Tepper School Graduate Leads a Team of CMU Alumni to Startup Success

When Alysia Finger, BSBA ’14; CFA ’14, was completing her undergraduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University, she found herself feeling inspired by the technological advances that were taking place across campus. Finger and Albert Niko Triulzi, CFA ’10, wondered how they could share technology with their young daughter in a productive, fun way.

The pair created AE Dreams, a company designed to create technology-based, screenless toys that would help families connect playtime in the digital world with the physical world.

Knowing that the company would be well served by a multi-disciplinary team that would help drive success from a variety of facets, Finger built a team comprising students from across campus, including herself and Triulzi, as well as Bryan Gardiner, CIT ’16; Samantha Gao, CFA ’16; Olga Pogoda, MBA ’10; Lydia Chung, CFA ’17; and Airiss Finley, DC ’16.

Finger also tapped into Carnegie Mellon’s entrepreneurial ecosystem during the early stages of her startup and even took a Venture Creation course instructed by Dave Mawhinney, associate teaching professor of entrepreneurship; executive director of the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship; co-director of the Carnegie Mellon University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“What really solidified my decision to pursue creating a company around technology for kids was when I pitched the idea at Carnegie Mellon’s 100K launch event, and was selected as 4th place of the over 30 pitches made that afternoon,” she explained.

Last year, AE Dreams was accepted to the Pittsburgh hardware accelerator, AlphaLab Gear. The company is now ready to sell their first product, Turtle Mail, through a Kickstarter campaign that will run until October 14, 2015.

Turtle Mail is a mailbox for children that contains a small printer inside. This WiFi-enabled device lets family and friends send messages from their computers and mobile devices that will be delivered as printed mail for their children. Additionally, Turtle Mail prints activity content, notes from fictional characters and messages from children’s existing toys.

Moving forward, the team plans to add new products to their inventory and grow the AE Dreams brand. Finger encourages Carnegie Mellon students who are interested in starting a company to maintain confidence in, and dedication to, their ideas.

“You have to be confident and know that it’s not just about having a great idea, but it’s also about dedication and great execution,” Finger offered. “If you are truly passionate about the project or concept, you have to really commit yourself to it!”