Nemu: The Weight of Memories and Their Impact on Inheritance


In May 2022, Nemu took home the Ashton Family Award for Female Founders in the 2022 Venture Lab Startup Challenge. In this article, Sarah Powers (WG '23), Nemu's founder, unveils the mission and values of Nemu. Follow her journey below!

How do you value a property that not only has financial value but also emotional importance? Can you even put a number on your memories and emotions for a loved one? Sarah Powers (WG ‘23) raised this question.

Summer 2021 for Sarah was about endings and new beginnings. She had just welcomed her new baby into the family. But at the same time, Sarah had to bid a difficult farewell — her grandmother passed away. The emotional challenge was hard, but what she didn’t expect coming was all of the logistics associated with the passing of a dear one. Sarah’s mother, who was the executor of Sarah’s grandmother’s estate, had to learn to track finances, file estate taxes, and distribute her siblings’ inheritance.

Even with access to lawyers and wealth managers, her mother still struggled. The overwhelming part—for Sarah’s mother—was figuring out how to divide the belongings in her parents’ house among siblings in a way that everyone felt comfortable with the outcome. To help her mother, Sarah surveyed the internet for a solution.

She discovered none. Instead, Sarah found herself looking at staggering numbers revealing the bigger question America faces in the upcoming decades. Bloomberg News shows that the U.S. is expected to inherit $72.6 trillion over the next quarter century, a number more than twice as much as a decade ago. Of those $72.6 trillion, about $4 trillion are projected to come from belongings in a house. 45 million families in the US are expected to be impacted by inheriting property in the upcoming decade.

What do we do with inherited wealth? How do we divide them in a way that preserves both the emotional and financial capital of the property?

Sarah’s questions remain top of mind for many others who are going through similar experiences—whether that’s downsizing, divorce, or clearing out the house to move into retirement homes. This light bulb moment gave birth to Sarah’s own startup, Nemu (“pronounced knee-moo”).

“At the core of Nemu, we value fairness. We want to make sure that everybody feels comfortable with the outcome,” says Sarah.

Our goal is to make managing personal property easy, fair, and convenient. This translates to customers saving time, preserving emotional capital, and maximizing the resale value of residual assets.

She has been working with former Wharton professor, Clayton Featherstone, to develop an algorithm for asset allocation that takes into account emotional capital. When it comes to naming her startup, the former Economics major gave a nod to her beloved field, deriving the name Nemu from the idea that “Nash equilibrium maximizes utility”.

So how does Nemu work? The process is briefly divided into four sections: cataloging, appraising, assigning, and distributing assets. The first step clients take is to film a video of their property. The team at Nemu then catalogs every item, organizing item information into a digestible view on their app. Families also have the opportunity to document the generational history and family memories associated with various items by adding in descriptions on the mobile app.

Once assets are digitally cataloged, families gain insights into the financial value of items from price estimates given by appraisers collaborating with Nemu. Families can then incorporate these appraisals into their decision of who-gets-what and use them when selling residual property.

After finalizing the list of assets to be assigned to beneficiaries, Nemu moves forward with property assignment by leveraging its proprietary algorithm. The digital app gives every family member involved the chance to express the emotional value of each item. The algorithm collects the relative value of each item to the individual families and creates an internal bidding game. The bidding algorithm makes sure that everybody ends up with the same emotional value worth of assets.

Most importantly, families are not limited to assessing the emotional value of items. They also have visibility of the item's financial values from the price estimates given by appraisers collaborating with Nemu. In the case that someone may be dissatisfied with the financial value difference, the algorithm helps figure out alternative financial compensation solutions.

To wrap up, Nemu takes care of the ownership transition process for clients, helping with shipping labels, residual property, and connecting families to professionals who can help with their resale needs.

For Sarah, the wish to build Nemu comes from an extremely personal place. “Ten years ago, my grandpa had this round-robin event where family members came and picked certain items. They picked three items each,” says Sarah, “For a good five years after that, there were still a certain set of siblings that carried resentment from the process.”

Sarah found that many families similarly struggled with finding a comfortable balance when it comes to dividing inheritance. “I've had countless conversations with professionals, clients, and other families that have gone through this experience about how this process can really create fractures within families that exist for decades,” she says.

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Sarah Powers, WG'23, founder of Nemu pitching at the 2022 Venture Lab Startup Challenge

Through Nemu, Sarah is dedicated to making sure that everyone feels empowered to make decisions, comfortable throughout the decision-making process, and satisfied with the ultimate outcome. Sarah strives to find the Nash equilibrium in asset allocation and division.

Founded in December 2021, Nemu has quickly grown to become a rising star in the VIP-X summer cohort (Venture Lab’s 3-month accelerator). Venture Lab’s entrepreneurship workshops and office hours provided a starting point for Sarah to put her business ideas in motion. “Venture Lab can meet you wherever you’re at, especially the professors and advisors that are engaged in the process.” says Sarah, “They work with you at any point, I think that’s really unique. For any accelerator out there, companies are usually required to be at a specific stage.”
In May, Nemu became one of the eight finalists in the 2022 Venture Lab Startup Challenge and took home the Ashton Family Award for Female Founders. Nemu is currently serving users across the US and internationally. As the startup proceeds into the rest of 2022, Sarah is especially looking forward to recruiting new students to help bring Nemu to scale and also sharing with more people about her early-stage startup experience.

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