The future founder archive: the 2nd cohort of Delta Fellows

Human Capital
10 min readSep 1, 2021

Ever wonder what the Wayback Machine would look like for founders?

If you could peel back the curtain on their evolution — timestamped moments in their lives — what would you see? Instead of evolving homepage copy, design systems, and product offerings, we’d see homemade garage research labs, jailbroken iPhones, and earmarked copies of Whole Earth Catalog.

We think about this often. When we meet engineers and founders, we wonder how they got there. Not just the polished narrative, but the candid snapshots that ultimately shaped who they became. The gritty stuff, the middle school stuff, the family stuff.

It’s especially true with young engineers and founders. Because when we see what they’ve accomplished in their early years, often against the odds and always beyond expectations, it’s impossible not to be bullish on what they’ll do in the decades ahead.

That’s how we feel about our Delta Fellows. The early archives of their Wayback Machines are already epic tales of creativity, agency, and action. And it’s just the beginning.

We launched the Delta Fellowship last year to give ambitious students and recent grads the capital, mentorship, and resources they need to explore the ideas and solve the problems they care about most. Fellows get a $50,000 no-strings-attached grant, coaching from our co-founders, connections with a community of entrepreneurial peers, and weekly fireside chats with founders, investors, and other tech leaders.

We just closed the books on the second cohort of Delta Fellows — a group whose personal Wayback Machines are humbling and inspiring. The class includes:

  • Alishba Imran, who co-founded a blockchain platform to prevent counterfeit medication in supply chain systems and developed algorithms to make prosthetics cheaper and more accessible
  • Kiara Nirghin, who won the Google Science Fair and was named one of TIME Magazine’s most influential young people for her work on superabsorbent polymers to keep crops hydrated during drought
  • Arsh Dilbagi, who developed a device in high school to help people with developmental disabilities communicate with their breath
  • Daven and Jagan Subbiah, who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro at 7, graduated with Neurobiology degrees from UC Berkeley at 16, and founded a cerebral malaria non-profit

This 19-person cohort is creative, ambitious, thoughtful, and bright. We’re amazed by what they accomplished this summer, and can’t wait to see what they accomplish next — and how their personal Wayback Machines evolve in the years ahead.

NB. Applications for the next cohort open soon — sign up to get a note when they do.

Shagun Maheshwari is a machine learning developer who applies her skillset to hard-tech problems in the biotechnology and renewable energy fields and whose work is deeply tied with the commercialization of deep tech. She built the On Deck Deep Tech fellowship to support deep tech startups tackle the most challenging problems (health, clean energy, etc), was a machine learning developer on the $5M IBM Watson AI XPRIZE, and has been invited to deliver keynotes on her research on machine learning at multiple global Microsoft conferences.

We found an amazing support system and built meaningful relationships with the fellows in the program as well as the entire Human Capital team. These are people we reach out to without a second thought for help and advice when building our startup.

Alishba Imran is a machine learning developer who works at the intersection of AI, rehabilitation tech, humanoids, and medical devices to create smarter machines. She’s developed a novel generative neural network and 3D printed prosthetic material that reduced patient costs from $10,000 to $700, led neuro-symbolic AI research for Sophia the Robot at Hanson Robotics, and helped build a portable, low-cost, soft robotic glove with Q-learning for the Harvard Biodesign lab.

We made a ton of progress in better understanding fundraising structure, understanding our market, and developing our product. The one-on-one mentorship and speaker sessions were very helpful for this.

Arsh Dilbagi recently graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Operations Research and Financial Engineering. He’s worked at the intersection of technology and finance as a machine learning engineer at Apple and an investment associate at Bridgewater, and on a wide variety of fascinating projects along the way — like a quadruped robotic dog that learns to walk by itself and devices that help the specially-abled communicate using their breath.

The Delta Fellowship connected us with an extraordinary group of humans. The other fellows included everyone from genius anti-malaria masterminds to Stanford PhDs to people revolutionizing mental health and battery efficiency. From the Human Capital team, we got to meet people who were both remarkably professional — with insights and tactics on everything business — and remarkably warm. A week didn’t go by that there wouldn’t be some dinner to attend, some emotion to spill, or some meaningful story to share. Groucho Marx once said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member.” I usually stand by that, but in the case of Human Capital, it was an honor to belong and continue to belong in this incredible community.

Cole Bransford is an accidental software engineer as a result of building a real-time sports gambling app. He has previously worked at Invitae and Capital One since graduating from Princeton, where he was the captain of the Varsity Track & Field team.

Human Capital has been an amazing partner in our mission to build the world’s most efficient payment engine. They’ve spearheaded so much for us as we made big steps in our company’s life — not just in the funding they’ve helped us put together, but in the connections, advice, and support they’ve brought to us.

Ryan Ozminkowski is a passionate fan of everything from cooking to magic tricks to hotel management. He was a development executive in Hollywood, most notably helping launch Damien Chazelle’s production company (director of Whiplash and La La Land). Originally from Lodi, California, Ryan graduated with a degree in Philosophy from Princeton University, where he competed as a decathlete for the track team and met his two incredible coworkers, Arsh and Cole.

HC has put us on a great track forward — in particular with the incredible mentors and hands-on operators they’ve paired us with throughout the program.

Kiara Nirghin is a Computer Science student at Stanford. She won the Grand Prize at the Google Science Fair, was named one of TIME Magazine’s most influential young people, and interned as a software engineer at Facebook.

