2023 Most Disruptive Business School Startups: Elevate, Indiana University (Kelley)


Indiana University, Kelley School of Business

Industry: Building Management Analytics

Founding Student Name(s): Casey Curtis

Brief Description of Solution: Elevate is a building management platform that uses automated, real-time analytics to reduce energy and costs, while simultaneously giving building residents a modern way to call the elevator.

Funding Dollars: $25,000

What led you to launch this venture? When I was a freshman at IU, I lived on the ninth floor of a 13-story dorm building, and heard every single day from everyone around me how frustrated they were with the elevators. They would take way too long, and cause people to be late to the buses and class. I thought that it would be cool if we could track the elevators from our dorm room just like we can track the buses (there was a widely used bus tracking app on campus called DoubleMaps).

I got Bluetooth beacon chips and tried to connect them to a mobile app and see if that would work (it didn’t) and then very shortly after that, COVID hit. Once this happened, I realized that hands-free technology would be at the forefront, so I wanted to enhance the idea to include not only tracking the elevators, but also pressing all of the buttons from your phone. This is what I then spent 2 years trying to build, and in doing so, I met with multiple building owners and interviewed them on their current elevator system, and what their biggest pain points were.

Through these conversations, I learned about the amount of money that is wasted on maintenance, and the lack of visibility that building management teams have when it comes to the elevators. This is where we tried to figure out what kind of information we could extract from the mobile app and deliver back to the building owners. It wasn’t until we had our system installed at IU and were delivering the information back to the school that we realized our product was actually a data delivery product, not a tracking app. We are now heavily focused on creating a SaaS platform that will work with our hardware, and be something that gathers all the data whether or not someone is using the mobile app. I am in a constant iteration and feedback loop with my stakeholders, in order to ensure that everything I am delivering is extremely user centered and focused.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? By and far, my biggest accomplishment with Elevate so far has been our eight-week test that we conducted at Indiana University in partnership with Homeland Security. This test was four years in the making, and seeing as we had an incredible number of barriers to entry with actually getting the product implemented at IU, having that full test was an incredible feat.

When my team and I felt that we were ready to install the product and start having people using the app, I first went to the building manager of the engineering school building to see if that would be a possibility. He told me it would not be possible. However, I was not willing to take this for an answer, so I decided to go straight to the very top, and I reached out to IU’s vice president of planning and facilities, Tom Morrison. When I met with Tom, he was immediately intrigued with what I was doing. After a long and thoughtful discussion, he said that we had permission to do a test run at the school. However, we first had to get permission from Indiana Department of Homeland Security, as they are the ones who ultimately control all of the elevators.

After dedicated outreach and planning, I was able to meet with five members of IDHS and got their full permission for this test as well. We had a long and engaging conversation about the product and what we were hoping to gain from doing the test, and they, much like Tom, were very intrigued with what we were building and the data we were able to potentially deliver back to them.

With all these permissions in place, we began to work with a few members of the facilities team at IU to figure out exactly where we should implement the devices for the test. In March, we installed our hardware in two buildings at IU – Luddy Hall and Hodge Hall. During this 8-week test, I was delivering data weekly back to Tom, IDHS, and the facility teams, and we had around 600 uses of the mobile app from beginning to end.

This test was monumental for me as a founder, and for our product to figure out exactly which direction we need to focus in on. It also gave us product validation, implementation validation, and team validation, which was everything we needed to increase our passion for the project past a limit that we did not know was possible.

How has your business-related major helped you further this startup venture? I was lucky enough to attend the best business school in the world – the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. While at IU, I had the opportunity to not only grow my business in an incredible startup eco-system, but I also got to tailor all my technical business skills through my coursework.

I majored in Entrepreneurship and Corporate Innovation, and while my major classes were influential on my success, the standard Kelley curriculum shaped me into the leader I am today. At Kelley, we are all required to take the same set of pre-requisite classes, which lead up to our core curriculum (ICORE), and these courses have all acted as individual tools that I have been able to add to my larger toolkit in life. Everything from accounting, professional development, business presentations, and our excel classes have all indirectly helped Elevate’s success by shaping me into a sharper, more technical business leader. The support that I had from all my professors in my entrepreneurship classes was unwavering, and they always allowed me to test aspects of Elevate in class with my peers and for assignments, which gave me an avenue to express my passion and creativity for Elevate both inside and outside the classroom.

Overall, my Kelley education gave me everything I needed to be successful in running Elevate, as well as giving me the most incredible network I could ever need for the rest of my life.

Which business class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? The class that has been most impactful as I built Elevate is one that helped me realize how important it was for me – “Spine Sweat.”

Spine Sweat is the optional capstone entrepreneurship class that only is offered to second semester seniors. There is only one assignment in this class, and your entire grade rests upon it. That one assignment is a pitch at the end of the class — a week before graduation — that is judged by venture capitalists and judges who fly in specifically to judge this pitch, and they are the ones who decide your grade (A, B, C, or F). The catch is, if the panel of judges do not think your startup is adequate enough for funding, you fail the class and you cannot graduate. Essentially, you put graduation on the line for your startup.

The first few weeks of the class I thought it was a breeze. I figured that because I had already been pitching Elevate for years, I would not have any issues for the final presentation. As the weeks went by, the preparation we had to do for the pitch became the most challenging task I had ever been given. I was stunned to realize that my own company had somehow become my most difficult school assignment.

