When Emma Koramshahi ’22 (Design Leadership MA/MBA) and Julia Breskin ’22 (Design Leadership MA/MBA) got into their cohort program, the initial plan was to start in person beginning in Fall 2020. But with the pandemic, plans changed, and the semester moved online.
And in that space of online education, and especially as women in business school, “it can be tough to get a word in edgewise,” Koramshahi said.
From that experience, and a pandemic that changed how each and every one of us has worked, came Convo. Convo, a finalist in this year’s UP/Start Venture Competition, is an HR technology solution that equips employees and leaders to develop emotional intelligence and self-awareness through communicating in the virtual workplace.
“It's tough to feel heard and seen, particularly in the virtual space, and we started thinking about different ways to engage with one another—different ways to understand how we're engaging and how we're taking up space,” Koramshahi said.
She came up with the initial idea, and began brainstorming and evolving the concept with Breskin as time went on.
In its current iteration, the application uses data visualization and a four-step framework to humanize virtual team meetings. Integrated temperature checks and experience surveys paint an emotional landscape over time, empowering individuals to develop insights and improve upon their leadership styles. Employees use the application like a leadership supplement by centering real time analytics during regular meetings.
In this way, Convo helps employees set and track big-picture goals, building more self-aware, accountable leadership.
Coming up through the UP/Start program and the MA/MBA programs, both which are built in cohort models, have helped Breskin and Koramshahi to fine tune their venture over the last few months. Getting to check in with the same people as the concept progresses has been helpful.
“Both the UP/Start cohort, and then our MA/MBA cohort, have seen every version of it,” Breskin said. “And it's been great to get feedback from people who've seen all sides.”
Convo currently has a proof of concept to show investors, but is looking to UP/Start to fund a working prototype that the team can test in the field. Through rigorous testing, Koramshahi and Breskin seek to evolve the product as informed by their clients’ needs. They believe this human-centered approach is essential to their product.
The pair have already been in contact with potential clients to pilot the program, as well as a Baltimore-based engineering firm to build the testable prototype, she added, and funding from UP/Start will get the ball rolling.
Breskin said the feedback they’ve received thus far has been encouraging—it’s something everyone has been thinking about over the last two years. “Winning funding would mean helping to solve a problem so many people have been dealing with”, she said.
“The reality of our venture is that it was born out of necessity—of answering this new working world brought on by the pandemic,” Koramshahi said. And while she and Breskin are currently in a school environment, this type of program is addressing the future work environment that will continue to involve remote work. “The pandemic has created this environment. And what we are trying to do is figure out how to optimize it, make it better, and make it more compassionate.”