Undergrads’ Eyewear Startup Could Take Students from ‘Cool to School’ In Mere Seconds

The goal: making transition lenses that respond to the touch of a button

A young woman carrying a skateboard and wearing sunglasses.

ShadeSnap, a startup founded by two UConn students, aims to make transition lenses better for eyeglass wearers (iStock Photo).

 As an eyeglass wearer, one of Brian Peng’s ’24 (CLAS) biggest complaints is the time it takes for his transition lenses to adjust from sunglass to clear mode when he walks into a building.

“Like 80% of the US population, my eyes are very sensitive to light, which causes strain and headaches. Sunglasses are essential to me,’’ Peng says. “But the traditional transition lenses just don’t adjust fast enough.’’

“It looks dumb to be walking around inside with the sunglasses activated, and it prevents you from engaging with what’s going on around you,’’ he says. “For older people at risk of falling, or for people who are driving, it can also truly be a hazard.’’

He and his friend and roommate Shivam Patel ’24 (ENG) started discussing the issue two years ago. They conducted some research, and when they found no alternative technology, they decided to create their own solution.

Their startup is called ShadeSnap, and they are experimenting with an on-demand glasses lens that can quickly turn the sunglass option on and off with the touch of a button. They are working to obtain a provisional patent for their technology.

Peng is a junior studying biological sciences with a minor in entrepreneurship and technology innovation. He has worked for the National Institutes of Health studying retinal anatomy. Patel is also a junior, majoring in mechanical engineering with a concentration in aerospace. He brings a background in product design and development to the company.

In the last two years, the student team has participated in a number of entrepreneurial advancement programs hosted by the School of Business’ Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CCEI), including Get Seeded, Traction, Accelerate UConn and, most recently, Summer Fellowship. That program helps UConn-affiliated companies to grow and move closer to market readiness.

“CCEI’s Summer Fellowship was really the best summer experience,’’ Peng says. “Everyone was so helpful and supportive. I realized how connected the entrepreneurial ecosystem is and how willing other entrepreneurs and experts are to help.’’

He left the program with a new network of advisers, including patent lawyers and mentors. “Without people telling us how to access those resources, or letting us know what was available to us, we’d have taken much longer to get to the next stage of our company,’’ Peng says.

This fall they will build new proof-of-concept models and delve more deeply into product research and development, and seek additional technical expertise to fine-tune the product.

ShadeSnap did so well in the Summer Fellowship finale  that Peng and Patel were invited to participate in the Wolff New Venture Competition in October and vie for a $25,000 prize. The competition is the pinnacle entrepreneurship challenge hosted by CCEI. If they win the Wolff competition, Peng said, they hope to use the money for advanced prototyping and to rent lab space and purchase more materials.

Although Peng long considered himself a scientist, the experiences he’s had with growing a business have expanded his perspective.

“I’ve actually noticed many similarities between science and entrepreneurship. Both start with a question, like ‘Do people need this product?’ or ‘How does this phenomenon occur?’ In both cases, through testing of your hypothesis you come to a unique answer or solution,’’ he says. “Now I can see myself with a future as both a scientist and an entrepreneur.’’


The 2022 Wolff New Venture Competition will be held on Oct. 3, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on the Observation Deck at the Graduate Business Learning Center in Hartford. It will also be livestreamed at https://ccei.uconn.edu/wolff-new-venture-competition/. This event is open to the public.