WerthWatching puts the spotlight on alumni entrepreneurs and leaders who are making their mark on the world. These Huskies are doing big things, and their journeys are ones WerthWatching.
Saira A. Kazmi, ’03 (ENG)
Executive Director, Enterprise Data and Machine Learning Engineering, CVS Health
Saira Kazmi, Ph.D., is an Executive Director of Enterprise Data and Machine Learning Engineering at CVS Health. She brings over 18 years of experience in delivering advanced analytics capabilities into business workflows.
Thomas Bachant, ’13 (ENG)
Founder, CEO of Everyspace
Tom Bachant is the founder and CEO at Everyspace, a community platform to create meaningful connection in remote teams. Previously, Tom founded Dashride, a ridesharing platform that was acquired by Cruise in 2018 and was named one of Forbes “30 Under 30” in 2019. Tom is an entrepreneur, engineer, and product expert focused on creating equitable social impact.
Jaden Brodeur, ’20 (BUS)
Founder of Luma
Jaden Brodeur has always been passionate for meaningful innovation designed to address big
problems. At an early age, he took an interest in the concept of eliminating plastic-bottled
water, fully convinced his adulthood should be free of single-use plastic bottles. He is co-
founder of Luma, a sustainability company with a hyperfocus on hydration. Luma is building
the first hydration unit to simultaneously combine UV-C light with optional filtration via
Sumia Shaikh, ’15 (CAHNR)
Vice President and Marketing Lead of Visible Hands VC
Sumia Shaikh is a founding team member, investor, and VP of Marketing at Visible Hands VC. She leads marketing and brand for the firm and focuses on supporting portfolio companies in the digital health and wellness space. Sumia graduated with honors from the University of Connecticut with a Bachelor of Science in Allied Health Sciences, and a concentration in Public Health and Program Management.
Justin Lee, ’15 (BUS)
Senior Associate, Palladin Consumer Retail Partners
WerthWatching is an extension of Justin’s vision as a Business student at UConn. In 2014, Justin founded the UConn Consulting Group (UCG), a strategy consulting group bringing together top students with alumni who attended elite business schools and consulting firms. UCG was founded on the belief that given the resources and training, UConn students can compete and land jobs at top companies around the world.
Travis Bloom ’13 (BUS)
Co-founder and CTO of Pawlicy Advisor
Travis Bloom is the co-founder and CTO of Pawlicy Advisor, a pet insurance marketplace focused on helping consumers find the right plan at the best possible price. The company, which was founded in 2018, has raised more than $7.5M of venture capital and helped millions of pet parents ensure their dogs and cats get the best care possible.
Travis started his career in General Electric’s IT Leadership program after graduating from UConn in 2013. He lives in midtown Manhattan with his wife Meghan (UConn ‘13) and cat Ginny.
Cassandra Bodzak ’09 (BFA)
Best Selling Author of “Eat with Intention” and the upcoming “Manifesting Through Meditation” (available for pre-order now). Host of the “Divine Downloads” podcast and creator of the Transformational Online Program “Divinely Design Your Life.”
Cassandra Bodzak is a thought leader, best-selling author and sought after on-camera personality and speaker in the mindfulness and personal development world. She is also the host of the popular spiritual podcast, "Divine Downloads.” You may have seen Cassandra on ABC’s “The Taste” with Anthony Bourdain as the “happy, healthy living guru” or in her work with SHAPE, Eating Well, Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, Thrive, Fabletics, Lululemon, SoulCycle and many more. She has been called “an award-winning thought leader and intuitive coach” in Forbes and “a spiritual leader” by Well + Good. Cassandra helps people all over the world learn The Process for bringing their soul's desires into their everyday reality through her online group program, “Divinely Design Your Life,” as well as through all the free content she shares on her YouTube and social media.
Matt Cremins ʼ13 (ENG) '14 MS
Co-Founder of CivilTalk
Matt invented Smartwell, a flavored and sparkling water dispenser, and subsequently started his first company, Voda, around this idea. Dubbed the "next generation water cooler,’’ Matt sold Voda in 2019 and went to work on his second startup, CivilTalk.
Hearing his mom’s frustration with the combative nature of social media, Matt wanted to find a way for people to have a voice online without the noise of trolls and negative comments. Matt and his team developed CivilTalk with a mission to connect people with each other so they can listen, learn and collaborate on solutions without the fear of being shut down or drowned out. Users are required to prove their identity before joining and choose who they engage with. With CivilTalk, the focus is on issues and solutions, not political parties.
