At age 18, she raised a million bucks for her startup.
In 2013, the youngest college graduate in the world to raise $1 million in venture funding was 18-year-old Brienne Ghafourifar ’12, a freshly degreed Santa Clara econ major trying to juggle her studies with her extracurricular activities, which included managing a startup. This fall I sat with her on one of the couches in the industrial third floor of a building in Palo Alto where that company is now snuggled among other startups, and she says she remembered asking herself, “‘Should I drop out, should I stay in, or should I do both at the same time?’”
The dilemma: Months before graduating, Ghafourifar, then 17, and her brother Alston, 20, came up with an idea that would bring all digital communications on every device into one ecosystem. A solution and a company, Entefy, was born. The name means “to materialize.”
“The idea is to have your entire digital identity in one place,” Ghafourifar says, calling Entefy a “cross-device” application that will reach across one’s menagerie of digital devices and bring together email, text, voice, video, and social messages.
It’s fair to say that keeping things streamlined and organized has manifested itself in Ghafourifar’s work before Entefy. She graduated from high school at 14. “It took a lot of work to just say, ‘I’m going to finish up college as fast as I can and go full-time in the startup,’” she says.
She began studying at Foothill College and transferred to SCU, attracted by the focus on social justice, social entrepreneurship, and unique programs such as the Global Social Benefit Incubator. Her teachers, especially Mario Belotti, the W.M. Keck Professor of Economics, and William Sundstrom, professor of economics, were instrumental in keeping her on track and inspired. “They teach you real-life skills that you’re going to need to apply,” she says.
Likewise, Ghafourifar’s parents, fellow entrepreneurs, prepared her to tackle the startup world, often engaging her and her brother in business conversations as they were growing up. Entrepreneurship and community impact were favorite topics.
Professor of Management Jennifer Woolley is another mentor—though their relationship began after Ghafourifar graduated—and helped with Entefy’s beginnings. Fellow Santa Clara grad Karen Williams ’88 serves as an advisor.
Not only did Ghafourifar raise $1 million in venture funding for Entefy by her 18th birthday, she and the Entefy team closed additional funding in summer 2013 at $2.5 million. Entefy aims to launch in private beta in early 2014, with sights on becoming the next disruptive solution that will consolidate today’s fragmented communications market. “We can only get to such an extent when we’re managing what, 75 to 100 apps at a time? It just can’t happen. So the next step will be to consolidate,” Ghafourifar says.
The app will emphasize the importance of communicating with people rather than thinking about the protocol first. “It’s all about people. The format and how messages get delivered aren’t as important.
“It’s really to simplify people’s lives and it’s really to make sense of all that fragmentation that’s out there right now in the marketplace,” she says. You might see Ghafourifar on the big screen soon. She is profiled in the forthcoming documentary She Started It, about rising female entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Europe.
“I think just bringing awareness to the issue in general is great,” Ghafourifar says. She’d like to see more women venture into the world of entrepreneurship.