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Collapsible bike helmet

Rachel Benyola, MBA ’17

Saving bikers’ lives, with style

Rachel Benyola, MBA ’17

Rachel Benyola ’17 is a lifelong biking enthusiast. As a kid, she biked to get around, hang out with friends and de-stress.

Years later, that passion sowed the seeds for an entrepreneurial venture she nurtured as an MBA student at Drexel’s LeBow College of Business.

Since her graduation in 2017, Benyola has put most of her energy into her Philadelphia-based company, AnneeLondon, and its main product — a patent-pending, production-ready collapsible bike helmet she calls the London. The origami-style product features a durable, waterproof shell and a military-grade safety-foam interior. It folds down to about the size of an iPad and includes a red, flashing LED light on the back for nighttime visibility.

Her eureka moment for the helmet came after she observed that many of the bikers tooling around Philadelphia’s congested streets were not wearing any head protection. When she inquired why, they often told her that hard-shell helmets are uncomfortable, bulky and inconvenient to carry around. She saw a market opportunity and a design solution.

Drexel was the perfect place for her to incubate her business idea. The University’s pioneering approach to teaching entrepreneurship combines classroom theory with real-world experiential learning, and a vibrant culture of individual enterprise. As a result, many students leave Drexel prepared to run their own businesses, conduct potentially life-saving research, or improve their neighborhoods through civic engagement.

A disruptive problem-solver gets her start

As a student, Benyola took advantage of plenty of opportunities to practice and improve her entrepreneurial chops. A key one was StartupFest, hosted by Drexel’s Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship, the first free-standing school in the nation for entrepreneurs. This day-long event gives students a chance to network and pitch to some of the city’s most established entrepreneurs.

StartupFest includes two pitch competitions: One is a fast pitch that gives students 60 seconds to convince a panel of judges of the viability and value of their ideas; the second is the Baiada Institute Business Plan Competition. Winners of the Baiada competition earn a year of free working space at the Institute, where young innovators are surrounded by other like-minded entrepreneurs and where they can receive in-kind legal, accounting and other services.

Benyola says she hardly slept the week before StartupFest. In the final round, she had just 10 minutes to describe her helmet design, business plan, strategy and team, and she triumphed. Her second-place finish won her a year-long residency at Baiada.

I see Annee London as a disruptor. It’s something no one imagined could exist.

“Rachel impressed everyone, including myself, by being a problem solver who puts the customer first,” says Charles Sacco, Assistant Dean of Strategic Initiatives at the Close School and a StartupFest judge.

During her year at Baiada, Benyola solidified her business model and prepared for production of the London by adding experienced members to her team and searching for a manufacturer.

Ultimately the London passed rigorous government safety standards with results proving the helmet is twice as safe as a traditional helmet. She says those results, combined with her recent recognition in the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30, have put her in a good place.

I see Annee London as a disruptor,” she says. “It’s something no one imagined could exist.

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