So a weird thing is that bankruptcy costs a lot of money to declare. The paperwork (of which there’s a lot) costs about $340 to file, and legal representation for Chapter 7 costs $1,450 on average, according to lawyers.com.
It’s something that one of the Brooklyn tech world’s youngest entrepreneurs noticed in one of his law classes at Harvard. Rohan Pavuluri got involved with a group making legal self-help packets for people. At some point, he thought it might make more sense to write some software that could automate the process and cut down on some of those legal fees.
He got a small grant from Harvard to work on the idea and began building it out. Last summer he was looking for somewhere to continue working on it.
“I just cold emailed Blue Ridge Labs. I said, ‘I’m a student I have a little bit of funding,'” Pavuluri explained by phone recently. “There’s really no other space in the country that has a workspace for nonprofit technology products to my knowledge. All I was really asking from them was a free desk.”
The social impact accelerator ended up giving Pavuluri $50,000 in grant money to keep working on his idea, which became known as Upsolve. He lived down the street, in the dorms of Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus.
He got introduced to his now cofounder, Jonathan Petts, a bankruptcy lawyer who’d been doing some pro bono work for destitute clients. The two ran into plenty of hurdles, there’s no shortage of regulations in the legal world, and are still developing the product. So far, still in beta, they’ve helped about 50 clients file in New York, and are bringing the program to legal aid clinics.
He describes his last year at Harvard as being a “part-time student,” working on Upsolve constantly and the phone with Petts every day, as well as thousands of messages on Slack.
“It was kind of crazy that I could get anything done ’cause I just showed up in Brooklyn with a little funding and didn’t really even know what bankruptcy was,” Pavuluri said, describing Paul Graham’s definition of schlep blindness perfectly. “If I knew how hard it was going to be and how lucky I was going to need to be, I wouldn’t have started it.”
Last week, back at Harvard, Upsolve was one of three winner’s of the President’s Innovation Challenge, which brought the team $75,000.
“It is so inspiring to see what you are trying to accomplish, for young children, for people who have found themselves in financial distress, for women who need health care, for a whole range of different problems that we’ve seen addressed in these proposals,” said Harvard President Drew Faust, in giving the award.
“We beat all the MBAs,” Pavuluri said, with a laugh.
So the plan now is to keep this thing going. Pavuluri said the team wants to expand to more states: California, Texas, Pennsylvania.
“I’d also like to think about other ways we can help people in severe consumer debt,” he explained. “There are people who are sued all the time for debt and I think we could help them. Also I don’t want to be reliant on foundation funding for our whole life so it’d be interested in looking at earned revenue or some other models, maybe government.”