The Delta Fellowship gave us access to such an incredible founder and thought leader community. The Human Capital team really optimizes on connecting each founder to the people that can best assist as they grow their company. Either through introductions, workshops or private meetings, we were able to gain a lot of insight through the people and network Human Capital knows and has.

Nikhara Nirghin is an MBA Candidate at London Business School and an actuary by profession. She’s worked at Deloitte Consulting across the UK and African markets and served as member of the Deloitte Africa Millennial Board. She’s a passionate believer that financial inclusion is a fundamental lever to empower those most vulnerable in society.

One of the special moments this summer was coming to the very clear realization that nothing is more investable and a surer bet than yourself and the team that you build. Our worlds are becoming increasingly (and unstoppably) chaotic. To be effective in building something that helps structure some of this chaos requires you to embody this chaos. Building out a team that is empowered by this is the most investable characteristic of any startup.

Daven & Jagan Subbiah are twins who’ve done so much together that writing separate bios would be repetitive. In their earlier day, they climbed Mount Kilimanjaro at age 7, graduated from UC Berkeley in Neurobiology at 16, and competed internationally with the US National Youth Sailing Team. They’ve since learned CRISPR gene-editing techniques in Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna’s lab, founded a cerebral malaria non-profit, and started a blockchain company to automate the will and trust process.

Daven: Working with the Human Capital team and hearing from the founders they brought in for learning sessions really informed our outlook on future goals and team building. It all reinforced the belief that at the end of the day, it really is all about people, people, people. I also loved spending time with and learning from the other fellows either in the office or outside of it — learning about their various projects and startups, etc.

Jagan: In the weekly Human Capital workshop sessions, one recurring theme was cofounder values, and the importance of selecting the right team members to work with. This was on my mind when we were looking to bring more technical talent to our startup and new members to our cerebral malaria charity project.

Jon Wang graduated with BS and MS degrees from Stanford, where he was a Gates Scholar, and was a medical student at UCSF medical school before taking time off to focus on building solutions around mental health. He’s a published AI researcher in the field of healthcare, including papers with the Chair of Medicine at Stanford and the VP of Apple. He’s passionate about improving healthcare, and has helped start organizations such as XP Health, MD++, Golden Gate Science Olympiad, and Stanford Undergraduate Hospice and Palliative Care.

Vikram Sreedhar is a Stanford grad and former software engineer and product manager at Salesforce, where he focused on Computer Science & AI. He recently co-founded Make A Difference Together (M.A.D. Together), a nonprofit that helps high school students make a difference in their communities. Outside of software engineering and social impact, his interests include dragon boat racing, discovering new hip-hop music, and playing many rounds of Catan.

Christal Wang is obsessed with using business as a force for social change, particularly around improving access to opportunity, and especially for the communities she’s a part of — women, immigrants, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+. She was a Consultant at Bain & Company and Value for Good, where she advised Private Equity Funds, Fortune 100 companies, NGOs & Foundations, and governments across healthcare, financial services, and social impact sectors. She also led international launch operations for Drop Technologies. She also loves to travel, snowboard, surf, and practice yoga.

During the Delta Fellowship, our company’s first beta groups showed promising 3-month retention rates of over 80%, much higher than the standard 50% rate for 1:1 psychotherapy–the most common mental health care offering. It’s exciting to see our hard work innovating on affordability, scheduling, patient-provider fit, and stigma making a real difference for our members.

Maxim Serebryakov grew up in Moscow, Russia, and studied MS&E and AI at Stanford. During his time at Stanford, he worked as an Entrepreneur in Residence at 8VC and helped develop machine learning algorithms at Rocketship.vc.

Over the course of the fellowship, we built our MVP, reached patent-pending status, and got ready to deploy with our first early adopters in Asia.

Andrés Pérez Soderi grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, where he started a company that continues to operate today as an NGO. While at Stanford, Andrés spent time working in finance before quitting his job at Blackstone to start Sanas.

Dinners at Baris’ were a big highlight for the summer! We really enjoyed meeting all of the Delta Fellows and generally bonding through our separate but similar startup journeys.

Shawn Zhang studied Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at Stanford before dropping out to help create Sanas. While at Stanford, he worked with the Stanford AI Lab (under Andrew Ng) and developed a patent in deep learning with Cisco. Before college, he conducted research on theoretical astrophysics and participated in Intel ISEF.

Getting to meet founders in later stages and receiving their advice was a major highlight — it helped us to learn exponential amounts in a very short time. One other thing we realized was that hiring interviews are a two way street, and that we as a company are simultaneously being interviewed as well.

Sharon Zhou is a graduating PhD student in Computer Science at Stanford, specializing in AI (she particularly loves generative models); before that, she was the first person to graduate in both Computer Science and Classics at Harvard. She’s held fun roles in product management at various tech companies and cofounded a startup accelerator, and she generally enjoys making collaboration happen across diverse disciplines. She teaches the Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) course on Coursera with 40K students enrolled, is an instructor of the GANs class at Stanford, and generally values the ability to distill complex concepts into simple engaging explanations and memes.

An “aha” moment this summer was identifying patterns across companies that I liked to illuminate, and defining requirements for a company that fit me well as a founder.

If you’ve done the math, you’ve realized there aren’t 19 people listed. A few prefer to stay stealth for now.

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