of interest, and develop specific applications,” he said. “The solution is potentially here, and you can put it in the hands of almost anybody.”
Join Us to See the Next Generation of Stars
Back by popular demand, NACD will host its second DWTS at this year’s Global Board Leaders’ Summit on October 1 in National Harbor, MD. Participating start-ups will be announced soon. Check our website for the most up-to-date information.
Our 1,300 attendees represented just about every state, 15 countries, and nearly 30 percent of the Fortune 1000. And 60 percent were “Summit regulars”—they keep coming back for more.
Couldn’t join us live? We’ve got the ultimate recap (in no particular order). Here’s what you missed.
Dancing With the Start-Ups
We no longer live in the Mad Men era, when several large brands dominated a particular industry. Start-ups are changing the business landscape and the ways in which we live and work. In partnership with KITE and KPMG, Dancing With the Start-Ups was a competition that invited 12 promising start-ups in three industries to pitch their company in four minutes—and the winner received a prize package worth $30,000. Read this press release to find out who won.
The No. 1 Risk Your Company Is Likely Overlooking
Conversations about culture risk dominated the Strategy and Risk Board Committee Forum and other breakout sessions. Discussions focused on red flags, establishing a stronger onboarding process, and concrete methods for fully engaging board members in their duties as directors.
Diversity was not only embodied and discussed during its eponymous half-day Symposium—which focused on the realities of unconscious bias, building the twenty-first century board, and unlocking innovation through diversity—but also was enhanced by the diverse industries, attendee experience levels, and types of companies represented at the Symposium, as well as the learning formats, input, and content of each session throughout the entire Summit.
Back by popular demand, this session was standing room only. Whether you were seeking your first board seat or your fifth, “Landing Your Next Board Seat” offered practical takeaways for directors at all career levels.
“Society needs financial wealth . . . but it matters how you make the money,” said Rajendra Sisodia, cofounder and cochair of Conscious Capitalism Inc., and director of the Container Store Group. “Businesses not only create—they can destroy financial wealth, as well.” This keynote by Sisodia was followed by lively discussions on how to develop a higher-ambition board.
Exclusive Opportunities for NACD Fellows
To recognize NACD Fellows (479 in attendance!), several special events were held, including a reception that offered a sneak peek of Innovation Nation, exclusive access to content, networking, and a special gift.
Golf Simulation, Virtual Reality, and Georgetown Cupcakes
Here are just a few of the glowing reviews attendees left at the end of Summit.
“Summit was the best ever, by a wide margin. This year, you made it a must-attend event!”
“This is the best conference—I [have attended] every year for four years running—the most innovation, the best new governance ideas, and the best networking. Thank you!”
“Fast paced and exciting! I loved the emphasis on introducing us to innovations happening in the business world today.”
“Thank you for leaning into conscious capitalism and socially responsible business. I’m pleasantly surprised that NACD is so progressive in [its] thinking.”
“NACD has become a thought-provoking forum for the future of business. Governance is important, but is table stakes. Kudos for being on the leading edge of business sustainability and disruptive strategy.”
Like what you’ve heard?MARK YOUR CALENDAR AND JOIN US IN 2017
“The last several decades have proven that, more than ever, we are all interconnected and interdependent,” said NACD Chair Karen Horn. “We will rise—or fall—together, based on that trust.”
NACD Board Chair Karen Horn
Horn’s opening speech at the recent 2016 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit revealed a compelling case for strong, conscientious corporate governance in light of recent political, economic, and social turbulence.
Horn’s governance experience is extensive and includes serving as a director at Simon Property Group, vice chair of the U.S. Russia Foundation, and vice chair of the National Bureau of Economic Research. She also previously served as chair of the audit committee at Norfolk Southern Corp., lead director and chair of the compensation committee at Eli Lilly & Co., and a director of T. Rowe Price Mutual Funds.
Horn began by thanking outgoing NACD chair Reatha Clark King for “her leadership and her positive influence on our organization’s growth,” and praised the audience for their own strength of leadership in the boardroom. She then turned to the guiding concept behind this Summit’s programming—convergence.
“Convergence is an important theme at a time when our world appears to be tearing itself apart,” Horn said. She pointed out that hostility seems to be the prevailing sentiment of our time and that frustrations with the current domestic and geopolitical environments are the impetuses for growing division. “I feel we must focus on a wider, longer view—a more broadly encompassing perspective that leads us back toward convergence,” she said.
Horn—who previously served as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and as an economist for the board of governors of the Federal Reserve—made several recommendations meant to address the evolving relationship between society and capitalism, using conscientious governance. (For more information on the roles of capitalism and corporations, view the NACD blog post “Re-Thinking Capitalism: Best-Selling Author Espouses Higher Calling for Boards.”)
Addressing Income Inequality
Directors can take a role in addressing social issues like income inequality, Karen said, adding that income inequality is an example of a challenge that “affects not only our immediate stakeholders, but everyone downstream who will be affected in the long term as well as the short term.”
Horn agrees that free trade is an excellent driver of economic value across the board, but that the path to growth can unintentionally leave some individuals behind. She suggested public, private, and government entities alike should develop programs that lift up those who are taken advantage of or otherwise harmed on the path to greater economic progress. “Looking at an issue like this from the perspective of those who will not benefit, or may even be hurt by it, is the first step toward finding compromises and solutions that will minimize negative fallout,” Horn said about the corporation’s role in growth as a greater good.
One such program that directors could collaborate with policy makers, social leaders, and other stakeholders on is how to address the controversial debate over minimum wage increases. “Everyone has an opinion, and it is clearly a divisive issue,” Horn conceded to the audience. “If we are to find a solution that works, again, we must become familiar with the divergent perspectives.”
The Imperative to Lead
Capitalism is being impacted by “globalism, social and demographic shifts, new technology, increased transparency and resource scarcity,” According to Horn. In the face of these paradigm shifts, directors have the opportunity to converge with stakeholders to build a better path forward for all, and have a unique opportunity to rebuild the public’s trust in the role of corporations.
“People are searching for leaders they can trust, leaders who are smart, confident and strong—who are understanding and compassionate,” Horn said. “This is a role sometimes filled by government, but trust in government is at an all-time low, so the leadership gap needs to be filled. I believe we are some of the leaders who can and should fill that gap.”
Horn’s address closed with a charge to directors that will resound through her term as chair of NACD and beyond.
“Corporate America has an immense amount of talent, and we need to step up before we are stepped over,” she entreated. “There is no question that we have the ability to take this leadership challenge, but only if we act responsibly, transparently, honestly and with careful regard for different perspectives. If we can do that, we can move our culture back toward civil discourse—toward convergence.”