Shoebox Fund launched to support student entrepreneurship

An investment fund supporting student-founded companies has been established at Indiana University.

The Shoebox Fund -- launched with a gift of $60,000 from Donna and John Shoemaker -- will support student startups that have been built in the startup incubator known as the Shoebox within the Shoemaker Innovation Center at the IU Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering.

Two Shoebox-born companies will receive investment as a part of the launch:

  • ShuffleMe: This social media mood tracker provides users a snapshot of social media's effect on them. Using artificial intelligence that learns a user's baseline emotions and gets to know them better over time, ShuffleMe analyzes facial expressions to generate these reports. The platform doesn't just document how much time a user is spending on social media but assesses the impacts of those different platforms on mental health. Britain Taylor is the founder and CEO of this startup. She is a Ph.D. student in intelligent systems engineering at the Luddy School.
  • Deep Word: This synthetic media creation tool allows users to create videos of people talking. Users can choose an actor or upload their own image, then type what they want them to say. The technology has potential applications to drive innovation in areas such as education, health care and employee onboarding. It also allows information to be shared via video much faster, without the expense of filming in a studio. Ankush Bikkasani is the founder and CEO of this startup. He is a senior finance major in the IU Kelley School of Business in Bloomington.

The Shoebox accommodates up to 30 teams of student entrepreneurs from across IU's schools. The program is run by Travis J. Brown, senior executive assistant dean of innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization and director of the Shoemaker Innovation Center and Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program at the Luddy School.

"Shoebox clients get all-hours access to the center offices, and advice from venture capitalists and other professionals. They engage in weekly standups with peers to build, launch and sustain their startups," Brown said. "The program is designed to help students self-discover through the entrepreneurial process.

"The resources we provide to students working in the center facilitate them achieving key learning objectives through experiential learning, rather than focusing primarily on the long-term viability of their business. Of course, our hope is that the startups being built in the Shoebox will succeed, but our primary focus is education."

The Shoebox Fund addresses a need identified by the Shoemakers and Brown to provide stronger financial support for student entrepreneurs through early-stage investments, supporting the development of feasible businesses. According to Brown, partnering with IU Ventures to administer the fund as a part of the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund was a natural decision because IU Ventures is set up to manage such funds and investments, as well as donated pools of capital.

"They're both great technologies and both are led by terrific students," said Tony Armstrong, president and CEO of IU Ventures, which launched the Shoebox Fund in collaboration with the Shoemaker Innovation Center. "We think both have tremendous upside and positive potential for social impact. We're excited about their futures.

"This also gives us a chance to engage alumni from around the world to help these student-led companies. We get an opportunity to see early-stage companies and then help the student entrepreneurs with the growth of their company."

The Investment Review Committee for the fund is chaired by Brown and composed of Teri Willey, the executive director of the IU Philanthropic Fund, and experienced entrepreneurs with expertise across a broad spectrum of industries. As an evergreen fund, any returns will be reinvested in additional student startups.

"Our hope is that students will find all these resources so compelling they keep their companies headquartered in Bloomington after graduation," Armstrong said.

Alumni interested in contributing to the Shoebox Fund should reach out to Brown at trabrown@iu.edu.