Brandeis International Business School

The perfect incubator

With a boost from Brandeis, sustainability app founder Galen Karlan-Mason ’16, MBA’18 is converting his passion into reality

Galen Karlan-Mason ’16, MBA ’17 has a new app ready to launch to the next level.

Galen Karlan-Mason ’16, MBA ’17 has a new app ready to launch to the next level.

Looking back, eating that giant bowl of Froot Loops may not have been such a bad idea after all.

Galen Karlan-Mason ’16, MBA’18 grew up in Vermont with parents who stressed healthy eating: lots of veggies, modest portions of meat, just about everything made from whole foods.

But when he stayed with friends as a boy, Karlan-Mason gorged on all the junk he could find — heaping portions of sugary cereal included.

“I’m incredibly grateful my parents taught me how to eat well, and I realized I had this atypical experience in many respects,” he said. “The idea of nutrition that was ingrained in me wasn’t part of growing up for many people.”

With a boost from the student services and expert faculty at Brandeis International Business School, and buoyed by a conviction that nutrition and social justice are inextricable, Karlan-Mason in 2017 launched GreenChoice. The app rates groceries on several metrics so consumers can consider factors such as nutrition and processing before making a purchase.

Earlier this year, GreenChoice won a coveted spot in the MassChallenge Rhode Island program, which offers promising startups office space, advisers this summer, and culminating in a chance to compete for seed money in October.

The GreenChoice app germinated during a pitch competition — think Shark Tank — in Karlan-Mason’s management communications class. Eventually, he was able to weave together his passions for health, environmental justice and a fascination with the power of smartphones into a viable business idea.

“It came down to a basic question,” said Karlan-Mason. “How can we leverage these devices for good and use them to help people make better choices about their health, or to engage with issues of the environment?”

Next, he brought the idea to Prof. Mitch Tyson, a high-tech CEO and entrepreneur who prodded him with hard but important questions about data, and encouraged him to enter the 3 Day Startup (3DS), a weekend-long pitch competition at Brandeis.

GreenChoice earned praise from 3DS judges, and though the concept didn’t win the competition, Karlan-Mason said working on it with a group of other students for a weekend was invaluable and gave him a taste of leading a team.

The competition also led Karlan-Mason to the Hassenfeld Family Innovation Center’s SPARK program, which helped him apply for and win a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps grant. Additionally, the Asper Center for Global Entrepreneurship gave GreenChoice a startup award that included a grant and office space on the campus of the International Business School.

That boost helped Karlan-Mason and co-founder Rafael Martins Guimãres, MBA’18, ramp up the app design, attract interns, negotiate agreements with grocers and research and organize tons of data.

On the cusp of a major breakthrough for his app, which is his full-time occupation right now, Karlan-Mason said the International Business School was the perfect incubator with all the resources he needed to grow a challenging idea into a promising reality.

“Brandeis offers a really engaged and supportive community,” he said. “All the tools you need are there, but to make the most of that community you have to lean into it.”