The weeks leading up to the final pitch were filled with sleepless nights, anxiety, over-preparation, and giving up all the final “senior school activities” that I could have engaged in. I remember feeling regretful for signing up to take Spine Sweat, because I felt like I couldn’t handle the pressure that I put myself under.

Like everything else in my life, the pressure and anxiety I felt caused me to perform up to my highest standards. I ended my hour-long pitch receiving the only A in the class, and with a new found respect for my work ethic — which is one of the biggest values I gained in the class.

Looking back, the extreme high-stress environment served me well, and allowed me to grow my work ethic and my capabilities to a level I did not know I was capable of in college. Along with the amazing pitch deck, business plan, and financial pro-forma that I created during this class, I left with a new-found self-confidence in my abilities and my company’s profitability.

What business professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? When I think back to my memories of Kelley, one professor who truly stands out to me is Professor David Haeberle. Professor Haeberle teaches “Venture Capital Finance,” a senior-level finance course that is optional for finance majors but required for entrepreneurship majors.

I personally found the content of this class to be fascinating, applicable, and highly useful for everything I was doing for Elevate, and for my personal finances down the line. I was taking this course alongside Spine Sweat, and I would often go to Professor Haeberle to help me with creating my pro-forma, which was a five-year financial projection that I struggled to create in class.

Professor Haeberle would meet with me after class, send me notes over email, and would even zoom with me to go over what I had done on some weekend mornings. He knew that I was heeding every word he said in class, and as he would typically use a lot of real-life examples, I often felt like Professor Haeberle was talking directly to me in class, and would make sure that I always understood the content. He knew I wanted badly for this startup to work.

Because of the guidance Professor Haeberle gave me, I was able to shape an aspect of my startup that I had not given a lot of attention to previously, which was our revenue streams. Of course, I knew how the company was going to make money, but I did not have the breadth of knowledge and confidence in my pro-forma and our financial plan until I had help from Professor Haeberle. I still think about a lot of what I learned in his class, especially when it comes to personal finances and best practices for saving and investing. I cannot recommend him and his course enough if you want to build wealth for yourself, and if you are working on a venture.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? One of my biggest entrepreneurial role models that I have had since high school is Sara Blakely. Sara is the founder of Spanx, which is a women’s shape-ware company that became one of the first female owned billionaire brands.

Besides Sara’s unbelievable financial accomplishments, she truly has served as a catalyst for women in business, and has proved that you have to be bold, daring, and creative in order to have a successful company — and you must have fun while doing it.

When Sara created Spanx, she did not have immediate success. She was rejected by buyers for retail stores, and it wasn’t until she dragged someone into a dressing room at one of those retail stores and made them put on her product, that she had some success. Sara was confident in her product, passionate about her business and mission, and (above all else) she believed in herself and her abilities. These are qualities that I have always admired about her and her business, and ones that I hope to embody as a young female entrepreneur. Sara used all her passion for her product and turned it into a billion-dollar company, but more than that she now serves as an incredible role model for young business people and has shifted her focus to helping female founders grow. This is something that I also dream to do one day- give back to the startup ecosystem that helped me succeed and act as a role model in any way that I can.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? When I think about the future of Elevate, I envision a tech company that sets the gold standard for collecting and delivering analytics using a variety of features and applications. I want Elevate to grow its reputation and core product (elevator and building analytics) by first targeting universities, and then moving to hotels, office buildings, apartment buildings, and hospitals.

From there, I want us to focus on seeing where else we are still using outdated technology, and allow Elevate to become replicable for new industries and areas. I want Elevate to be known as the most reliable, accurate, and cost-efficient method to utilizing data to make better informed business decisions, and for building management teams to know that they don’t have to break the bank to have an updated, technologically advanced system integrated into their current methods, no matter its age or size.

I would love to serve as a role model for young women in business and technology and prove that you do not need to be a perfect student or good at a particular set of school subjects in order to be successful in this field.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? Little did I know that when I started school at Indiana University that Bloomington, Indiana was going to be the most amazing entrepreneurial eco-system that I could have been a part of in college. From everything happening inside the classroom at Kelley, to the innovation center in Luddy, and all the external resources that Bloomington has to offer, I truly felt that one of the only reasons Elevate could thrive the way it did was because of the entrepreneurial support I had around me.

When I conceived the idea of Elevate, the first thing I did was apply to be a client in the Shoemaker Innovation Center’s incubator, the Shoebox. This incubator became my home for the next four years, and is the place on campus that helped connect me to all the other resources I ended up getting.

Through the Shoebox, I got to meet with a startup law firm (Ice Miller) from Indy once a month for a free legal session. I also met with entrepreneurs and investors from Elevate Ventures, prepared for pitch competitions through High Alpha and Crossroads, and got connected with the Intellectual Property Clinic through the Mauer Law school (and became their client to receive free IP law work).

Through my major in Kelley, I was able to take the Spine Sweat course and get introduced to many esteemed alumni in the field, which has further expanded my network. If I had not been going to school and testing Elevate here, I may have not had a facilities team that was so willing to work with me and take a chance on my product by testing it. Being in Bloomington has been truly pivotal to my personal growth, and the success of Elevate so far.


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