From Emergency medicine to business school, this startup founder has quickly adapted to an ever-changing entrepreneur environment.
The path from pediatric emergency medicine physician to entrepreneur was unexpected for Rehema Feleke, MD, MBA, and co-founder of Wayfinder startup FunBand, Inc., a data intelligence platform for event venues and amusement parks. After years as an established medical practitioner and instructor, Feleke felt a call to explore a new challenge, prompting her to enroll in the Healthcare Executive MBA program at the UCI Paul Merage School of Business. Years of working in high stress and rapidly changing emergency room environments provided Feleke with a foundation to quickly adapt to the ever-changing dynamic of her future startup with ease.
“My life before FunBand and the MBA program involved seeing everything you could imagine in the emergency room,” said Feleke. “When you go to medical school, you have one track that you follow for the majority of your career and mine provided me the skills to help people one patient at a time. I saw pursuing an MBA as an opportunity to affect change on a larger scale.”
While Feleke was still in the MBA program, FunBand achieved its first milestone in 2016 by taking first place in the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s New Venture Competition. This win would lead to the team’s acceptance into UCI Applied Innovation’s incubator, now known as the Wayfinder program. The incubator is available to eligible UCI-affiliated startups and is designed to accelerate venture development by providing teams with space, strategic guidance, and other valuable support resources.
“Much of what I learned in business school was brand new to me, so when the New Venture Competition came up, I said, ‘well, why not?’” explained Feleke. “I am not afraid to fail, so we joined the competition and worked hard at it to produce a compelling business plan. Winning this competition further validated my desire to pursue something outside of medicine.”
Through the Wayfinder incubator program, run out of the Cove @ UCI in the UCI Research Park, the FunBand team accessed resources ranging from workshops to the vast network of Experts-in-Residence (EiR) mentors, one of which would become a member of the group and bring a wealth of industry experience.
Clear communication and expectations with technical talent have been some of the many boons FunBand has enjoyed as a result of having an industry veteran on its team. Feleke recalled the experience of finding talent for the company as a prime example of how someone with an extensive corporate background made a difference.
“Choosing an engineering contractor for our startup was a complex decision because we had to understand their expertise and ensure they understood our needs to determine whether they could deliver based on our budget,” said Feleke. “These decisions were better made by my partner, an EiR I met through the incubator program who has worked in this field for 30 years. He speaks the language of engineers; and since I do not have that background, it was helpful to have him identify potential problems before they arose.”
After countless conversations, feedback sessions and pitches made to a variety of angel groups, advisors and customers, FunBand approached technical hurdles head-on and refined its core offering. The location wristband for children that was to be made available at venues has evolved to include a robust data analytics platform. With this enhanced platform, the wearable device provides actionable insights for the venue while still offering the safety features that resonate with guests and families.
World-class companies, such as Disney, have established demand for the kind of data and user experience that FunBand seeks to provide, as demonstrated by the Disney MagicBand, the result of a $1 billion effort by the Disney company. This proprietary wearable device coupled with a gamut of systems and apps operates as a proxy wallet, room key, communication tool for amenities, bookings and more for guests at Disney’s world-class parks and resorts in Orlando. It is also an essential tool for the company to gather insights to increase revenue and continuously improve the guest experience. Though Disney is pioneering this innovation for it’s organization, other venues struggle in gathering the same kind of meaningful data.
Feleke shared that from her research and conversations with potential customers, custom apps developed for other venues have yielded disappointing download and customer adoption rates. On the hardware side of wearable technology, Bluetooth and radio-frequency identification (RFID) have limited range and require extensive infrastructure installations – a challenge for many venues constrained in what they can implement based on cost and other factors. Understanding the pain points of these organizations, FunBand has tailored their solution to solve this problem for the mass market which is approximately $44 billion annually in the U.S. alone for amusement parks, zoos, fairs, museums, ski resorts, and more. (Source: https://bit.ly/2mZ18Jd)
With significant interest from venues who are awaiting the latest iteration of the startup’s platform, FunBand will deploy their platform early summer 2018 in Orange County. As the team prepares for this launch, they are also actively fundraising to continue scaling operations. Feleke’s ability to garner investor interest is proven through her win at last year’s Tech Coast Angels Celebration of Entrepreneurship Fast Pitch Competition where she recieved an award for Best Presentation.
In Feleke’s words on the topic of why she and FunBand are the company that will make an impact in their market space, she stated:
“I know I am the person to bring this product to market. It is technical in nature, but it is also a human product that real people will use for a real need. FunBand is my full-time job as I have scaled back my work in the ER to focus on the business. With everything we see happening in the news, it is clear that safety and being connected are important to people. The FunBand platform is a solution that benefits families, guests and venues at the same time.”
To learn more about FunBand, visit http://funbandinc.com/.