Founder Spotlight: Arianna Armelli

  • Company name: Dorothy
  • Founded: 2020, we’re a COVID company
  • Walk out song: Bodak Yellow by Cardi B, I’m a Bronx girl 
  • Mission: Dorothy provides immediate cash advancements to property owners who go through unexpected events like natural disasters
  • Cofounder: Claudio Angrigiani, he’s a product engineer, we met in grad school when he saw me pitching at a Penn entrepreneurship event

Where did your idea for Dorothy originate?

The first real wake up call was Hurricane Sandy. While I’d returned to work in a couple of days, my friends’ family homes were devastated. I went to the Rockaways to help out. It was such an eye opening experience – something I’ve never seen in New York before. Ten foot piles of sand twelve blocks in from the shore. A parking garage just filled with clothes. All the families were just pulling out insulation and removing drywall from their basements themselves.

I didn’t have the inkling of entrepreneurship back then. But I was curious about why there wasn’t more help for actual New York City residents rather than what I saw in Manhattan – where everything was fine. And they had flood insurance. But they were still waiting for that policy to pay out – still waiting for the claims to come in. They needed to pay for things themselves and didn’t have that in savings. I knew it was off and wrong but didn’t really know what the solution was or why it was happening. I just knew I felt some type of way about it.

After working as an architect for five years, you went to the University of Pennsylvania to do a masters in urban planning. What professor influenced you most?

Lucinda Sanders taught a class on self reflection and it was really all about figuring out what you care about in life, and pushing forward with that. At the end of that class, I knew I was going to start a company. 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten? 

Lucinda told me to just show up – and I actually live by that now. The first pitch I ever did for Dorothy, Lucinda sent me to a talk with other people that had been in the resiliency industry for 20, 30 years. I was petrified. She told me, “Just show up.” Three years later, that’s how I got the first check for Dorothy written.

How did COVID shape Dorothy’s direction?

Originally, I thought Dorothy would be a flood mapping technology attached to an insurance product. But then COVID happened. We watched every single person literally wait months for a government stimulus check to alleviate their financial stress, begging for a check from the government. That was the first instinct that triggered – the problem we were looking at was not actually the problem taking place. What if the problem isn’t that people don’t have insurance, but that they need access to financing the moment a tragedy happens, not 7 months from now? How can we fill that gap? 

What has it been like to be part of the URBAN-X cohort?

Any startup that has the ability to apply to URBAN-X should do it. They have been so hands on and meticulous with their advice, their feedback and the introductions they make for us. It’s not comparable, honestly. They care about their companies and they care about you as a person. 

What stage is Dorothy at now?  

We’ve got a pipeline of 250+ customers  that lived through flash flooding in Tennessee, Louisiana, and Texas. We’re currently working on expanding our product offering into mission aligned partnerships that will enable Dorothy to reach more people later this year.  

What do the next six months look like for Dorothy?

We have a number of exciting new products in the works that we’re looking forward to releasing later this year. Although we’re not ready to talk about them yet, what I can share is that we’re focused on partially expanding our debt line to be able to work with more consumers in need as well as providing a platform to help facilitate the initial steps of recovery.

Katerina Athanasiou