Matt got his start in entrepreneurship with guidance from the School of Business, School of Engineering and UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP), which provided a home base for Voda along with support with a business plan, investor pitches and connections with potential investors and business partners. He was also one of the first graduates of the School of Business’ Innovation Quest (iQ), a competition that helps students turn their ideas into a business. (Click here to take a look at the most recent iQ winners).
Leila Daneshmandi '20 PhD (Biomedical Engineering), '21 MS (Global Entrepreneurship)
Assistant Professor in Residence of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UConn
Co-Founder and COO, Encapsulate
Dr. Leila Daneshmandi is an Assistant Professor in Residence of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UConn School of Engineering and within the Biomedical Engineering Department. She is the co-founder and COO of Encapsulate, a biotech startup in cancer precision diagnostics that has raised over 1M in non-dilutive funding and that is conducting preclinical studies in partnership with Hartford Healthcare. Encapsulate has received numerous awards and accolades nationally and internationally including the prestigious Technology-in-Space Prize for $653k from the International Space Station US National Laboratory and Boeing. Leila is a Women of Innovation finalist, selected by the Connecticut Technology Council and Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology; has been awarded the Entrepreneur of the Year for Scalable Venture Award by the Connecticut Entrepreneur Awards; and was invited to give a TEDx Talk on her professional and personal journey. She holds five patents and has authored over 12 peer-reviewed publications. Leila currently teaches Technology Innovation & Entrepreneurship I & II, an experiential entrepreneurship course open to all students in Engineering, Business, and Digital Media and Design, and develops programs for student and faculty entrepreneurial growth and development within the school.
Ashley Kalinauskas ’12 (CAHNR)
Founder & CEO, Torigen Pharmaceuticals Inc.
More than 50% of all dogs over the age of 10 die from cancer. UConn alumna Ashley Kalinauskas is part of a team working to change that. Ashley is founder and CEO of Torigen Pharmaceuticals, a veterinary biotech company that is leading the way in animal oncology by harnessing the pet’s immune system to fight cancer. Torigen’s team of clinical researchers and veterinary professionals create personalized cancer immunotherapies tailored for each patient by using their deactivated tumor cells, giving them a tool to fight cancer that doesn’t involve the potentially painful side effects of chemotherapy.
Dean Mahoney ‘09 (BUS)
Founder & CEO, ‘Merican Mule
When Dean Mahoney and friends Pete Weil and Steve Pawlik saw people drinking Moscow mules in a Santa Monica bar, and found that liquor stores didn’t sell them pre-made, they realized they had an opportunity to create something new. By cashing out their savings, 401K’s and finding any spare change to contribute, they embarked on a mission, to build the brand from the ground up. Their mission: to deliver premium quality and ultimate convenience with the hottest cocktail on the market. After crafting the original beverage, Dean returned to the East Coast to spearhead distribution. He got a big break at the end of 2017, when a major liquor distributor agreed to add the company as a client. In 2019, the team launched their Mexican Style Mule with tequila, ginger and lime, as well as their Tropical Style Mule with rum, ginger and pineapple, as well as seasonal varieties.
Leah Oppenheimer ‘12 (CLAS/IMJR)
MBA Associate, SWAT Equity Partners
Leah is currently an MBA candidate at Columbia Business School (CBS) and MBA associate at SWAT Equity Partners, a venture capital firm for emerging entrepreneurial consumer brands. Prior to starting at CBS, she was a summer associate at LDV Capital and an investment associate at Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs (Techstars). Previously, she spent three years running platform and marketing for UpRamp, the industry accelerator/CVC for the connectivity industry (backed by Comcast, Charter, Cox and 60 others), and worked in business development for boutique consultancies in London.
Roma Romaniv, ’17 (BUS)
Associate, Summit Partners
Roma is an investor at Summit Partners focused primarily on the technology sector. Her investment experience includes CoderPad. Prior to Summit, Roma worked at Citigroup, most recently in the technology investment banking team and previously as an equity capital markets analyst.
Roma holds a BS in finance and a BA in human rights, summa cum laude, from the University of Connecticut.
Jamison Yaffa, ’14 (CLAS)
Co-Founder & Portfolio Manager, 6Beacon Capital
Jamison Yaffa ’14 is a co-founder and portfolio manager at 6Beacon Capital, based in Boston, MA. He previously spent time at Crestline Investors and Balyasny Asset Management. Jamison started his career as an Investment Banking Analyst at UBS. He graduated from UConn in 2014 with a B.A. in Economics and a minor in Real Estate Finance.