Bulldog Innovation Group’s Whitney Innovation Fund is constructing a diverse early-stage portfolio along several dimensions: by sector (healthcare, social media, technology) and by market/distribution type (B2B, B2C, B2B2C). And we take pride that nearly half our companies are run by women and/or minorities.

How are we doing it? First, the company needs to provide an in-depth application through our website. If it meets initial criteria, our Managing Director, Laura Kauer Rodriguez (SOM ’11), does preliminary research, often using Yale College and Yale School of Management interns for support, and conducting an initial interview with the entrepreneur. If the company then meets additional criteria, Laura will present it to the Investment Committee (IC) for review. If the company receives the IC green light, Laura engages a subject matter expert, typically from BIG’s ever-expanding Yale alumni network of networks to conduct final diligence. She also notifies our large General Partner membership that the company is under consideration, which can generate additional insights or useful contacts. Companies with final approval by our IC and Board are typically given an initial investment of $100,000, with the possibility for follow-on investments in later rounds.

It is through this process that we are able to consider such a breadth of opportunities and provide meaningful evaluation of the promising ones. And because our mission is broadly to help foster entrepreneurship for Yale, our staff will often spend time with founders whose companies we don’t invest in, giving them critical feedback and sometimes referring them to individuals in our network who can help them progress.

The last step: Laura assigns a liaison from our network to the new portfolio company. This experienced Yalie not only serves as our point of contact for quarterly updates but can offer mentorship, be a sounding board and make key connections to potential customers or investors. That’s how we are building a dynamic ecosystem of students, alumni, staff and faculty, focused on nurturing Yale entrepreneurship and innovation.


Therese Esperdy (SOM ’89), Member of our General Partner, currently serves on our Board of Managers and Investment Committee.  It’s been the thrill of the deal for Therese, ever since she became an investment banker.  She has had a remarkable career on Wall Street, beginning at Lehman Brothers and later holding a variety of positions at JP Morgan.  There, she served as Head of Global Debt Capital Markets, Co-Head of Banking for Asia Pacific, Head of Investment Banking, and Global Chairwoman of the Financial Institutions Group.  Therese now serves as a Director of National Grid and chairs its Finance Committee.  She is also a Director of Imperial Brands, LLC.

Therese has stayed connected to Yale in a tangible way for a long time, having actively recruited at the School of Management for Lehman Brothers and later for JP Morgan Chase.  She has been involved in SOM symposiums and conferences, and, having spent time in Asia and London, has helped bring Yale alums together from across the globe.

To BIG, Therese brings her international personal network and invaluable expertise, having touched nearly every sector throughout her career. “I've been very interested in and excited by the number of health and science start-ups coming out of Yale and our portfolio to date is a testament to those opportunities - Ancera, Tummy Zen, Allergy Amulet and Wellinks,” Therese describes.  Currently, BIG is in the process of investing in our first non-US investment and energy sector company which was introduced by Therese, and, according to her, “a good example of the broad connectivity and benefits of our Yale network.”


Pearachute seeks to become the world’s largest provider of family activities. From finger painting with friends to toddler tap dancing lessons, the company’s subscription service allows parents to explore a wide range of quality, locally available children’s activities at the touch of a button. The company recently aired on ABC’s Shark Tank on October, 29th. You can watch the full episode here.

Pearachute is expanding into markets far beyond its native Chicago, and, has recently acquired a Washington, DC-based competitor JumpIt Pass. Pearachute boasts a quarterly user growth rate of roughly 46% in a space that has already been validated by other innovators in the marketplace. User networks are also live in Dallas, Kansas City, and San Francisco, with more markets on the horizon. 

Looking forward, social features that allow users to invite and interact with their friends on the service will maximize Pearachute's already potent popularity. “The company has gotten a lot of traction from word of mouth marketing, referral marketing, and they recently introduced an invite-a-friend feature that has been really successful,” said Charisse Conanan Johnson (YC ’02), BIG’s deal sponsor for Pearachute. “The next phase of social inclusivity and integration will be big, particularly since you want to go to a class or children’s activity that your friends or your children’s friends are attending. We have a lot of confidence in founder Desiree Vargas Wrigley (YC ’04), a veteran builder of two-sided networks who founded her first company, GiveForward, in early 2008.”


Allergy Amulet

Peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish, oh my! Allergy Amulet Founder and CEO Abigail Barnes (FES ‘16) and Member of our General Partner Nels Friets (YC ‘83) have more in common than a passion for entrepreneurship. Abi and Nels initially bonded over their shared struggle with severe food allergies, and after the company became part of our portfolio, Nels has continued to advise Allergy Amulet as Bulldog's liaison.

For many people, dealing with food allergies can mean life or death. According to Abi, dining out while “avoiding foods with certain allergens or ingredients is all too often a game of Russian roulette,” since even a small mistake by the wait staff can have dire consequences. Dr. Joseph BelBruno, a chemistry professor at Dartmouth College, tree nut allergy sufferer, and leading expert in sensor technologies, has been working with Abi and a team of highly-qualified individuals and advisors to develop the Amulet.

The Amulet device consists of a reader and a single-use disposable test strip. The reader is a portable device the size of your thumb, which can even be worn as a fashionable piece of jewelry or incorporated into everyday items like key chains. Users will insert a test strip into their food and then plug the test strip into the reader, which will alert the user to the presence or absence of the target allergenic ingredient within seconds. The Allergy Amulet team is focused on ensuring a high degree of accuracy, and optimizing for selectivity, sensitivity, and specificity. Currently, they are selectively binding target molecules in common food allergens in under a minute at low part-per-million concentrations.  

With beta testing on the horizon, they are planning to go out for their Series A this January, which will take them through beta testing and product launch. To date, the company has raised $1.5mn from venture capital and angels. Allergy Amulet’s sound science and passion for the greater good makes us excited to continue our support for the company, both in mentorship and follow-on funding as it enters the market.