Have you ever hopped on public transit and wished something could be done to make the surfaces you touch a little cleaner? Have you ever wondered what happens to all of the plastic in the tons of disposable diapers that are thrown away each year? Two student groups at UC Davis have been thinking hard about these questions and working to create solutions to these problems through new technologies and have each won competitive $5,000 awards through the VentureWell Foundation’s Stage 1 E-Team program. These awards help early-stage innovators create ventures and provide training that helps students explore ways to bring their solutions to market.
VertX Advertising, led by undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student Wyatt Dike and Ph.D. candidate in Animal Biology Tawny Scanlan, have developed a new business concept that enables the affordable use of antimicrobial coatings in public transit by creating new opportunities for advertising in high-visibility/high-touch surfaces like grab handles and poles.
VertX advertising was accepted into the first cohort of UC Davis' PLASMA Accelerator where they performed efficacy and market trials of its product. Shortly after, VertX closed its first paying customer. The team has stayed in engaged with The Student Startup Center and participated as an alum company in the second cohort of PLASMA this year.
"When I first met Wyatt almost 2 years ago, he was so enthusiastic and had lots of ideas about improving public health," said Liz Tang, director of the Student Startup Center. "Ultimately, it's been his grit and focus that have allowed him to succeed in translating this mission to transit agencies when their budgets and the status quo are stacked against him.”
The Sorbit team, led by undergraduate students Annie Wang (Materials Science & Engineering), Jolee Nieberding-Swanberg (double major in Biochemistry and Design ) and Julie Xu (double major in Design and Economics), is exploring an idea to manufacture diapers and other disposable hygiene products from microbially-produced cellulose whose raw materials could be sourced from renewable sources, like agricultural waste.
This group and UC Davis alumnus Sergio Gonzalez conceived the original idea as a project for the award-winning interdisciplinary BioDesign class co-developed and taught by Professor of Design Christina Cogdell and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering Marc Facciotti. They presented their concept and early prototype at the international 2018 BioDesign Challenge taking home “Runner-up" and “Best Science” awards at the competition.
Sorbit and VertX have both taken advantage of resources at UC Davis for new student innovators to get additional training, mentorship and access to resources. Both groups have participated in the LittleBang! poster competition, while VertX has also participated in the BigBang! business plan competition. Each of these competitions is offered to the regional community by the Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. Both Sorbit and VertX have also worked in the Molecular Prototyping and BioInnovation Lab (MPBIL), a national model for academic biomaker spaces that was conceived and led by Facciotti.
"These two teams are great examples of what our students can accomplish when they get involved and invested in research and creative work," said Andrew Yao, an engineer and manager of the MPBIL. “ I am happy that we’re able to provide a place to foster these kinds of projects and student success.”
VentureWell is a non-profit organization that supports the creation of new ventures from an emerging generation of science and technology inventors and supports the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems that are critical to their success. The organization has funded or trained over 4,500 science and technology inventors and innovators and nurtured nearly a thousand of their startups. These startups have raised subsequent funds totaling over $800 million and are reaching millions of people in over 50 countries. Visit venturewell.org to learn more.