Shipping is a major part of business as more and more people order products online and expect packages within days. Even small shipping errors, when repeated many times, can cost companies thousands of dollars or more.
A team of graduate students in the Lassonde New Venture Development Center started researching ways to help companies improve shipping processes in 2016. Through this effort, they identified an opportunity to use data analysis to help businesses find shipping errors when selling through Amazon and then request reimbursements. The idea grew quickly from concept to software and then a company called Valence, which reached a major milestone in late 2019, when it was acquired by VeriShip, a leader in shipping expense optimization. Terms of the acquisition are confidential but included cash, stock, and positions at VeriShip.
Jason Spar is one of the students who first researched the idea as an MBA student. He continued to support the project through his education and after graduating as the general manager for Valence.
“Being able to have real hands-on experience with business ideas and vetting them as well as launching a real business that generated sizeable revenue while still in the MBA program was incredible,” Spar said. “I now have the skills to properly explore business ideas and make a go/no-go decision, and how to successfully launch a business if the decision is to go forward with it.”
Other students on the team that helped launch Valence were Nathan Firouzi, a law student, and Krishna Kashyap and Yashwanth Nerella, who were both studying information systems. The team was guided by faculty advisor Troy D’Ambrosio, the executive director of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute.
The students came together through the Lassonde New Venture Development Center, which is part of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business. The program matches graduate students with faculty inventors and industry partners to develop ideas into businesses.
JL Needham is the industry professional who sought help from the student team. He is an entrepreneur and former Google executive who was looking to develop a new business venture.
For the students working on the project, it was a real-life learning opportunity that allowed them to apply what they were learning in class to a real business and see it grow.
“I wore every hat at Valence at one point or another and being able to get that experience while still being a full-time MBA student helped improve my business skills,” Spar said. “After graduating and sticking with growing Valence to have over a dozen employees and become one of the leaders in our industry was something I dreamed of just a few years before and could not believe it was happening.”