Trishala Dessai’s Gig-Up Addresses Consumers’ and Gig Workers’ Needs

By: Sherrie Negrea
Trishala Dessai gesturing and smiling on stage wearing a red Gig-Up sweatshirt with a Johnson School banner in the background.

Trishala Dessai ’17, MBA ’23, pitching Gig-Up at the conclusion of the 2023 Johnson Summer Startup Accelerator program, Sage Hall

It’s 6 p.m. and you’d like some vegan food for dinner but aren’t sure what you’re in the mood for. You need to pick up some milk at the store, and you’re also looking for a gym where you can get in a workout.

Within minutes, a mobile app offers a recommendation for vegan enchiladas and directs a personal assistant to deliver them to your door—along with a half-gallon of milk. The app also recommends two gyms that offer the type of exercise equipment you prefer, both within 10 minutes of your apartment.

headshot of Trishala Dessai.
Trishala Dessai

Gig-Up, a startup developed by Trishala Dessai ’17, MBA ’23, solves the problem many consumers have in the world of service apps: It takes too long to scroll through each individual app to order food, have groceries delivered, or get your laundry done.

The startup will save consumers time and effort by offering all these services in a single app. Using AI to track customer preferences, it will also make recommendations on food, physical activity and mental health care to customers who don’t know where to find the services or products they need.

“When you sign up with us, we ask you all these questions about yourself, and every time you tell us you like Chinese food or you don’t, that’s where AI comes in,” says Dessai, a graduate of Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. “It starts to learn your preferences as a human being, and then eventually it’s just going to think exactly like you would in all your moods and be able to do a very close prediction for what you want.”

Evolution of a startup

While Dessai’s startup addresses a consumer’s dilemma, her original idea focused on the needs of gig workers. Because of her parents’ experience with job discrimination as Indian immigrants, Dessai enrolled in law school to learn how to protect and extend benefits to employees, particularly for the growing sector of gig workers. In her second year at the American University College of Law, she came up with a solution: A system of portable benefits that would move with gig workers as they change jobs.

The idea of offering portable benefits to gig workers became the basis of her startup. After she wrote a paper about her proposal for the New York State Bar Association, lawyers and investors began asking her if she could launch a company that provided these benefits. “That’s how I ended up in business school—because there was all this demand for it,” she says.

Trishala Dessai on stage, speaking and gesturing. An eLab banner is also on stage.
Trishala Dessai ’17, MBA ’23, presenting Gig-Up at eLab Demo Day, Statler Auditorium, April 13, 2023

As a Johnson School student, Dessai quickly immersed herself in the entrepreneurship ecosystem on campus to learn how to develop her startup. After joining eLab, Cornell’s student startup accelerator, Gig-Up was selected as one of 11 teams out of an initial group of 28 to advance through the program last spring.

Dessai also participated in the Johnson Summer Startup Accelerator last year, a ten-week program that helps students pursue their entrepreneurship goals through workshops, networking events and mentorship.

Tom Schryver, who teaches entrepreneurship and venture capital at the Johnson School and also serves as executive director of Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, says that Dessai stood out as a student entrepreneur because she merged her experience in both law and business in her company. “The other thing about her is she is one of these high-energy people, and that just really came through in every interaction,” he says.

This March, Dessai received another vote of confidence: She was awarded the Jonas Weil Entrepreneur Fellowship, an educational debt loan forgiveness program to assist Johnson School MBA alumni pursuing entrepreneurial ventures.

Developing Gig-Up 3.0

Working with her mentors at eLab, Dessai recently decided to shift the focus of her business from a healthcare startup offering portable benefits to gig workers to a consumer startup. Her plan was to test the benefits on gig workers as they were hired to help consumers with their daily to-do lists, from doing laundry to returning Amazon packages. The gig workers would have access to portable benefits, such as health insurance, from a fund established by the startup.

Trishala Dessai pitching Gig-Up at Sage Hall, late summer 2023

Dessai then set out to incorporate AI into the platform, with the help of a team of five engineering and computer science students at Cornell’s College of Engineering, Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, and Cornell Tech.

Based on feedback from consumer testing, they developed a new version of the app that not only uses AI to make recommendations on food, physical activity, and mental health services but also offers meal delivery, laundry service, and package pickup. This spring, Dessai will launch a test of Gig-Up with 60 consumers who tried the previous version of the app. Once it is tested in New York City, Dessai hopes to expand the service to Washington, D.C., and Boston.

“At the end of the day, I really want to help people,” she says. “That’s something that’s just close to my heart. This startup is great because you can help the consumer, and from the profit you get from that, you can also help the workers’ health holistically.”

Related link:

Watch Trishala Dessai’s 2023 eLab Demo Day pitch and other eLab student startup pitches.