Meet Some of the Newest Startups From UVA Darden’s i.Lab Incubator
By Caroline Newman
This summer’s roster at the i.Lab Incubator within the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business included 20 startup companies, each backed by innovative founders ready to grow their business quickly.
The products and services they offer are wide-ranging – from medical technology to boozy treats, artificial intelligence to custom bike tools. But these founders share the excitement and energy of new ideas, and the determination to make them reality.
We checked in with some of the founders in the 2023 cohort as they and their growing companies emerge from the i.Lab experience.
MatDash – An AI Platform for Materials Engineering
A group of UVA School of Engineering Ph.D. candidates, including Lun Chan, Ryan Grimes, Roberto Herrera del Valle, Ankita Biswas, Debasish Sur, Alen Korjenic, and Computer Science majors Shan Akiraj and Samaha Kee, co-founded MatDash in 2022 to reform the way new materials are discovered.
“In the materials industry, even great engineers at major organizations like Boeing or NASA are wasting time handling and processing data,” Chan said. “There is not a streamlined tool for them to handle or process data, or to generate great insights. This slows the discovery process of new materials.”
To address that need, the co-founders – several of whom have expertise in data science as well as engineering — designed MatDash alpha, a software platform tailored specifically to materials engineering. The program will help clients process large amounts of data, curate their own databases, comb open-access or partner databases, and benefit from predictive analysis based on AI and machine learning models.
For example, a research and development team looking to use a material could more easily access comprehensive data about its properties and employ the MatDash software approaches to predict ways to enhance the properties — information that is currently “very scattered in the materials world,” Chan said. Or a team looking to understand how its product is working can use the alpha software’s machine learning feature for predictions and insights based on the data they input.
The software will be released next month, and the co-founders are already slated to attend the ASM IMAT conference in Detroit to introduce the product to materials engineers.
“We think that will be a great step in getting industry interest and building our customer base,” Chan said.
He said that the i.Lab helped their group not only fine-tune the product, but understand the financial, business and legal aspects of starting a business.
“We are all engineers, so the i.Lab gave us great exposure to the business world,” he said. “I think it really helped us know what to do to scale the business professionally.
Epiderma – A Clever Product to Improve Your Next Dermatology Appointment
While still an undergraduate student at UVA, Haeley Wotnosky began shadowing a local dermatologist, thinking the experience could help her pursue a medical career down the road. Instead, it helped her identify a problem and co-found a company, Epiderma, to solve it.
“I was responsible for applying numbing cream to a lot of patients who came in, which is one of the first steps in outpatient dermatology procedures,” said Wotnosky, who has now earned both an undergraduate degree in kinesiology and an M.S. in commerce at UVA. “I observed a lot of shortcomings with the products that added anxiety and eroded trust within the treatment process.
For example, Wotnosky said, typical numbing creams did not stay in place well through the duration of the procedures, instead beginning to soften and melt, sometimes dripping into a patient’s mouth or eyes. The creams were also often covered in plastic wrap to prevent evaporation – generating a lot of plastic waste – and they were difficult to remove once the procedure was complete.
Wotnosky and her co-founder Rithika Kormath Anand, who completed her undergraduate degree at UVA in biomedical engineering and is now pursuing a master’s degree, teamed up to create a better product and form their company, Epiderma. The product functions similarly to a cosmetic face mask, applying as a liquid and drying into a thin layer that can be gently peeled off. In addition, their cream is self-sealing, eliminating the need for plastic wrap to prevent evaporation.
“We wanted a nurturing base formulation to minimize irritation and support pre-procedure goals,” Wotnosky said. “We also wanted something that would get ingredients deeper into the skin, form a self-sealing layer and be easy to remove.”
The pair is partnering with a scientist who has developed other FDA-approved numbing creams to develop the product. They spent the summer in the i.Lab preparing to launch two versions of their product – the clinical strength numbing cream, which will go through the FDA approval process, and an over-the-counter version that could be used in pharmacies, tattoo parlors, laser hair removal clinics and other locations offering similar procedures. Finally, the team is also planning to launch a liquid bandage that uses similar technology and could be used to gently numb and protect bug bites or small injuries.
All these products are in the prototype phase, and Wotnosky and Kormath Anand have selected a contract development and manufacturing partner in North Carolina.
“I had prior experience with similar organizations and reached out to a lot of potential partners,” Kormath Anand said. “We wanted to find a partner that was innovative and trustworthy, and that understands the level of vulnerability that comes with working with patients.”
The company is also launching a fundraising effort, hoping to attract additional investors as they grow their team and prepare to launch their products.
Overall, both women said the i.Lab gave them a helpful network for growing their business, along with lots of community support.
“We are really grateful for the experience,” Kormath Anand said. “We are also grateful for the Charlottesville community, which has provided us with so much support. Our mentors and advisors in this community have been outstanding.”
Redside – Tools for the New Generation of Mountain Bikes
When he was 13, current Second Year UVA student Landon Campbell taught himself to design tools to repair his mountain bike. By 16, he was using a 3-D printer to bring those tools to life and, at 17, he began to sell his tools online. He was soon selling to customers in 14 different countries.
Campbell realized that he had made something mountain bikers were looking for, and he founded his company Redside in 2020 to keep the momentum going.
“High-end bike component manufacturers release components to the public without creating any tools to rebuild and service these components, despite knowing the users will need to rebuild and service them,” Campbell said. “I started Redside to provide the resources for cyclists and bike mechanics to safely and reliably do this necessary bike work.”
At first, Campbell funded the business by setting aside a few hundred dollars he earned through his part-time job. The business grew, and now Redside has launched four core products, employs two additional people and occupies private office space near UVA Grounds. In his pitch at the i.Lab’s Demo Day, Campbell reported that revenue was expected to grow by 400 percent in 2023.
Now, Campbell — who is studying abroad in South Korea this semester — is planning to launch six new products in January and solidify partnerships with manufacturers, including some he plans to meet with in Korea and China. He is also planning to launch comprehensive toolkits to help bikers more easily find what they need.
“To get all the tools necessary to service a bike, riders must seek out several third-party tool makers who all specialize in different parts of a bike. Some of these aren’t even bike tools manufacturers,” Campbell said. “My next steps for Redside is to roll out a dedicated kit of tools for each system of the bike, paired with a video on how to complete the service properly. This way, no matter the issue, service or part of the bike needing work, there is a home-base website for cyclists.”
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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